Sometimes (okay a lot of the time), the life of a creative is less about inspiration and more about needing to get x done so that y can happen. In many cases, x equals producing something (a story, a pitch, a design, an order of 2000 butterfly magnets) and y equals getting paid and/or feeling like less of a freelance fraud. So, what happens when you need to be creative under pressure? Can you force yourself to produce when a muse is the furthest thing from your mind? Yes. Here’s how:
Switch out cheerleaders for challengers
Support is great – bras, orthopedic insoles, those harnesses window washers wear so that they don’t accidentally plunge to their deaths. And while a lack of support certainly makes whatever you’re endeavoring to do a lonelier and potentially more difficult prospect, just having a support system in place isn’t enough of a driver to get your mental assembly line rolling. People who love you no matter what are bad for productivity. Where’s your incentive to innovate if your network simply doles out generic good vibes or unconditional acceptance without really getting what it is you do or understanding the effort involved in it? That way frustration and stagnation lie.
You don’t need cheerleaders, you need competitors and comrades and people whose accomplishments spur you to pursue your own goals with that much more intensity. If you’re going to create consistently, you need to be surrounded (physically or virtually) by other creators who speak your language and share your challenges.
Do more of what you know
When you’re at a creative standstill, swap out innovation for iteration. What do you know? What do you do well? What sort of new spin can you put on a story you’ve told versions of a hundred times before? What new venues can you identify to showcase existing work? Start from solid ground and cast your net ever wider from there. The idea is to blend the familiar and novel, so that you alleviate the creative double-whammy of forcing yourself to come up with a new idea and then figuring out how to implement and market it. Return to the well of what you do best and riff on that theme until it yields a usable outcome.
If you’re one of those people with a million great ideas and an insufficient amount of follow-through to pursue them, make commitments that are contingent on you getting your creative act together. Never make time for painting these days? Promise your brother and his bride-to-be a watercolor wedding gift. Register for craft shows knowing full well that if you don’t crank out 65 pendant necklaces on deadline, you forfeit your registration fee and damage your credibility.
In my case, I have plenty of potential stories in my head, but only 24 hours in a day, with the 9-5 block already spoken for. In order to get myself to buckle down and crank out copy, I pitch these stories to various publications. Inevitably, one or more editors will express an interest and then I’m on the hook for producing a draft. With a ready-made outlet for my efforts, it becomes much easier to get myself to write than if I tried to develop something sans deadline and shop it around at my leisure.