Anybody who creates knows the moment. You’re staring at a blank canvas in Photoshop, an ominous flashing cursor in Google Docs, or simply a blindingly fresh page of paper… and you have nothing. Your feed, channel, journal, boss, or client is waiting… and simply zero is coming out.
There are artists, like the recently re-appreciated Fran Lebowitz that have legendary, decades-long writers block. There are endless listicles and self-help books about getting yourself out of a rut — go for a walk, have a cup of coffee or a snack, visit a museum, call a friend, read a book, and so on and so forth.
But the simplest and most effective solution to this age-old problem happens before any of that though. It’s a mindset shift, a revelation that can unlock your full creativity and productivity. Here it is: thinking of ideas is a different task than producing them.
Staring off into the abyss of wide-open possibility, it is a daunting feat to create something out of nothing. But given the seed of a prompt, you’re suddenly a pro. You can write, design, compose, or code your work in no time flat. Separating the two tasks, of developing concepts and then executing on them, and you make both of those things easier.
It doesn’t matter if you run an agency responsible for churning out massive content calendars, or are just somebody who wants to keep their blog remotely up to date. Set aside a little time one day to list out ten ideas for a post (or video, or podcast, or whatever other creative output you’re working on). Then save that list in your Evernote or Google Drive and go back to doing something else.
Then another day, when you need to buckle down and produce content, pop that list open. Select an idea that speaks to you, and bring it to life. Rinse and repeat.
You might get through everything on that list, but most likely you’ll pick a few winners that still stand out to you through the sober lens of time and then go about making another list as your creativity calls for it.
I find that in addition to “unstucking” you, this model also takes care of the other biggest challenge with creating and publishing any creative work, curating the good stuff. We all have a lot of ideas that that flow through our heads in any given day, and the same way that you shouldn’t post every photo you take, you shouldn’t necessarily invest the time and energy needed to execute on all of your ideas. By cleaving apart the ideating and the making, you can ruthlessly edit your efforts and only work on what is worth it.
There’s an infamous lunch meeting between Pixar leadership in 1994, where in the span of one meal they developed the concepts that became four blockbuster films. While there was certainly a lot more work that went into the creative process, that legendary session set a path for that studio to follow for over a decade. Your output might not be as grand as “Finding Nemo” or “WALL-E,” but regardless of your medium, you can use this mindset to do the most important thing in making your vision a reality: getting started.