10 Ways to Feel More Inspired in the Next 10 Minutes

Breaking through a creative block doesn’t have to be a whole big thing

Photo: Haitong Yu/Getty Images

It’s hard to come up with fresh new ideas when you’ve been staring at the same four walls for five months. Take it from me, someone who’s been staring at the same four walls for five months. Whether you’re working on a creative project or just need to brainstorm what to say at your next work Zoom, you don’t need to go on a vision quest in order to get inspired. (Though if you do need some time off for a vision quest, we’ll totally cover for you.)

Start a “Spark File.” Michelle Woo, a senior editor here at Forge, suggests putting brainstorming sessions with yourself on the calendar. Keep notes of whatever random ideas arrive in your brain — that’s your “Spark File” — and then every once in a while, set aside some time to go over the notes. Past you might have the key to unblock present you.

Write like Hemingway. Sometimes writer’s block is a problem of muscle memory. Ryan Holiday writes, “It was from Ernest Hemingway, Tobias Wolff, and John Fante that I learned about typing up passages by your favorite authors so that you can feel great writing go through your fingers.” Try typing out someone else’s words. It will remind your fingers how to transmit great ideas.

Stop trying so hard. Great ideas are like cats. They don’t like being forced, and they don’t like being watched. When you’re stuck trying to solve a problem or come up with something new, take a break and do something very mildly engaging. Laura Vanderkam writes, “The key is to achieve a state of alert idleness, not sleepy boredom.” She suggests an activity like driving, gardening, or going for a walk.

Use pen and paper. Computers and phones come fully stocked with distractions; no wonder our devices — and our lives — don’t allow us to reach the state of flow so necessary for creativity. Try sitting down with an actual pen and actual paper just to see what happens. Stephen Moore notes, “There is no chance to highlight and delete or copy and paste your work. It’s full flow in free flow.”

Look out the window. Being in a constant state of doing isn’t good for your electronics or your car, so why would it be good for your brain? Sometimes the secret to letting ideas gel is as simple as looking out the window, as Jordan Gross writes. As Joyce Carol Oates puts it: “It’s bizarre to me that people think that I am ‘prolific’ and that I must use every spare minute of my time, when in fact, as my intimates have always known, I spend most of my time looking out the window.” (If you don’t have a good window to look out of, you can always borrow someone else’s with this cool site called WindowSwap.)

Set a timer. Whether it’s a big project for work or that screenplay you’re finally going to start working on, thinking big can be daunting. Give up now! Or, instead, tell yourself you can give up in seven minutes. Nicole Peeler recommends setting a timer. Make yourself work for the next seven minutes. You might be ready for a break when the timer goes off, or you might find that you’re in the flow now and can keep going. It’s a tried-and-true method for not giving up after all.

Talk it out. Sitting in front of a blank screen can be a total inspiration-killer. Try talking into a recorder instead. As Herbert Lui writes, “speak and then think, not the other way around. It’s like improv — when you’re in a freewheeling headspace, ideas will start to flow.”

Be stupid. The “wrong-thinking” technique is a great one for whenever you’re really truly stuck. Thinking of a great idea is an intimidating prospect, so what if you tried to loosen up by first thinking of some really bad ones? Moore suggests starting a brainstorming session with terrible ideas: “By starting with the worst possible ideas, you disrupt your ingrained thinking processes and are suddenly free.”

Get naked. What? It’s a totally legit creativity hack — Eric Spitznagel notes that Benjamin Franklin began his workdays taking “air baths,” sitting in his room beside an open window “without any clothes whatever.” For those of us who live with children and/or roommates, a more PG-13 option might be to go take a regular old water bath or a shower — just something that puts you in a different, and possibly more open, state of mind.

Get more awesome. As Brad Stulberg writes, we need moments of “ordinary, if still transcendent, awe” — times where we feel connected to the world and each other and remember what really matters. To get a quick hit of awe, you can try immersion in natural environments, watching a sunset or the stars, looking at art, or listening to music. I recently got a dose of this while watching a live feed of the Mars rover Perseverance taking off. If that plucky rover (godspeed, little guy) can go to outer space, in the midst of a pandemic no less, I can do anything — or at least finish this piece on inspiration.

Senior Editor, Forge @ Medium // Bylines: New York Times, Oprah, Slate // Latest novel: Unseen City https://bookshop.org/books/unseen-city-9781662028106/9781597

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