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A Giraffe is a Horse that Ran Out of Grass--How to Think Creatively

Updated on May 24, 2010

"I'm trying to think but nothing happens" - Curly (3 Stooges)

You don't know where to begin. The colorful idea you had last night looks pale gray this morning. You're breaking out in a sweat, the ideas just won't come and the deadline looms like an oncoming train with your foot stuck in the tracks. Your superiors expect magic and you can't even shuffle the deck. What are you going to do?

Well you can take a deep breath and relax for starters. When you are ready, I'm going to show you some ways to leave that creative block behind and come up with award winning, crowd pleasing, blockbuster ideas that will have your peers scratching their heads in envy asking: "Why didn't I think of that?"

1. Start Sharp

I won't lie to you, plenty of creative people burned their candle at both ends. For a hilarious description of Honoré Balzac's kamikaze coffee method see here. For the rest of us who don't want to die of espresso overdose like Balzac, seven to eight hours of sleep, eating foods high in nutrients and proteins like fish and poultry along with exercise will deliver far more consistently. Avoiding simple carbohydrates like sugar and refined bread will help you think better longer as well. Natural energy drinks such as green tea, 100% cranberry juice or an effective B vitamin drink such as Lipovitan will keep you going without crashing.

2. Positive Mood

If you are trying to concentrate and are constantly being distracted, try writing down what is bothering you--an unpaid bill, an argument, a letter you need to write, where the cat is, where the dog is--then take a few minutes, take care of them and free up your mind. If you need more than that to achieve the mood to create, skip down to some of the tips listed below.

3. Get Centered and Fall in Love

Find a place where you can be alone and just let the quiet settle in. If you are tense and tightened up, breathe deeply and allow your muscles, starting with your toes and move up to your head, to relax. If you are sluggish and need to wake up, basic stretches will stimulate your blood flow and simple mind stretchers like Sudoku or rapid, doodle level drawings can stimulate your brain.

Try to focus on what you love about what you will be creating. There is nothing more stimulating than a passion for something you love. Find that spark and focus on that. What you are looking for is the beginning of a flow--a sense that your mind is moving in a direction.

A strong passion for any object will ensure success, for the desire of the end will point out the means. ~ William Hazlitt

Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Attributed to Howard Thurman

4. Keep Cards or a Journal Handy

Even while you are getting centered, thoughts and ideas will pop into your head. Record them in some way by jotting them on cards, writing them in your journal or voice recorder. Ideally you might email them to yourself if you work well at a computer--that way you will have them on whatever computer you may be near later.

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~ Francis Bacon

5. Give Yourself a Time Challenge

While it may seem that setting your mind and time constraints free would increase creativity, studies have shown that some mini deadlines do a better job.

Ray Bradbury was freelancing, living in a small house with two children who were distracting. He found typewriters in a UCLA library that would let you bang out copy for 30 minutes for a dime. Since he was poor, he tried to make every 30 minute period count and the keys would get tangled up, but he poured himself into each half-hour period. In between he walked the library, getting inspiration for the next banging out session. He finished the novel Fahrenheit 451 in record time. "It just flowed and wrote itself, effortlessly."

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~ Ray Bradbury

6. Share Progress as You Go

Experiments have shown that people in a group who alternated working alone and then sharing with the group were more creative than those merely working alone. Bounce ideas off of a friend or someone you can email or phone and you may find your creativity level dramatically increasing. Try to find someone who is supportive or at least sympathetic to avoid stalling from negative or too much critical feedback.The idea is to share and stimulate more ideas, not to collaborate.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27:17

7. Review Your Idea Banks

Most of us jot down ideas in journals or notebooks or in a computer file. Either before you start your project or while you are on a break, review these notes and any pertinent books or magazines for inspiration or even material for the project itself. Sometimes going to Google Images or Flicker and simply typing in your topic may give you some images, that if you print out, will stimulate you and possibly lead you to a new direction.

8. Turn off the Critic

Too much self-criticism stifles the creative flow. Allow yourself room to make mistakes or go off subject or scribble with bad handwriting so that your ideas keep coming. Postpone the critiquing and editing until after you have had a least 30 minutes of flow.

