When I start a new project, I often have a moment of anxiety - blank canvas syndrome. I am really excited about all of the possibilities that are embedded within the task of initiating new work, however I am overwhelmed by the blank screen that is staring me in the face. I start to think: will I ever be creative again? Will I create something unique? How can I effect the most change? ... make impact? do something original.... not find the obvious solution... but the best one.
Despite the fact that I feel like an impostor or a fraud in these moments - this is actually pretty common. I've talked to a lot of designers, illustrators and creative people and everyone seems to have a strategy for conquering this feeling. Here are some of my strategies:
Sit with a marker in your hand
My good friend Chloe Varelidi suggested this to me once and it works for me 99% of the time. I find if I just sit somewhere - a coffee shop, a subway ride, a library etc - with a pen in my hand and a sketchbook in front of me and just start the action of drawing, something will spur on an idea. If I am in a total rut, I will start by drawing what I think is the boring or obvious solution to a design problem - kind of to just put it out there into the world. After that is done, it's out of my mind - time to come up with a handful of other ideas.
Look or listen to something that is unrelated but inspiring
I am the queen of podcasts - at any given time I can tell you about something that I found interesting in a recent episode of 99 Percent Invisible or The Moth. The topics of the show don't ever need to relate to something I am working on, but I find that hearing how other people process problems and ideas inspires me to create. Sometimes looking at art in a museum or gallery is helpful. I will say that not going online and hunting for ideas on Pinterest or Dribbble is the most constructive for me. If I go to those sites I tend to go into a downward spiral of self doubt - thinking - look at all these other designers rockin' it - will I ever get my idea? Instead I think more conceptually and proactively.
Move your body
You've heard of the expression - 'mind - body connection' right? Well there's a reason for that - it's true. Stretch, run, do yoga, go for a swim or a walk around your office. My friend Atul Varma actually takes off his shoes and paces from room to room while he is brainstorming. It's the act of waking up your body and prepping it to be creative that really motivates you - and it could be completely subconscious. I always hear about people coming up with great ideas in the morning while they are showering. This is unscientific, but I am sure that it has something to do with the fact that you are moving your body - stretching, standing and letting your mind relax.
Sometimes the reason that I can't get started on something new is that my head is stuck on something old. For example, I recently went from designing a snippet for Firefox to making an onboarding experience to then making promotional content for Privacy day. There's a lot of context switching going on here. I am switching mediums, platforms and thematic concepts! I am still struggling with how to get over this, but one thing that I do is context switch my physical environment. If I have been sitting at a desk for a week straight working on a project, I go to sit at a coffee shop or on a couch to brainstorm. If I have to work at my desk, I find some way to change it : re - organize it, put some fresh tea in front of myself, find a new pen to sketch with - sticky notes to cut up etc. Anything to alter the environment within my zone of comfort.
Talk it out
When all else fails, I find a friend or colleague to talk to. This might be in the form of a tweet, a blogpost (ahem ahem), a journal entry, an instant message or a conversation in real life. I tend to talk to everyone - my husband, my community, my mom, my fellow designers, people who are struggling with the problem that I am trying to solve - people who know nothing about the work that I am dealing with, people who won't respond - but just listen to me ramble, people who will respond and give me thousands of ideas that make no sense, just anyone. It's like talk therapy for me. I just need to get out my concerns and energy in some way so that I can move forward with the creative business at hand.
None of these solutions are fool proof, and it's not like you do one thing and it's a magic bullet or creativity, however, I find that these things are constructive ways to focus and release my anxiety or nervous energy when initiating new work. If you have other strategies, I would love to hear about them, please send me or copy me on a tweet.