There are few things more frustrating than wanting to create, but feeling like you have a dearth of ideas. Sometimes, it feels like if you've got the time and the inclination, that you should be able to work, but it doesn't work that way. When you try your brain just dries up and ideas fly out of the window, away with the fairies. Luckily, I've worked through this peril more than a few times, and can share some of my tips.
Getting stuck is the pits. It's that feeling when you're poised over a blank document and can't find the words, a new sheet of drawing paper that seems intimidatingly snowy or the place where you feel like you just can't continue with an older project. Believe me, all people, whether they are creative for a living or not, get this feeling.
My tips aren't foolproof, but rather just a few ideas that can help. They have helped me in the past, and it's in that spirit that I pass them on.
If you're stuck and not getting things to look the way you want, try to describe it with words. This works too if you're writing, taking it scene by scene and making a few notes about the action or setting can galvanize your writing the next time you go back to it. I've done this before. Chapter by chapter, just writing a sentence or two for each scene and moving on. It's so helpful to go back to. Drawings can be described as with scenes, to provide the mind with a clearer picture of what composes the larger image.
Take a break. Sometimes going too hard can just plain burn you out, even when you are enthusiastic and want to do all the things. Breaks can be small things like taking a walk or doing some deep breathing to clear the mind, or longer ones like taking a few days away or working on another project then coming back to the one that had you stumped.
Find a class. Learning from others is inspiring. Talking to people gives you a new perspective. Even if you're online and introverted, reaching out enough to hear a new conversation can energize the creative spark.
Work on something indirectly related. Sometimes when I find myself not sure where to go with a painting, I get out the paints and work on making textures instead. Just working with the paint can help jumpstart the creative part of your brain. For writing, using a writing prompt can be a helpful exercise. It can just get the mind flowing in the right direction, even if it isn't working on the original piece. Stuck in photoshop? Learn to make brushes or actions for yourself. Making your own actions can be a labor of love, but results in custom tools that you know how to create and alter.
Just start. Sometimes action is the only course. Ideas can be scarce and the process of creation does not have to be linear. Start at the end or in the middle, if it gets the work flowing. You may have to rewrite everything, or paint over the whole canvas or make sketches that go nowhere and do are just practice. Tomorrow's success is built on the practice from today. The process is valuable.
Go back to your inspiration. When in doubt, find the beginning. If this is a job, go back and reread the assignment or the guidelines set by the client or publisher. Rethink them. Why did you go in the direction you went? If you were to start over what would you do differently? Pull out or start an inspiration file. Make a pinterest board just for this project, search by word and color and related thoughts that pop into your head. Clip from old magazines, print out pictures, write out quotes - do whatever you need to do make it come alive for you again.
Organize your space. Nothing kills that buzzing feeling of impending creation like not being able to find the tools you need. Alternatively, seeing your desk cleaned, screen free of streaks and supplies all in order can be inspiring. Take your down time to bring your space back to a nicer place, discard unneeded papers, wrappers and anything else that has found its way into your space. Make sure you can find what you need next time you need it. Replace old tools that are no longer usable, if you can. I like to keep my office organized with Bigso boxes from UrbanGirl.
Engage the other senses. Try listening to a music mix on 8tracks or a podcast. Writing is often much easier for me without a completely silent space surrounding me. Make a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy it. Sit with your other senses and gather your thoughts. Maybe this might turn into a meditative practice, if that suits you. This is about changing the focus of your mind, and letting go of some of tension that comes along with creating and getting the work to flow outward.
Making things is a wonderful and demanding practice. When your time is limited, the urge to be creative presses down harder and makes it more frustrating when nothing is produced. Find a rhythm that works best for you and discard the rest. Hopefully my tips will be helpful in some way while you navigate through your own creative highs and lows. If you've got any tricks that help keep working, I'd love to hear them.