Note: This article talks about working as a motion designer for reference. The following subject matter applies to anyone in a creative position.
It’s a dreaded fear for every motion designer. It’s kryptonite to our yellow sun. It’s just as inevitable as running low on system resources. Chances are you’ve experienced it more than you care to recall, and the unfortunate truth is that eventually it’s going to rear it’s ugly head again. Of course, I’m talking about being “creatively” tapped out. Whether it happens to you once a year or after a few very demanding projects, it can be a terrible experience that, at its worst, can leave you debating if you should toss in the towel on your career. But don’t give in just yet; there some things you can do to help get yourself out of this creative rut or prevent one from occurring all together. You just need to give your mind a reboot.
Here are some things to try:
As simple as the title implies. Disconnect. Walk away from technology. Do anything that permits you to escape further basking in the comforting glow of your LCDs. If you’re like me, you can easily spend 8+ hours a day sitting in front of your computer. Toss in some casual browsing after work and suddenly this expansive technological world of endless possibilities starts to feel more and more like a cursed prison; with your keyboard and mouse as your ball and chain.
When you’re digging away looking for a solution that doesn’t seem to be in sight, force yourself away from the task at hand. Whether you decide to simply stretch your legs or take an extended power nap, that break will be better invested than continuing to bang your head against your desk for a few hours invested. Give your mind a break so that you can come back to the problem with a clearer mind and fresh perspective.
Change Your Surroundings
This tip is along the same lines as disconnecting. The key difference being not leaving the problem behind. When you “disconnect”, you’re not only disconnecting from technology but from your creative rut entirely. When you simply change your location, take it with you. Some of us are fortunate to use laptops as our primary editing machines, so pick it up and move. If your office has a lounge, set up shop there.
If you work from home, you may feel like this tip can’t possibly apply to you. Outside of picking a new area in your home to work from, you actually could look into a communal work area with other freelancers. The website DesksNearMe is a great tool you can utilize to find a new “desk” to work from. A change of locale may seem minuscule but it’s a refreshing boost to your senses. Take advantage of your new surroundings and look for inspiration there.
Less literally, keep the task at hand in your subconscious. Don’t actively brood over it, but make sure it’s not completely blocked out. Carry a notepad with you. Let your subconscious take over. Jot down thoughts as they come and sketch everything that comes to your mind’s eye.
So you’re one helluva mean-mograph-mofo. Not too shabby for being at it for n years. But what else can you do? Another approach is taking more time to focus on your other creative hobbies. Don’t have one? It’s never too late to get into some. I found that the easiest hobby to transition into is photography. You don’t need to invest in a costly DSLR to be a photography hobbyist. In fact, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You does a great job of reminding us that you can take great photos anytime and anywhere. You’re not striving to be a published author though. Just get out there and take photos of the world around you. Try to capture the world from an entirely new perspective, but most importantly, have fun with it.
Do you have any musical talents? Or painting skills? Maybe you can do origami like it’s no one’s business. The idea is to let your creative spirit out more often. While you’re not actively troubleshooting anything, by flexing other creative muscles more frequently you may find that you can keep your right brain actively working without adding to its stress or workload.
Expand Your Horizons
There’s a big world out there. And chances are you have only seen a small fraction of it. Rather than reverting to motion graphics reels on the web, consider looking for inspiration in some non-traditional places. For a great example, check out Paul’s great article on 1920s Japanese Design. By looking outside the realm of your known personal interests, you’re likely to stumble upon stuff you never knew you liked!
I’m a firm believer that the more you can broaden yourself as a person, the broader the scope of your work will become. Experience shapes and molds who we are as a person. Our work, in many ways, is a direct result of our personalities and interests. So it’s hard to argue against the fact that experience plays a large role in the work we do as designers. If we only had the luxury to constantly travel to new places, we’d all be turning out pretty some insane work. Since that’s (most likely) not the case, it’s up to us to be proactive and bring the world experience to ourselves. So while you’re out there looking up new cultural designs, why not try some new cuisine. Try to pick up some new reading material while you’re busy discovering some new bands and genres.
Tips from The Motion League
- @conigs “If I’m having an extended dry spell of creativity, I’ll turn to other hobbies for extended periods of time. Since I have a family (and need to work), I can’t just take off and travel. So I have to find ways of working other creative muscles to let the motion design part of my brain relax and recharge. The big thing for me when I run into a dry spell is to get away from motion design. I find if I turn to other motion design when I’m too exhausted creatively, it just puts me into mimic mode instead of getting truly inspired.”
- @eyedesyn “Best way for me to get out of a creative rut is to talk a walk outside. It’s a stress reliever and you can let your mind wander. Usually something will just come to me and it’ll form the new direction I’m going to take. The most important thing I think is to get up, unplug from the computer, and just reset in a way!
- @odd_enough “Music is where I get most (if not all) of my ideas. My play list for the past month has been almost completely Pretty Lights. I have a weird obsessive tendency to listen to the same artist/album/track over and over for long stretches, then move on to the next one. Every listen brings up new ways to spin the visuals to the audio, sometimes I’m refining it, other times I’m conjuring new ones. Another thing that has helped me stay out of these creative ruts is interaction with my co-workers. At random times throughout the day, we tend to start up mini conversations about small things, usually ending up with most of us laughing our heads off. These small reprieves keep my mood lighthearted and inspiration flowing.
- @dan_hin “I’d like to say that music does it for me, but unfortunately the office rule is no music. So outside of official work: walking the dog helps, sketching (generally random stuff for a few minutes until the right brain kicks in), and sometimes just disengaging completely from the issue at hand. If I’m really struggling with a problem and maybe focusing on it too much, it really helps to sleep on it.”
- @Rostenbach “Music is a huge one for me. Finding the right music can be difficult, but I always look for something that just “pumps me up”, so to speak. Beyond that, I find that talking a walk/hike/journey outdoors (preferably somewhere I haven’t been before), is extremely helpful. There’s something about the tranquility that just brings me back around to thinking creatively.”
- @robmonstro “I deal with it by getting away from the computer but not from the issue. By this I mean that I like to have the problem swirling in the back of my mind, so I find that repetitive tasks really work for me. I find that when something takes my complete attention away, I might clear up my mind a bit but not get much closer to solving the problem. I enjoy NEW music constantly. I literally archive the music from my HDD & wipe my iPod every few months and look for something new in different genres to find new inspiration.”
- @danrholt “When my Creative juices come to a halt, I find other means of getting those juices flowing through other creative activities. A couple of activities I do are taking a walk outside and taking photography. Another is cooking. I rarely ever follow directions when cooking. I always like to experiment and get creative when cooking. A nice Craft Beer always gets the creative juices flowing.”
- @Ertrok “I typically find creative inspiration through free word association. I’ll randomly take two words I can either visually see or whatever pops first into my head and then I’ll try to connect those two ideas through a visual story. Usually along the way, some new inspiration starts to develop.”
I encourage that you take all of our advice with a grain of salt. Expand on them and try various alternatives on each. There’s clearly no right or wrong answer. You’ll find some tips that work for you and some that may not. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find that none of these are practical solutions to your personal creative rut. But for your own sanity, I implore that you find something… anything. A burn out is not a pretty sight. The brain needs to be stimulated, engaged and challenged to stay sharp and grow… but like any other muscle, it is very much deserving of some R&R from time to time.