How to Find Inspiration & Overcome an Off Week

Inspiration on the coastThen you set out to make
Something great
But nothing comes out

It’s been one of those weeks during which I started a million things, but can’t seem to finish even one. Call it a post-election rut.

In a post last week, I stated that I think everyone strives for greatness, no matter what that means to each individual. But sometimes, it doesn’t always work out as planned. Roadblocks happen; we all have these draining periods. In times like these, how do you rekindle inspiration to move forward and continue on the path of success? Where do you turn?

I’ve read about a million different ways to find inspiration throughout the years, trying many. I enlisted the help of some friends, as well, asking how they lift themselves out of that sinking black hole feeling. Here’s a list of the things that have worked to help me and a few friends find inspiration, boost our moods, and get back to accomplishing our goals.

EXPLORE & DISCOVER WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING

Read someone else’s book or blog, go see another artist’s exhibition, watch a movie or play, listen to a new musician you’ve never heard about before. Whatever is that you do, seek out different ways others approach it. It might help you see your work from a new perspective or give you alternative ideas to solve your problem.

A good example of this is to actually go and work with others. My friend Laura, a photographer, suggested that even a coffee meeting, talking with other creatives about a project, can reenergize. Paying attention to their methodologies and feeding off their energy might invigorate you.

GET OTHERS’ OPINIONS

At times, you may need to step away and ask someone else to take a look at your work. Alex, a filmmaker, asks other creatives for their opinions. This allows him to “take the weight off his shoulders and find other creative people who can give feedback or direction.” I think it’s always critical to have someone else edit your work. An outside perspective may help you find the missing piece to your puzzle and ultimately strengthen the outcome.

If you’re not sure where to turn or who to ask for help, search for groups in your area that are related to your field. (Meetup.com is a good place to start.) If there is no group, start one. Chances are others may be looking for similar help too. Or, post your piece on a website like Dribbble, where others can comment and give you suggestions online.

STEP AWAY FROM WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING

I know this seems counterintuitive to the last tips, but there’s a point to which others’ work can get in the way and become a barrier. Alix, blogger at In a DC Minute, told me that she often gets bogged down by comparing herself with others. For her, she has to “step away, stop worrying about catchy titles, SEO, and optimized images…and focus on the thing that brought the most joy that day, crafting a post from the heart around that topic.”  A great point. Self-conscious feelings can be overwhelming; it’s easy to get caught up in how much better you think someone else is doing, lose focus, and give up. When you’re able to let go of those comparisons and stay true to your own voice and style, not only will you be more productive, but your work will probably turn out better in the end.

GO TO A LIBRARY OR BOOKSTORE

I love perusing the internet for inspiration, but nothing beats a paper book or magazine to get me feeling inspired. I tend to be more present and focused with a tangible object in hand than when I read something online. If you’re not sure where to start, try the magazine aisles at Barnes and Noble. There’s something there for everyone.

This is sorta funny, but this weekend at Barnes and Noble, I wandered into the kids’ section, which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog or my work. But, I think because it was so different, it was surprisingly enlightening, allowing me to get back on track with what I needed to be doing. You just never know what will hit you at the right time.

 REWORK YOUR OWN PROJECTS

This one came as a recommendation from my author friend, Bethany, and I love it. She told me that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mixtape of Hamilton songs inspired her to dig out some of her old stories and “pick off the meat to see if the bones are sturdy.” This idea of revisiting your own work in a different way is so inspiring to me. The spark that didn’t catch may eventually become a fire with another look and a new perspective.

LET IT GO

Sometimes, you don’t really need inspiration at all. The finished product is there, but you’re holding yourself back. Perfection is one of my own biggest hurdles. I often find myself agonizing over a minute detail and have to kick myself to move forward; no one else will notice whether or not that image has moved two pixels to the left. It’s hard for me to release anything to the world that isn’t quite what I think it should be, but if I get caught up in perfect, I become stagnant. I’m the first to admit that letting go is hard, but us perfectionists need to remind ourselves often that we’re our own worst critics.

Early this year when I was working on designing my blog, my boyfriend brought home a copy of a new local publication that he found in a small bookstore. It was a folded up piece of paper, thrown together with stories pasted onto it with a glue stick. Frankly, it looked like shit. But you know what? The stories and content were fantastic. I immediately saw his point and understood the lesson.

DEDICATE A TIME TO WORK WHEN YOU’RE USUALLY AT YOUR CREATIVE BEST

If you’re able, try to schedule time in your daily routine for honing your craft when you feel the most energized. My creative juices, for example, tend to flow best early in the morning. I set my alarm a few hours before work most days to write or take pictures. By the end of the day, when work is over and dinner is cleaned up, all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch reruns of The Office on Netflix. I may have some ideas during that time, but no significant progress is gonna happen. I’ve accepted that, learning that if I want to achieve anything, it has to be accomplished in the morning. Find the time that works best for you.

EXPLORE A NEW PLACE

Go outside for a walk; get some vitamin D. Visit somewhere you’ve never been, even if it’s just a different neighborhood in your city or town. Look all around. You never know where inspiration will strike – the shape of a house, the sound of children playing, a piece of public art. Whether through newness or nostalgia, inspiration will come through exploration.

TRY A DIFFERENT ACTIVITY

If you’re a writer, take a music lesson. If you’re an accountant, pick up a camera. There are all sorts of benefits to trying something new. You may find a hidden talent, or maybe you’ll be terrible, but regardless, this pursuit will help you change your mindset.

I’m a dreadful illustrator. In college, as a photo and design major, I had to take a few drawing classes. Being honest, they were a total struggle, but exploring this art form that was foreign to me helped me to see light in a new way. I don’t think I consciously realized it at the time, but when I look back, it was at that point that my photography started to improve.

GRAB A FAVORITE SNACK OR DRINK

This one may sound weird, but it always helps me. If I start feeling completely exhausted by the task I’m supposed to be doing, I indulge in a delicious treat as I work. I often try to make it something I rarely get—a vanilla latte, for example—and that helps me get over the hump. You gotta treat yourself now and then.

My friends seem to think this helps, too, because a couple of them also mentioned this as a way to help them overcome a rut. Alix said, “If all else fails, a great glass of red wine gets the creative juices flowing.” Amen, Alix. A-men.

What else has helped you when you’re feeling off your game? I’d love any and all suggestions, especially after a week like the last.

{Lyrics from Cold War Kids’ Harold Bloom. Thanks to my friends for their input and suggestions!}