I stared at the blank page so long I started to see Rorschach figures in the white. I had writer’s block bad. There was nothing to write about, nothing to say. My life was either too confidential for mass consumption OR it was too boring. (likely the latter as the last time I was recruited by the CIA it was 2008…).  I was stuck in a creative rut.

What do you do if you commit to writing each week but don’t have any new words?

What do you do if you have a design deliverable out, but just can’t get in the right flow?

What do you do if you have a long list of creative projects but your most creative endeavor of the week was rearranging your sock drawer?

Sometimes we are all in a rut….and same doldrum hum dum. I lead a UX Design team and my designers often feel the same way. They struggle from time to time, just like we all do. Creativity can run dry just like the streams in California. (big sigh). 

Sooo…..How do we get the rain to come again? How do we find creative spark? How do we get back on track? I’m no expert (at anything, really) but I do like to find ways to inject new thinking into my brain. Here are a few things I’ve tried. I’d love to learn what works for you as well.

Exercise, exercise, exercise

If you can make the time, move your body. But not just for a few minutes. Go long and hard….and your brain will start to work differently.  According to Scientific American , exercise “increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It aids the release of hormones which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain.” New connections–hell yeah. I once came up with a whole short story idea while swimming 100 laps in the pool. On a run I dreamed up an executive presentation.

Plus each activity burned calories which allowed me a chocolate cookie. (chocolate also gives a creative boost…Not according to scientific research but according to me).

Find external inspiration to launch out the the creative rut

When I need something to write about, I sometimes go outside of myself. I ask my friends and colleagues what they are struggling with. When we have a design challenge at work…we look to the competition and analogous inspiration to see how others have solved it. It might not be exactly right for us, but it offers new ways of thinking about a problem. When I worked at IDEO, we once got inspiration for a nail polish wand by studying tattoo artist tools. Inspiration is everywhere if we look. My designers break their rut in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it’s a dawn patrol surf set. Other times it’s getting inspiration from an Instagram Influencer. (Did you see Kendall Jenner’s dress at the Met Gala?)

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” — Steve Jobs


Start with a shitty idea

In the book “Bird by Bird” Anne Lamott talks about shitty first drafts. It’s an acknowledgement that starting is the most important thing you can do–but DO NOT STRIVE FOR PERFECTION. Assume the first star will be shit…and relish in that shit. SIT IN THE SHIT. It’s fine. Just start. Get something down. Then pour a  glass of whiskey, laugh at it, and start all over again.Trust me–it will get better. It’s all part of the creative process. And, by the way, a creative rut is ALSO part of the creative process. 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” -Anne Lamott

Maybe this blog post  is my shitty first draft. But now, because I started writing….and I can keep writing. Hello novel, it’s been a while. Let’s go out again….I have some fresh ideas…

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