“I’m trying to think but nothing happens.”


I’ve been getting paid to be creative for a long time and spoken about the process on various occasions. The question I get the most is, “What if you can’t come up with anything?” My response is always the same. “I’ve never been given that option.”
Everyone gets stuck creatively now and then. It’s frustrating and if it’s part of your job, scary.  The first thing I do is figure out why it’s happening. Here are some possible causes and solutions for you.
1) Get more direction – You’re on deadline and you get started on the thinking before you have all the information. But like Curly, “nothing happens.” Take a moment to ask yourself the foundational questions you probably forgot to ask: A) What is the goal? B) Who is the audience? C) What are we saying? D) Why are we saying it? If you can’t answer these questions in one or two sentences each, then you need to go find the answers.
2) Get more information – I was writing a short story that took place in a nursing home. I knew the characters and plot but instead of writing, I stared at my screen. Why? I didn’t know enough about nursing homes. Sometimes you don’t know enough about your audience (their pain points or needs) or how a product or service fits into their lives. Get online and search, call people who know, visit the places you need to visit and you will be amazed how the ideas flow.
3) One slice at a time – You have never looked at a pizza and thought, “I can’t fit that in my mouth, therefore I cannot eat it.” We all get overwhelmed when we think about a huge list we need to complete. Break your tasks down into small bites. If you have a trade show coming up and you think about the booth theme and design, videos, giveaways, speakers and banners all at once, you’ll freeze up. Break it down into smaller jobs, then into even smaller ones. A booth design can start with something as simple as designing the logo panels first. Getting one thing done eases your mind to move on to the next item.
Here are some other quick solutions for when you’re stuck:
4) Follow the rabbit – Sometimes if I’m stuck I ask Mr. Google to search images for me. When we designed this site, I searched for themes that fit into our mission. The visuals I found lead me to search for others. A search for, “People enjoying their work” lead to visuals of loyalty, which led to photos of dogs, which lead to a photo of a dog enjoying life with his head out of the window. Let the thoughts come to you.
5) 180º thinking – Write down the opposite of what you’re trying to say. It’s fun and loosens you up. No one has to read what you write in these sessions, so have fun with it. We were hired to create a communications campaign for a real estate property that had been delayed and was essentially an overgrown field. We were stuck, so we tried some 180º thinking. We wrote, “We have nothing built!” And “No spec homes! In fact, no homes at all!” Those thoughts turned into a great campaign. Imagine a living room setup complete with couch, easy chair, TV and a family sitting around, but it’s in the middle of a field. The headline, “Some people can’t wait to live here.” We had a man brushing his teeth, a young couple hanging photos—all in a field. They sold out before the first home was built.
These are just a few ways I’ve used other than, you know, curling up into a ball under my desk,  screaming, drinking, etc. If you have other tactics that work I’d love to hear them.
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