Mara is a fearless go-getter whose newest venture, Secret Code, aims to inspire young girls to challenge stereotypes and go after their dreams. Here she discusses the freelance lifestyle, her best work habits and what keeps her motivated.
We all have days when ideas just aren’t flowing. Your inner creative genius is in hiding, your canvas remains blank and there doesn’t seem to be a solution on the horizon.
And we creatives tend to be hard on ourselves. We take our lulls quite personally, convincing ourselves that they’re a sign that we’re not good enough for the project or that we’ll never be able to come up with something new again.
But before you throw in the towel, stop, breathe, and remember that this is only temporary. You’ve made miraculous creative comebacks before, and you’ll do it again.
You just need a few strategies to help you.
I believe that creativity comes from the right combination of two things. The first is all of the experiences, knowledge, and examples you have to draw on for inspiration; your seeds of stimulation that could one day blossom into a brainwave. The second is allowing your mind time to be idle. By moving away from the problem at hand, you give yourself the space to let your collective, seemingly unrelated stimuli bubble up into fresh ideas.
With that in mind, here are 10 strategies that serve to fill up your tank or create a little space. Use them to turn your breakdown into a breakthrough.
1. Search for inspiration
Good news—surfing the internet can actually be productive! When inspiration doesn’t seem to be coming to you, go looking for it. Whatever you’re working on, something similar has been done before. Look for examples that other people have created, or research the topic to arm yourself with more information.
The idea here is not to copy what you find… It’s simply to get your brain thinking about the subject and how it’s been approached before so that you can come up with your own unique perspective.
2. Go for a walk
Sometimes it can feel like you don’t have time for a break, but chances are, if you’re in a lull, it’s because you’ve earned one. A creative interlude may be a signal that you need to conserve or replenish your physical and psychological energy so you can think more clearly.
Ideas often come to us in the moments we least expect them to, when we’ve stopped focusing on the problem and our subconscious brain is able take over.
Walking can help to coerce these moments. Researchers at Stanford University examined the level of creativity in people while they walked compared to while they sat, and found that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking. They also discovered that walking was most beneficial for tasks that required a fresh perspective (rather than tasks that need a single answer).
Give yourself permission to step away from your work and take a walk. Along the way, allow your brain the space to tinker around with ideas, so you have a chance of connecting previously unconnected dots.
3. Sweat it out
Other forms of exercise can also be a great way to make a break from work feel productive. And it’s amazing how when you get your blood flowing, ideas often flow more freely too. As well as reducing stress, helping you to focus, increasing productivity, and enhancing your memory, there’s evidence supporting the idea that exercise could make us more creative. Strap on the running shoes or make time for a yoga class and you could start seeing the benefits in your work.
4. Get a change of scenery
If you’re a freelancer, chances are you’re lucky enough to be able to work from anywhere. Take advantage of this by changing up your workspace. Work from a park, a cafe, or a cabin in the woods—anything that gets you out of your routine and into a new location could fuel some inspiration.
Bonus points if you can find some blue scenery; a study at the University of British Columbia found that blue, which is often associated with peaceful environments like the ocean, allows people to relax and feel more comfortable creating. Participants in the study produced twice as many creative results when looking at something blue as they did when looking at something red.
5. Review examples of your creative genius
Nothing slams the breaks on the creativity train like the fear that you’re not good enough. If you think this might be the cause of your lull, it may help to review some of your best work. Create a swipe file of your proudest creations or positive feedback from clients. Review it in times when you feel like you’re not good enough to remind you that this is but a temporary pause.
6. Learn something new
Always wondered why mosquitoes buzz or how language shapes the way we think? Now is your chance to spend a little time watching TED talks or listening to podcasts on topics completely unrelated to your project. Sometimes soaking up knowledge about anything at all can allow you to see things from a fresh perspective.
A study found that the part of what makes someone creative is “conceptual integration”—the ability to blend information from various scenarios and experiences and understand complex comparisons. So while your educational interval may not provide you with the answer to your current problem, what you learn could help you be more creative in the future.
7. Talk to someone
Discussing an idea is one of the best ways to come up with new solutions. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur this can be tough, since you miss out on the water cooler chat of the office environment. Find a way to talk to other freelancers in your network, to your family and friends, or to your pet—it doesn’t much matter who it is, it’s more about the process of talking through your ideas.
8. Add some background noise
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that a little background noise can help increase your creative output, providing a great excuse to pump your favorite tunes while you work. Just don’t play them too loud; researcher Ravi Mehta says around 70 decibels is the sweet spot.
“If you go beyond that, it’s too loud, and the noise starts to negatively affect creativity. It’s the Goldilocks principle—the middle is just right.”
9. Just keep working
As a writer, I regularly think about this quote from author Jodi Picoult:
“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
It’s easy to think, ‘I’m not feeling creative enough today, I’ll work on this later’. But that can quickly spiral into a regular thing and suddenly you’re achieving nothing. Some days you just need to grit your teeth and keep working through your creative block.
Try free writing, drawing, or creating; just get all of your ideas out without expecting anything to be perfect first go. The point is that you are creating—and you can go back and make edits later.
10. Get something else done
If all else fails, use the time to get on with something else that needs doing. Whether it’s invoicing your client or pitching for a new gig, you’ll feel good that you’ve used your down time productively and ticked off some of your other priorities.
Tip: You can make this time even more productive with Fiverr Workspace’s invoicing software, which allows you to create invoices in less than 10 seconds.