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5 ways to stay creative

February 25th, 2011 · 33 Comments · Agency Life, Innovation & Creativity

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How do you stay creative?

You write.  You design.  And most likely, you do it on command.  There’s no waiting for a muse.  You have a deadline.

As we talk more and more about content marketing and the power of using our expertise to impact search engines and woo potential clients — we have to write even more!

So how do you stay fresh?  How do you create when you don’t feel particularly creative?  I’m going to share a few of my favorite techniques but I am hoping you’ll jump into the comments section with your own tricks of the trade.

Read: I try to keep my brain well fed.  I read/skim about 100 different blogs a day, try to read a book a week and check out several newspaper websites every day.  Surprisingly, this doesn’t take as long as it sounds — my iPad has apps that collect and coordinate it all so I just have to quickly flip through and see what catches my eye. (I read these smart people, you should too!)

Write/Design every day: I try to stay limber by never putting down my proverbial pencil.  Sometimes I am at it for hours and other days, maybe only 30 minutes.  Even if it’s just answering e-mails to friends — I rarely take a day off.

Tunes: There’s something about music that fuels me.  It’s an energy that I can channel into my writing.  I’ve discovered that I turn to different styles of music depending on what I’m writing and if I need a boost or need help staying focused.

Fresh air: When I am really stuck, I head outside.  (Unless it’s ugly hot) The crispness of the air and just stopping to close my eyes and inhale deeply refreshes and calms me when I’m feeling jittery about a deadline or am stuck in some way.

Partake in witty banter: One of the best parts of the Internet for me is that there are playmates available 24/7.  I can hop on Twitter or Facebook and find someone smart to chat with.  Smart people bring out the best in my thinking, writing and outlook.

Your turn.  How do you stay creative on demand?

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • David Leger

    Great post ! Sometimes, the looming dealine haunts you and you’re afraid to take a step back… But more often than not, it’s the right thing to do !
    David Leger recently posted..Bilingual copywriter wantedMy Profile

    • Drew McLellan


      In my business, a deadline is a deadline. But I agree with you — sometimes ideas have to simmer awhile. So I try to get a project on my brain’s back burner long before I actually have to sit down and write.

      Many times, it will have cooked long enough that when it’s time to create — it flows very quickly.

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Patrick Albanese

    As for the writing and design every day idea… I highly recommend mark Levy’s book “Accidental Genius”.

    It’s all about free writing, and how to let you brain dump onto a page without editing yourself.

    You get some junk of course, but it’s surprising how much great content you can come up with.

    • Drew McLellan


      You’re the second person to recommend that book this week. Sounds like a trip to the library is in order for me!

      I don’t know about you, but I need to just write and write…first to get the trite, easy stuff out. If I don’t clear my head of it, I get stuck there.

      Then, after that’s out of the way — I can really dig in and write something of quality.

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Sven

    Another one is having a shower or standing in the rain. I read once the water has some positive effect on the air that makes you think clearer.
    Sven recently posted..How to make an autotune videoMy Profile

    • Drew McLellan


      We all often joke about our best ideas coming while we’re in the shower but it has a grain of truth to it too.

      Maybe it is the water or maybe it’s just that your concentrating on the task at hand, which leaves the creative part of your brain free to wander and explore?

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Kneale Mann

    Great post, Drew. We all feel uncreative and as you pointed it, it’s often because so much of our creativity is tapped working on clients, prospects, presentations, workshops and all that email.

    One further suggestion is to seek out material that has nothing to do with your career. And it may be as simple and finding some comedy on YouTube or visiting a car enthusiast site. Just find something that will cleanse the creative pallet.

    How often has any of us stumbled onto a new way around an issue, a new idea, a creative thought when we are doing something inane? It happens when I’m preparing a meal, driving, having a shower, lined up at the grocery store.

    Ultimately, we never give our minds a moment off so find diversions and you will eventually find the road again.

    I have a t-shirt that says “Team Belligerent” on the front and “Pineapple” on the back. When launching a radio station six years ago, I split my team into smaller groups for brainstorming. I mentioned to my group that the creative process has no beginning or end so if you’re stuck, just say anything, like “Pineapple”.

    • Drew McLellan


      Yup — doing something very specific and task oriented, like driving, showering etc. that occupies part of your brain but doesn’t really require you to be creative — somehow frees up that part of your brain to play and be free.

      I think that’s why taking a walk is often a great creativity jump start. There’s so much to notice and see as you walk — it has the same effect.

      Love the pineapple — I’m going to use that from now on when I get stuck!

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Amy Do

    A good workout / run always helps get my creative juices going.

