We all get that blank page fear – whether you’re sitting down to a planning session, writing a blog post or getting the camera out, we all know how it feels to demand creativity from ourselves and get nothing in response. As much as we try to manage it, creativity cannot be tamed; it comes and goes as it chooses.
This is why people have invented creative prompts, so that when you’re staring blankly down the lens or at your keyboard there is something to prompt your brain to start thinking creatively. Creativity loves limitations, so when you have a framework within which to think, rather than unbridled freedom, it can be easier to come up with ideas.
Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know what to do with a creative prompt. I think, if we’re honest, this can be down to laziness – we want the prompt to do the creative work for us. There are so many Weekend Hashtag Projects I haven’t done because an idea didn’t come to me in the first five seconds, and I couldn’t be bothered to think about it harder.
A prompt is just that – a nudge to get us to do the work, rather than the work itself. So whether you’re doing a WHP, a blogging challenge or my Monthly Mail prompt (sign up here or in my side bar 😉), below are some exercises to help you make the most of creative prompts.
This is one for the brave, or for those used to journaling or Morning Pages. Free writing is probably the way to get the most tenuous or stretching responses to a prompt – great for creativity but not so much if you’re feeling really down on your own abilities at this moment. Free writing is essentially a stream of consciousness, you start with the prompt and write down every single thought you have about it, how they link together, how you feel about it, the tangents your mind takes you.
There are a few ways to start your free writing. You can begin by describing the mundanity of where you are and how you feel and loop round to the prompt later – this allows your brain to settle into the act of creating before challenging it too much. Or you can start with the prompt itself, either starting by describing how you felt when you first saw the prompt, or with the sentence “when I first saw the word _____, I first thought of _____.” They are your jumping off points to free write about every next thought you have.
Once you’ve finished free writing, put it aside for a few hours or days then come back to it with fresh eyes. A lot of it will be rubbish, and that’s ok! But go through it with a highlighter or a pen and look for the inspired ideas, the sentence that make you want to dig deeper, words that conjure images in your head.
Morning Pages is a daily free writing exercise, and the theory behind it is that if you force yourself to write for 3 A4 pages you get the obvious stuff out of the way so that real creativity can happen on the last page. Try challenging yourself to free write for three pages and don’t just settle for the first ideas.
A condensed form of free writing, word association will stretch your creativity and the prompt to its limits, all while feeling like an easy childhood game.
Whether you like to mind map, list, collage, bullet journal or anything else, you can do your word association in the way that appeals to you. Start with the prompt and begin writing down every single word that comes to mind when you think of that word or phrase. Don’t censor yourself here if something sounds silly or embarrassing – it could lead to an extremely quirky or fun project. Also, if something is true for you it will be true for someone else, and the more obscure that truth the more important and meaningful the resulting content will be to your core people.
The point at which you dry up is the point at which you need to keep going. Similarly to the 3 pages of free-writing, when the obvious stuff is out of the way and it starts to get hard is when the creativity comes. Start looking at synonyms of the word in a thesaurus or online, write down all the antonyms or opposites of the prompt word, use a translator to find out what the prompt is in other languages – what do they make you think of? (You can check out my post 14 Beautiful Untranslatable Words for inspiration on this one).
You can start branching out from word association too. Think about how the word relates to the month or season that we’re in; how does the word make you feel; what does the word sound like? How does it relate to your blog content or products? – if you blog about interiors, write down all the ways the prompt relates to houses, furniture, design.
Once you’ve exhausted these options, review your words. Can you easily group them by theme, do any go together in a sentence that can become a blog title, do any immediately make you think of an image in your mind? By thinking of the opposite words does it give you a different perspective on the prompt word itself? Start to storyboard image ideas based on these words or plan out blog posts that involve the thematic groups.
Have a constant reminder
As hard as you can work on a prompt sometimes it takes long rumination for something to spark, or a flash of inspiration you get when something in front of you chimes with the word in your head. For example, I got a WHP idea when I was turning the word ‘multiply’ around in my head and then opened the fridge and saw a punnet of strawberries (see the resulting picture above).
This is all about having the prompt constantly with you, and allowing your brain to do the background work so that you’re ready to notice inspiration and ideas. For Weekend Hashtag Projects I do this by looking up the word on a Friday night, allowing it to sit in my brain while I sleep, then just thinking of the word all weekend as I go for walks, do the housework and complete mundane little tasks. You could keep the prompt with you by writing it on your hand or having it on the lock screen of your phone. The idea is to keep reminding your brain about it.
And if STILL nothing comes?
Hey, it’s ok! Don’t beat yourself up or think you’re hopelessly uncreative. Some things just won’t resonate with you and won’t get you going, or maybe you’ve just had an intense week and your brain needs a rest. Creative prompts should be fun and useful, and if they cease to be those things then they are no longer a creative prompt to you.
If you want something to show for it, you can use abandoning the prompt as inspiration in itself. Style and photograph your notebook or free writing pages as your response the prompt, write about why you think the prompt didn’t resonate with you, or come up with a completely different prompt of your own.