It’s cliché in probably every way possible, but one of the best ways to inspire new work is to step away from the work in front of you. If, like me, you lean (heavily) toward being the task-oriented sort, that can be difficult. Compared to busy work that often requires little creative thought and simply more doing, it can seem counterintuitive that walking away from your work will inspire you to do more and better work. Think of it like all those tedious reports and essays from grade school years past that pushed you to put pencil to paper (or fingers to keys depending your age), forcibly willing the unwieldy words to come. Then, after hours of unrelenting unsuccess would there be a break in the creative block; this only after stepping away from it for a while, allowing the creative dam to burst, pouring words and ideas into a mess of thoughts on a page. A lot of the creative process is like that—except it’s not trying to untangle a lone writing assignment that you finish and move on from; it’s your work—your day in, day out job.
Something that often feels akin to recreating the wheel, creative thinking occurs across the occupational spectrum because that’s what problem-solving inherently is. That process is often difficult to explain for those to whom the design process is new or foreign in their daily work. Sketchbooks, theory, and concepting are the unseen building blocks to creative work. As important (or arguably more so) as the final product, those building blocks are the invisible legs creative works stand on.
It’s important for beginners to understand that the process feels often new and even daunting at the start of each new project even well into doing this sort of work. Some projects begin with a dawn of inspiration that methodically unfolds into practical steps guided by years of experience wrought from effort and grit. For other projects, finding inspiration feels more like digging for buried treasure without a map and no real assurance that the treasure even exists. In those instances, the elusive concept that informs designs is often the result of research begot by uncertainty more than it is any assurance of learned skills or past successes.
It’s not all merely about finding inspiration either. Curating inspiration also takes work. There are piles of concepts that never see the light of day. Sketches scrawled on napkins, nightstand notepads with hazy, half-awake ideas, snippets of papers and photos and that thing that made you laugh one time—inspiration becomes a trail of experiences tallied up into the designs that are and the designs yet to be. Time and necessity file ideas for later or never. I like how Elizabeth Gilbert shares various historical and personal notions of creative inspiration.
Artists and designers still experience those kinds of creative epiphanies where everything clicks in some creative, cosmic incident that feels more like a gift than something thought up by oneself. For my taste, those epiphanies are inspired by an amazing Creator, but whether all artists subscribe to that ideology or not, these are the things that often inform portfolios and finished work—so many intangible moments poured into a complete, constructed thought. For those successes (or at the very least finished projects), it’s good to revisit the inspiration behind those designs to regain the fortitude to start the next project or projects on the horizon.
For me, inspiration is words that have weight and depth. Inspiration is being in nature, seeing light dancing through leaves softly tangled in the breeze. It’s seeing how rain water sparkles and dew reflects sunshine. It’s gardens brimming with flowers and hope. It’s seeing birds soaring against blue skies and thinking how there’s really no reason for them to be let alone to soar or sing. It’s things that make me laugh—inside jokes and overly literal plays on words. It’s good, hearty food made with love—and oftentimes butter. It’s early, sun-kissed Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market. Inspiration for me comes from places filled with joy and places that are filled with faith and earnest contemplation.
There’s something inherently sanctified about creative work which dares to birth new things because creation and new things require faith; and faith always involves risk. No matter what you dare to have faith in, it’s always at the prompting of assuming risk because faith is only made out of what is unseen. In that way, the creative process is one tied very closely to the heart of faith because when someone dares to dream for something they can’t see, they’re bolding declaring the faith that those things exist as future realities. Whether you write or paint or dance or any number of creative things, you’re exercising faith that those realities are not only possible but that they are, in fact, in action. If you’re stuck in a creative rut, give yourself permission to breathe fresh air into your lungs, soak in precious sunbeams, or simply to read a book and “dwell in possibility.”