9 Things To Do When You’re Feeling Stale

Being a professional creative might seem like the ultimate dream job for some–and for many of us it is. But it ain’t always easy. In fact, staying inspired is really hard work. I recently received the above tweet (to @chasejarvis) and it got me thinking. Here’s 9 things I’ve done over the course of my 10+ year career that have helped me overcome those times when uninspired or stale work invades:

1. Make a major life change.
For me, I was in a stale spot in 2005, unsure of what to do next, so we up-and-moved to Paris. It changed my work, my career, and my life. Moving might sound like a huge deal, but it doesn’t have to be. Try Berlin, New York, or anywhere on the planet that inspires or scares you. Things like this can be done cheaply – and once you put your mind to it, barriers just fall away. Inspiration points = 10.

2. Travel. This can take many forms depending on your budget and timeline, but the gist is to shake up your routine. I can be lots of long weekends regionally, or the other side of the globe. Don’t rely on your standard morning cereal to inspire you. Have fish soup for breakfast in Japan, baked beans in London, or a tuna fish sandwich on Route 66. Sleep in tent or a hostel, or a castle. Travel by train, foot, bike or rickshaw. Mix it up. Meet people.

3. Set the Camera Down. Give yourself a break. Live a life without your camera for a predetermined time frame – a month or two or three. For me, this made me miss shooting soo much. I noticed things in the world that I longed to photograph. And when I picked up that camera again, I was hungry.

4. Watch films. And I’m not necessarily referring to summer blockbusters. I mean track down some art films. Documentaries. Fantasies. Seek out your local art house cinema, or downloa some films that you’d not ordinarily put atop your list. Reach out to friends and colleagues for their most inspiring flicks. This will get your mind going both conceptually and visually.

5. Look inside. Deal with that stuff in your life that you’re not dealing with, or point a spotlight on those things in you that you know not what they are. Personal sacrifices…[click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

…and insights are a huge key to individual creativity and often bring out the best in who we are. These experiences can be humbling and challenging. Haven’t talked with your brother in 2 years because of that fight you guys had? Reach out. Not sure why you have an aversion to hard work, success or failure? Explore that. And let yourself experience those emotions, those pains, or those moments of clarity you find on that journey. Those things can drive incredible work in your creative self. What pictures could you take that no one else in the world could take? Those can only be found by looking inside. You want a “signature” style? That’s where you’ll find it.

6. Become a voracious reader. It seems like a cycle for me – when I read a lot I’m creative, and I’m creative when I read a lot. The material I’m reading matters a little, but generally I chow down on a steady diet of biographies of artists I admire, classic fiction, philosophy, books on cultivating creativity, and monthlies in design, obscure fashion rags, or inspiring foreign design magazines. Blogs too – especially ones that keep me guessing on their content – less how to and more ‘why’. Whatever your ‘thing’ is. Read about it.

7. Carry a sketchbook or an iPhone. All the times in my life when I’ve been on the creative rocketship have included a sketchbook as a part of my daily routine. I’ve never sat down and particularly drawn a ton, but I jot notes, make sketches, and take notice of things that inspire me. For me, this has really transformed into a role for my iPhone. The camera is my visual notebook – a snap here or there, a dissection of the visual vocabulary around me. I couldn’t live without it. Voice memos that I mail to myself in brief moments of inspiration, or notes I jot and send myself via email. Whether it’s a notebook or a handheld computer, the important thing is that you’re recording ideas, inspiration, emotions for later reconsideration.

8. Get healthy. There’s a longstanding tradition of artists in every culture being exceptionally unhealthy creatures. Complete overindulgence to the point of destruction. While I’m a strong advocate of experience, experimentation, and sometimes living loudly – I’ve found that for me these are ultimately best if they’re short term methods to blow off steam or to temporarily avoid what’s going on inside. Necessary evils I’d argue–but definitely not the key to creativity. I’m far more creative when I’m in a healthy place. Balanced, energized, alive, honed, exercising, taking time for myself, my friends, and my family.

9. Do something creative everyday as a practice. If you sit around waiting for the perfect inspiration, you’ll make a lot less stuff, and the stuff you do make will be of a lot lower quality because your skills will be in the gutter. Creativity can be fostered. There are neural pathways that you’re opening up, blood that your pumping around your brain. Again, enter my iphone. I post photos almost every single day (follow this on Twitter and Facebook). Some are great, quirky, unusual or evocative; others not so much. Banal. Purely experiential. Not everything you make will be great, but you’ll be more attuned to the things you make that are great, and you’ll have the wisdom to recognize those things that beg for more of your creative attention when they hit you like a freight train.


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