9. Break Your Routine

Studies on aging show that changing your routine or picking a different way to do everyday activities stimulates the brain and keeps you young. Change which shoe you put on first or the side of the bed you sleep on or the hand you use to brush your teeth with. If you are right handed, then draw with your left hand and this will exercise the right, more creative side of your brain.

Meeting new people or finding out something new about the ones you know can open up the brain cells to creative thoughts. Try to find out something you didn't know about their history or talk to your partner about the way you have sex, perhaps by role playing where one is guru and one is student and then reverse to get the real scoop on what each likes or dislikes.

10. Find Your Inner Child

While 90% of children are found to have a high creativity level, only 2% of adults do. As you become more open to new concepts, are flexible in the ways you do things and develop a sense of wonder, you become more and more able to think and create in new and often brilliant ways.

Children, like animals, use all their senses to discover the world. Then artists come along and discover it the same way all over again. ~ Eudora Welty

The following are actual replys to a newspaper contest in which kids were asked to come up with "Deep Thoughts."

Home is where the house is.
–Age 6

Give me the strength to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and a great big bag of money.
–Age 13

For centuries, people thought the moon was made of green cheese. Then the astronauts found that the moon is really a big hard rock. That’s what happens to cheese when you leave it out.
–Age 6

If we could just get everyone to close his or her eyes and visualize world peace for an hour, imagine how serene and quiet it would be until the looting started.
–Age 15

I once heard the voice of God. It said “Vrrrrmmmmm.” Unless it was just a lawn mower.
–Age 11

As you make your way through this hectic world of ours, set aside a few minutes each day. At the end of the year, you’ll have a couple of days saved up.
–Age 7

Often, when I am reading a good book, I stop and thank my teacher. That is, I used to, until she got an unlisted number.
–Age 15

11. Think Slant

As I mentioned in How to be Funny 101, humor is looking at things in another dimension. To get the juices flowing in your creative project, try looking at your problem in a different way. In a recent study, college students were more creative in a writing assignment answering a question after simply being told to imagine they were seven years old. How about imagining you were from another planet or you were writing from the standpoint of some celebrity you admire.

I once had a dream in which the most popular boy in my high school was in the center of my friends and others and saying the most clever and hilarious things I had ever heard. For a moment I was feeling envy and wishing I were more like him until it dawned on me--it was my dream and every word he uttered was created by my brain. I was that guy I admired.

The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught. And yet we waste billions of dollars in time looking for them where they’re not. ~ Seth Godin

12. Ask the Who, What, When, Where and Why Questions

Who---Make a list of all the people who will be affected. Who wants it, will use it, will read it, will be improved by it, will hate it, be hurt by it or who will profit from it?

What--What is needed, what should be happening, what results are you going for, what will happen if it is done another way, what is not being done and what are the factors involved?

When--Timing can be a big factor. When does this need to be done? Does changing the time affect the outcome?

Where--Is the location a factor? Do people in different locations affect how it is done? Are there multiple locations? Where are the critical components located? Where does most of the action take place?

Why--Why do it at all? Why do it this way? Why did certain people do it? Why do you care?

Make a Visual Guide Map

Image from
Image from

13. Use a Mind Map

One of the ways to quickly get ideas and concepts down is to start with a blank piece of paper or chart and put the major goal or project in the center. You can illustrate it or just have words. Quickly put the components of the project or idea as they come to you around the main idea and circle or box them. Draw arrows to them from the center one and draw other boxes or figures around the components if they have sub-topics to cover. Don't waste time making this perfect--it is a tool to get a lot of stray thoughts in order and to stimulate new thoughts as you do the exercise. Number the steps in the order that you will want to deal with them and when you want to be finished with it. Voila! You have just created an outline and a schedule for your project as well as a visual reminder. Put it on the wall or your desk to help you finish--add to it or change it at any time--in fact, make it larger and use post-its for the components and add images or draw them--make this a fun exercise.

14.Think Illogically

If you are thinking what people need, try thinking of what they don't need. If you are trying to find out what people expect, think of what would surprise them. If you are trying to come up with a box, think of a line--if black, think white--if you are thinking a picture, think words--if words, then a picture. Try to visualize the opposite way of thinking for even things like table or orange or a poem. When your mind is forced to go outside the routine way of thinking, you route your brain pathways into new areas and some surprising answers occur.