    • Drew McLellan


      I think exercise is a tool that many people use to get the creative juices flowing. It fires off the endorphins and like I said to Kneale and Sven — gives your brain’s creativity center a bit of freedom to roam around and explore new ideas.

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Gavin Heaton

    I’m with Sven – I often find some of my best ideas come in the quiet of the shower. Apparently the atomised steam of a shower can stimulate creativity. Certainly works for me.

    • Drew McLellan


      It’s a wonder we’re not all showering 3-4 times a day!

      You’re right though — part of it is because it’s quiet. There’s no overload of noise, music, e-mail etc. all getting in the way of finding a new way of thinking about something!

      Drew McLellan recently posted..5 ways to stay creativeMy Profile

  • Mark Ryan

    They strategy that really hit home for me was ‘writing every day’. This concept is just like the importance of exercise and eating right everyday. When you make them part of your routine, they quickly transform into habits. One method I follow is submitting articles for syndication. This has proved to be a very productive advertising method for my own site, http://www.directmailsecrets.net. The trick is to find a way to make writing an every day thing. Once, you become prolific, your words become a lightning rod for your particular topic for anyone in the industry. It takes time, but it works!

  • Tim

    This is great! I love having creative time… unfortunately, if I don’t plan for it, I don’t have time for it then.

  • Tracy

    I have often joked with my husband about putting a dry erase board on the shower wall so I can’t forget the creative thoughts I come up with.

    But the fresh air, a short walk outside or lunch on our company picnic table, will have to suffice once I have gotten to work.

    Thanks to all for the other great ideas.

  • Brandy

    I definitely agree with the writing part. Just jotting thoughts down as they come helps. I’ve also learned that having some quiet time without any distractions (i.e. phone, computer, tv) for about 20-30 minutes a day also helps too.

  • Shirley

    Be goofy. When I’m stuck sometimes I will just ride the train (wreck) of thought. Instead of being the expert on something, I might put out a series of twitter or facebook posts such as quotes by Famous TV Detectives or presidential proclamations. Sometimes related to our services, sometimes not. It seems sometimes our readers/customers can need that break too! (In fact, I’m in a brain vacation right now: currently our series is 80′s sitcoms… and interestingly enough, not a lot of “Liking” or “commenting” on FB, but our ‘fans’ are dropping by the store to guess the answer and to say they loved/hated that show!)

    These goofy bits don’t take as much brain-power, but they do often stimulate other ideas… so that I can meanwhile rejuvenate and prepare for the next series.

  • Beth Gibbins

    Take a class that has nothing to do with work (although, you will find that there are always ways to apply concepts…) I have been taking college classes and they have reopened parts of my brain that I had forgotten all about!

  • Christin Mowery

    I agree with Sven, the shower is my favorite place to brainstorm ideas. Perhaps that is because I have six children and that is the only quiet spot? Either way, I find myself jumping from the shower searching for a pen and paper or drying my hands and typing notes into my BlackBerry.

    I also browse through stock photography online. My favorite is Fotolia.com. Many times, I find an amazing image and it results in inspiration.

    Thank you for another great post.
    Christin Mowery recently posted..Hello- My Name is Christin and I’m a JunkieMy Profile

    • Drew McLellan


      Ha — no doubt it is the 6 kids thing! If you scroll up in the comments, you’ll see that someone had posted a link to a white board that you can use in the shower. (Originally designed for scuba divers).

      With that in hand — you might stay in the shower all day!

      Drew McLellan recently posted..Fascinating Facebook infographicMy Profile

  • Zahnarzt

    i’ve heard a good advice from someone successful that said that if you read a book per week in your field, in 5 to 10 years it will put you in top 10% of the guys in your field. so reading is very important, not only for creativity

    • Drew McLellan


      Much like Beth’s suggestion about taking a class, your reminder that we should be readers is a very good one.

      I personally like to mix my reading — a non fiction book or two and then some fiction just for fun. I find if I read too many business books in a row, I stop enjoying the process.

      How about you — what do you read to stay fresh?

      Drew McLellan recently posted..Fascinating Facebook infographicMy Profile

  • Sean Howard

    You make me blush, Drew!!!

    For me, it’s definitely the shower. And it’s about carrying a notebook at all times. And finally, it’s slowing down and giving myself time. I don’t do this enough.
    Sean Howard recently posted..Social CRM – Are Our Measurement Tools Throwing Away the RelationshipsMy Profile

  • rosin

    hat’s probably the one that would help the most and we do the least.
    rosin recently posted..Chaussures Shox Venez conjointement – Correcte MaintenantMy Profile

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