There it is. You are standing at the base of a 1,000-foot wall, staring straight up. It’s unsurmountable. Certainly impassable. Your eyes cannot make out the summit; it may as well be a 10,000-foot wall.
We all know this wall. Each of us has greeted it in despair, yet each one of us knows this obstacle by a different name. Writers block, creative block, creative depression, mental barrier, overwhelm, procrastination… our foe’s list of names goes on and on, each name equally daunting and cruel.
This barricade not only hinders our productivity and happiness but, if allowed, can be downright career crippling.
There are times (more often than I’d like to admit) I feel I’ve met every little crevice and bump of every metaphorical stone in this wall. I can close my eyes and run my hand along each crack – each one a scar of projects past or opportunities missed.
It’s at the base of this wall where we feel most helpless, fully devoid of creativity and hope. While it is also at the foot of this obstacle, we realize the necessity to reach outward for inspiration, for we’re fresh out of it.
So where do we look? What do we grasp at? Who can we ask for help?
When I find myself at the foot of The Wall of Creative Depression (the name I’ve given my frequently visited monolith), I have a list that works well for me. Yet, I realize what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Truthfully, what works for me would probably give most a good laugh.
So as I began penning this topic, I decided to poll the community on Twitter, Facebook, and so on. I wanted to know what other like-minded individuals looked towards for creative inspiration. Many results were expected, others eye-opening, several were downright revolutionary in their simplicity.
Have you ever found yourself at this wall, your creativity needle teetering to empty? Or are you sitting smack dab in that scenario right now? Free resources lie at our fingertips every minute of every day. We tote supercomputers in our pockets and purses and, with a few tappity-tap-taps, you are well on your way to finding a chisel for your wall.
Let’s take a look at 14 of the top resources that many other creatives lean on every day.
1) 99U Site
Through editorial, videos, and a conference, 99U fosters a culture of acting, experimenting, and failing (and, most importantly, being okay with failure). It’s one of my personal favorites. I did a quick search of my Instapaper archive to find a few of my faves. They are, in no certain order:
The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos
You Don’t Need New Ideas, You Need a New Perspective
How to Silence Your Irrationally Harsh Inner Critic
Paola Antonelli: Rejection Is a Sign You’re Onto Something New
You Are Not Your Job
TED needs no introduction. We see it everywhere, we hear shout-outs to popular TED Talks in day-to-day conversations. As we should: It’s a bottomless well of inspiration, brimming with unique life-altering and perspective-changing content week after week. Here are a few office favorites:
3) I Love Typography
A favorite in the world of designers across, well, the world. The content herein is self-explanatory. I began my career as a designer and, while I haven’t lifted pen or pixel in over a decade, I still find myself gaining inspiration from browsing the aisles of ILT.
Maybe you’ve heard of ‘em. Radio is back, even though it never really left. In light of the feedback I’ve received, podcasts are by far one of the most popular forms of inspiration kindling. There are podcasts on quite every topic you’d care ingest. Entrepreneurship, design, gardening, and juicing. There’s podcasts to teach you how to podcast, and also how to become a master beekeeper. Yes. Bees. With endless inspiration to choose from, your fix is easy to find.
4) Invisible Office Hours
Invisible Office Hours is a weekly podcast that playfully explores the intersection of creativity and commerce, hosted by Jason Zook and Paul Jarvis. I found this one via Jarvis’ newsletter maybe six month ago and haven’t turned it off since.
5) After the Jump
From Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, there are more than a few gems in the archive. Check out How to Turn Fear Into Courage in Life and Business and What I’ve Learned from 100 Radio Shows.
6) The Good Life Project
Don’t just make meaningful work, lead a meaningful life as well. A rapidly growing archive of amazing content from my friend, Jonathan Fields. A podcast that dives into deep meaning, joy, and the connection of our lives and our work. Jonathan’s podcast helps me define inspiration at its most basic element– our humanity.
7) TED Radio Hour
TED. Again. Told ya. Inspiration lies within, in audio form.
8) 99% Invisible
Founded by Roman Mars, this is one of my all-time favorites. 99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about. This one is a must.
Print is dead, long live print.
Books: Still a thing after all these years. Many of us may consume them on our e-ink device of choice, but whatever your medium, here are two classics, chock-full of life-changing inspiration and a swift kick in the ass (when you need it):
9) The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
My friend and colleague, Ryan, might be the world’s #1 advocate for this book (though I do have to agree with him). When asked about the book, he offered, “It’s about overcoming the resistance we all feel when attempting to accomplish something that will ultimately change our lives for the better. It’s a catalyst for creative and artistic revolution.”
10) The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Call it a self-help book if you must. Turn your nose up because the cover defines it as A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity, but this tome was my crutch as I crossed my largest creative desert. It saved me once and I’m sure I’ll lean on it again. Two words: Morning Pages.
11) Events and conferences are well known safe havens for the creatively downtrodden. While some conferences present geographic challenges, if you do have the means, by all means go. If you do ante up for the airfare, lodging, and well-priced laminated badge, promise yourself you will not spend your entire time sitting in panel after panel, jotting notes from each keynote speaker. There’s endless knowledge to absorb in those talks, of course. But do not miss the most popular resource of events worldwide: other human beings. Socialize and get your network on. Climb out of your head, turn off your problems, and listen to what others are building, creating, excited by, failing at, and are struggling with. Human interaction does wonders for chipping away at our creative ruts. While there’s only a few billion of these resources across the globe, surprisingly, most are willing and open to a friendly conversation, free of charge.
12) Look in unlikely places for your inspiration or spark of a new idea. Are you a designer stuck on a problem? Go shoot photos. Developers, try writing. Writers, try sketching. Engineers? Hey, go paintballing! We only need to listen to science in this case. Get your brain off your problem, put it to work on something new or unfamiliar. Trust me. Nay, trust science.
13) Be open to bad ideas. I frequently think back to this classic post from Seth Godin circa 2009. “The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.” It’s a short read and totally worth it. Be open to being bad. Be open to reading this post once a day if that’s what it takes.
14) Get up. Stand up from your desk, turn around, breathe in, breathe out, take a step, then another. Much of the feedback I received from my little survey was downright revolutionary in its simplicity. The most resounding crowdsourced feedback for creative inspiration wasn’t an app or a podcast. Not a conference, not a website. It was activity, plain and simple. Here’s a few, in no particular order: Take a shower, listen to music, go for a run, take a walk, travel (ten miles or a thousand), go for a drive, do something nice for a stranger, drink less, drink more (hah), clean and reorganize the workspace, and, well, the list goes on and on.
There’s one simple thing that tightly connects them all: Each involves us NOT trying to chisel away at our rampart of creative blockage.
Despite the wide variety of activities, there’s one simple thing that tightly connects them all: Each involves us NOT trying to chisel away at our rampart of creative blockage. Rather, they involve us simply being, and, in most cases, taking part in simple actions that nearly every human being has the capacity for. So get up, turn around, don’t think about your wall, walk away, ignore the problem at hand, and… [insert activity here].
You see, this foe of ours, it’s not a physical wall. It resides only in our noggins. That three-pound lump of pinkish, white, soft tissue we call the brain. An oh-so important part of life, essential to our every breath, yet, at times, our biggest roadblock. Our worst critic, our crippling foe. With a little planned rewiring of how we think, how we view ourselves, and our ability to be open to fear and failure, it is absolutely, positively possible to look up and realize there was never any wall at all.
How do you foster creative inspiration? You’ve heard from me, now I’d love to learn from you. Chime in below. I’m listening.