Sometimes inspiration just won't come over for a cup of coffee. You call it up, invite it over, toy with the idea of being needy and begging for a visit, but it has better things to do. So now what? Do you stay in your flannels all day, watching Lifetime movies?
Nice try, but no. You roll up your sleeves and have an amazing day without its company. You won't even miss it -- you'll grab lunch another time when both of your schedules are a little more free. Below are 6 clever ways to keep yourself working even when you're not inspired. After all, the muse isn't the one with the talent. It's the woman with the hands impatient to create.
1. Show Up
Alright, this is an obvious one but just think back to all those times you glanced at your work and thought "...not today." Chances are, you really did push it off and not do it that day. It's because during moments like those we're easily convinced. You could probably ask me to do a month's worth of laundry and I'd snatch up the distraction like a lifeline.
On days like those, keep these words by Chuck Close, photorealist and creative legend, in mind, "The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you."
So show up. That's step one. Grit your teeth, grumble all the way to your work station, but do it. That first step is the hardest- once you give yourself ten minutes the work will start moving, no matter if it'll be slightly unpleasant every step of the way. Sometimes work just has to feel like work. After all, it was Picasso that famously said, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
2. Do Something for 30 Minutes That Fills You Up
Sometimes, though, you're plain tapped out. Maybe you've had a monumentally busy day yesterday and all your energy has dwindled out. Maybe you've been on a hot streak all week and today is the day that creativity runs out. Sometimes the most unproductive thing you can do is work through the emptiness because you know you'll be giving your bottom-shelf effort throughout the whole process.
Keep in mind this is different than simply not wanting to be there- this isn't you being lazy, this is you being empty. So go do something for 30 minutes that will fill you up again.
Go for a bakery run and buy something with sticky icing that tastes like happiness. Go read on your balcony or take a cup of coffee to the park. Read something beautiful, or scroll through images on Pinterest that get your mind running. Whatever it is, give yourself a mental break that will fill you up. Don't just plop on the couch; do something with intention, something that will make you want to contribute back to the world.
3. Read About Inspiring People
This one always does the trick for me because it lights a fire, and a big one. Say you woke up and the only thing running through your head as you roll to the other side of the bed is, "No." Then, opening one eye, you think, "No. No, no, no. No."
Looks like it ain't happening today. Moments like those, you need to be reminded that the difficulty of starting is just part of the process and you have something too wonderful to contribute to keep locked away inside you the whole day.
Keep in mind this doesn't just apply for creatives- it's for anyone with an idea. We all contribute.
So with your morning coffee, go read about inspiring people and their work process. Read about how they work into the late hours of the night giving their idea their sleep, or how once they sit down they can't stop to eat because they're so excited to be doing what they set out to do. You read about that kind of dedication, that kind of steely resolve to be hard working and you kind of want to be in the same camp as that type of person. You read about that sort of excitement, that sheer will of power and it rubs off on you. You want to be the same way; you want that same fire. So you go and build it.
4. Do the "Just Ten Minutes" Trick
Alright, fine. Bribing yourself with baked goods and reading about the hard work of other people didn't rub off on you and you're still determined to be in a slump. So now what? There's only one thing left: You have to trick yourself.
Tell yourself you'll do a task for just ten minutes and then you can walk away. Just push away from the desk and go do something lazy. Seems not so bad, right?
One of two things will happen: You'll stick to your guns and get at least ten minutes of work done you weren't planning to do, or you'll get sucked into it and just keep working. Even if it's not for the full day but for an extra hour, that's already an hour more than you were planning to do.
5. Start Small. Give Yourself A Few Wins.
If you're not inspired to work, give yourself a couple of wins so you can get a taste for how good it feels to cross things off your list. Say you've got a pretty big project on your hands. Jumping right in sounds intimidating, and if you don't have the heart for it that day it'll be easy enough to distract yourself to put it off. So instead, do the little tasks that need to be done around the project. Maybe you have to send out a couple of emails, gather some materials? Do it.
For example, if I have articles to draft but would much rather go watch 14 hours of Frasier, I make myself do the non-intimidating stuff first. I fight the urge to swoon over Niles and instead do my bullet points first, find my supporting images second, and then dive into the actual writing. By then I've already fallen into the work flow of things and feel like I'm in too deep to actually stop. I'm half way done, after all. So grab that low-hanging fruit- do the easy, small tasks first and get yourself going.
6. Straight Up Bribe Yourself
If all else fails, straight up bribe yourself. You are now five years old and need to be duped into doing what's best for you. We knew how to take advantage of a situation then, and we know how to do it now.
Tell yourself if you work for two hours, you can take a break by going out to buy yourself a nice cup of coffee. If you work till three you have permission to go buy yourself that small trinket you've been telling yourself you don't need. Or for every task you finish, you can eat a cookie.
Back in college while studying, I would put a gummy bear on every paragraph I had to memorize. I wanted those gummies, and so I kept plugging away, distracting myself over how much I hate chemistry with the sweet, sugary taste of red little teddies. It worked. And so will this.