Five Steps to Jump Start Your Creative Process

We all have the capacity to be creative. Sometimes the flow of the creative juices is on full blast and other times the well is dry, not a drop to spare. It is in the dry times when we may feel we've lost our mojo, are no longer capable of creating, or were never good at it to begin with. The self doubt creeps in. Even more damaging, inertia sets in.  

I have found over the years that my creative tap is most fluid during my favorite seasons, Spring and Fall. I love winter too but the months of January and February are typically difficult for me in terms of motivation and ideas. The same thing happens during the July and August period. 

A little down time is always good. It's always important to recharge your battery and refill the well of ideas. But if that downtime lingers too long, then it threatens to become the norm.

To that end, I've come up with five steps which I take to break through that inertia, to open the tap again to creative projects, in my case, writing and designing. 

Step 1: The Walk

Trail in Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco.

Trail in Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco.

Walking is a daily thing for me unless I'm ill or the weather is very bad. However, my daily walks always include listening to an audio book. I get a lot of reading done this way. I cover generally 3 to sometimes 4 miles a day this way. However,  that kind of walking is not the kind of walking I'm talking about here. The Walk is a walk with no music, no audio books, and it's solo. This kind of walk is aimed at opening your mind to the world around you. I try to choose a relatively flat area to do this kind of walk but feel free to hike elevation if that sings to you. There are a few things you should bring with you on your walk: water, and a means to record. This can be either pen and paper or colored pencils, or a camera, or both. Your walk need not be long; at least 20 minutes would be great as it can take time to settle into a comfortable pace and start to relax.

Start the walk by noticing everything around you. What does the air smell like? Do you hear anything? Are there birds singing? Are there squirrels rustling around in the bush? What colors do you see? As you continue your walk, stop when you feel the urge and write down, draw or photograph what you see. Maybe you are in the mood to think big and look at landscape. Maybe you are feeling the microcosm and want to draw or photograph a ladybug larvae as it is settling in for its transformation. 

This walk can be done as many times as you need to open up your well spring again. It is a form of active meditation and like any form of meditation, it will require practice. So be gentle with yourself.

Step 2: The Analysis

After your walk, find some time to sit with your results. Look over your drawings, writings or photos. Is there a common theme? Is there a particular color you were drawn to? Is there a something in your work you feel drawn to dive into deeper? Spend some time writing or drawing your thoughts. In this phase I like to take a cup of tea and sit, depending on the weather, either in my favorite knitting chair, or outside in my garden. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to sit with this material you've gathered on your walk. 

My garden oasis.

My garden oasis.

Step 3: Digestion

This part is very important so don't be tempted to skip it. In this step, you are taking the time to really let your experience soak in. It's a meditation of sorts. You can get as formal or as informal as you like. If you feel the need to sit on a zafu cushion or feel the need to lie down in bed, it's all okay. Just so long as you can keep yourself focused and not drift off to sleep! This is a meditation, not a nap. 

Get comfortable somewhere you won't be bothered, close your eyes, take three deep breaths and then think about your walk and the analysis you've already done. If you discovered a theme from your journey, what is that theme and how can you see your creative process using it?

For example, when I take my walk, I photograph things I see in nature which give me ideas for knitting projects and the yarns and colors I'll use. If I was drawn to something enough to photograph it and nature put the colors together, then they'll look great in a knitted project. 

Bark of a Eucalyptus tree taken after the rain.

Bark of a Eucalyptus tree taken after the rain.

Spend at least 15 minutes really digesting your data. Let images come and go in your mind's eye regarding things you can create with what you've collected. When you feel ready, open your eyes and write down or draw anything that gets you closer to a new project.

Sometimes I don't get close enough in my meditation phase to really flesh anything out. When that happens I nearly always awake around 3 am with many ideas. I guess I'm on a delayed gratification system sometimes.

Step 4: The Swatch

In knitting, we swatch in order to be sure of gauge but we can also use the swatch to help discover the best yarn, colors and size needles to use in our project. 

When we write or draw we "swatch" as well. It's just done a bit differently. A swatch is, a test run, a mini-playground or a mini-laboratory, however you'd like to think of it. 

Circular swatch for a sock design.

Circular swatch for a sock design.

Take some time to "swatch" your new project idea. Sometimes I need to knit up five or six or even more swatches till I find the right mix of yarn, color and needle size to give me what I've drawn in my project sketch. 

When I write, I use freewriting and writing prompts to help me "swatch" my way towards a new project. Often, new blog posts come from my freewriting exercises. 

Step 5: Execute

It's one thing to have a great idea, or a series of great ideas. But unless you execute the ideas or projects, they'll simply remain ideas. So push yourself those last few feet and execute your project idea. Maybe you'll get partway through and realize it's not working the way you'd hoped. That's okay! Just re-evaluate and then get back on the horse so to speak. The creative process is about practice. It's about doing and scratching and trying again.

The author hiking at Purissma Creek.

The author hiking at Purissma Creek.

The very nature of executing your ideas is creative. When I have sketched out a new design and I have swatched and chosen the yarn and needles I want, I still need to actually make the thing before I feel completed. Many times I've realized during the process of knitting the project that I want to go back to the drawing board and change things up a bit. But now that my creative tap is open again, those changes usually come fairly easy. If not, there's always another walk.

So don't linger in the limbo of a creative drought. Put on your walking shoes and step out your door. I'd be willing to bet that your mojo will be back before you know it.