Remember this time last year, when lockdown hit: how many of us said we were going to use the extra time to start a side hustle, write a novel, launch a podcast? And yet for most of us, just having the spare time to do so wasn’t enough. Instead, we faced the cold, hard reality that you can’t just turn creativity on and off like a tap.

It’s the same problem we often face when given a brief. We’re creative people. And yet we sometimes sit there, staring blankly, and waiting for inspiration to strike.

Lost mojo is something that affects all of us, at least some of the time. So we asked leading creatives how they switch on the creative magic when they genuinely need to. And we share some of their best solutions in the article below.

1. Step away from the problem

The most popular answer to our question may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you’re having trouble fulfilling a brief, it helps to step away and give your brain a little time to process things. The chances are that when you return, fresh ideas will come.

In the words of Lee Davies, creative director at Peter & Paul, “Get your head deep into the problem, almost to the point of confusion. Then leave it alone. Teach the kids, make the tea, wash up, go outside, watch a film, ride a bike and let the answer reveal itself.”

Designer Ross Middleham takes a similar approach. “If you’re struggling to find the flow, step away,” he advises. “Take a break, look around, do something different, and embrace the fact that the magic sometimes isn’t there! It doesn’t make you rubbish.” Amy Jones, a senior designer at Rise At Seven, adds: “I think sitting and trying to force an idea out makes it less likely to come. Take a break, go for a walk, relax. All my best ideas happen when I’m not doing anything at all.”

2. Make a playlist

Another way to jolt your brain into being more creative is to change up the sounds you’re listening to. “Having certain music for different types of tasks has been a huge help for me,” says illustrator Colin Kersley. “I have certain bands and albums I listen to for idea generation, focussed drawing, or admin. I’ve found that it helps create a clear switch in my mind when I need to change to being creative.”

So does copywriter Mikenzi Ross, who says: “I put on Animal Crossing or Studio Ghibli original soundtracks: I prefer lyricless music when I write. And then I sit there and word-vomit everything I can think of – bad or not – until it starts to come together.”

3. Make a mess

Sometimes your creativity can be held back because you’re trying to devise a refined, finished product at the start, rather than being looser and freer with your ideas. Take inspiration from fashion illustrator Niki Groom, who says: “With personal projects, the key for me is to experiment first. I’ll get a huge piece of paper, fat brush, ink and just make a mess. That helps me enormously.”

4. Employ mindfulness

If you’re struggling to be creative, it could be because you’re in the wrong state of mind. So do something about it. Designer Gareth McMurchy· recommends “taking the time to be mindful before taking on a creative task or project. Sometimes totally removing yourself from all those thoughts in your head is a helpful way to see the bigger picture.” For inspiration, read our article How to be more mindful when you’re too busy to sit still.

5. Make things quickly

Having too much time to work on a project can sometimes hold you back. Conversely, putting time restrictions in place can be a great way to unblock your flow.

Startup design leader Zach Piepmeyer offers an example to follow. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I created a series of five-minute collages,” he recalls. “Set timer. No glue. Just rip and pile. Some interesting work emerged and helped me tap into creative energy.”

“Creativity is a strange beast; ever shape-shifting,” muses illustrator Ben Tallon. “I’m far better under pressure. I don’t look for hellish deadlines, but I learned early that my style benefits from them. I had to learn to cope with having too much time!”

6. Recreate scenarios

Brand strategist Tanisha Raffiuddin, who runs comms agency Concept Culture has an intriguing way to rekindle her creativity when it’s at a low ebb. “I recreate scenarios where creativity has struck before,” she explains. “For me, inspiration often comes from travelling. As travel and exploration is now not an option, I close my eyes and immerse myself in my favourite playlist. It works like magic.”

7. Develop a ritual

One of the most effective ways to get your creative juices flowing is to create a ritual of things you do every time you start a brief. Whatever that process consists of; it’ll be so much better than just staring at the brief, waiting for inspiration to strike.

If you need inspiration, here’s how graphic designer and illustrator Ian Cul goes about it. “I begin by writing down the brief’s key points,” he explains. “Then I turn the page to a blank sketchbook spread and focus on filling it up with sketches without worrying about how good, weird or silly they are.”

Creative director Mark Blaylock meanwhile, starts by “reading around the subject that I’m having to work on, as much as possible,” he says. “I keep reading and widen the net until I find out something that I didn’t know and that I find interesting. Then away I go.”

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