15. Use Metaphors

When developing your ideas, giving them a picture or real life characteristics can energize your process. In my article "Everyone is a Weed in Someone's Garden" the obvious metaphor is a person as a weed. I was not only able to talk about weeds, a fascination for me, but I was able to show how we can learn from weeds as personalities. The more I found out about my metaphor--weeds, the more I had to say about people.

16. Make up a Story

When you see people on the street, see them as characters in a story. Use your imagination to conjure up secrets, motivations, flaws, abilities that are not readily apparent.When you go on a walk, use the locations, the scenery and the people as a moving storyline. (Very fun activity for you and your children, by the way.)

If your project involves customers, bosses, advisers or workers, make up a story and assign the motivations appropriate to the project and see where it leads you. The more life you put into the person who needs your creativity, the more love you can have for the project and the more excitement you can put into it.

17. Ten Questions

If you are stuck, force yourself to ask questions. It doesn't matter what form you use. Ask ten questions about the project. It is the exercise not the content that matters. If the project is to come up with a better ad for car rentals you might ask: "How many hippos will fit in the mid-size models?" "Is there a reason that an eskimo would want this car?" "Would one clearly identifiable paint color be better than twenty different colors?" "What would my high school coach like about these cars?"

And speaking of questions, when questions come to mind at any time, try to find the answer and write it down. If it doesn't seem to help now, it may come in handy later.

18. Use the Michelangelo Method

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. ~ Michelangelo

Sometimes creativity involves the tearing away of things that keep you from your goal--often the very rules themselves are not flexible enough. What would happen if you went totally outside them? Are there unnecessary points and details or directions you can eliminate to get closer to a purer and more successful track.

19. Play the Fool

No one breaks the rules and ignores conventions like a court jester. In history, Kings and Pharaohs used fools to censure or criticize the decisions they made to give them perspective. Making fun of something has often led to insight and new ideas. Monty Python was a master at this type of ridicule and mockery.

O Lord, bless this thy Hand Grenade that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy. ~ Monty Python

After you have poked fun and merciless ridicule at your project, jot down any ideas it percolated and if you actually did come up with a legitimate criticism, make the necessary modifications to your plans. If you need help, read some Dave Barry or watch some Monty Python.

20. Thinking in Reverse

Reverse traditional thought and see what comes of it. In 1916, Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors reversed the common notion that a consumer must pay for the car before he drove it and introduced installment buying. In 1920 he reversed the common notion that consumers wanted simple, easy to fix cars that all looked the same to keep the cost down and introduced "planned obsolescence." He found that if they kept changing the design and adding features that owners would want to get the new model. While there has been a counter revolt against those very innovations, few could argue that reverse thinking can be highly profitable and in many cases, helpful as well.

The Answer is Always Within Yourself

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself ~ The Matrix


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    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

      Ha ha I've been trying #16 and have been using #12 (and I didn't even know it was on your list until I read your hub!). I've been teaching my 9 year old how to write by following the 5W and 1H. It's working like magic for him.... I should remember my basic skills and maybe I wouldn't have had such a long drought! Again, thank you for the inspiration to try something new. :)

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Beth, nice to see you. You're welcome, as I was reading through this again I realized you could use some of these ideas as a party "livenerupper." Hope they work for your writing. Leave me another comment if you used any of them to help you with your next article. Thanks for stopping by. =:)

    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

      These are awesome tips!! I've bookmarked this one -- I can see myself coming back and again! :) Maybe my dry spell will now end!! Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Thank you Charles, I'm glad it helped you. I read your article and enjoyed the real life examples. For a great account of the "post-it" process where creative thinking turned many seemingly unworkable situations into successes see this:

      Thanks again for stopping by and consider writing on Hubpages. =:)

    • profile image

      Charles 7 years ago

      Found this very helpful Winsome - I particularly like the relevant quotations - they anchors your main points for me. Cheers!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Lorlie, you are so sweet. To borrow a line from Bernie Taupin, "It's for people like you who keep it turned on."

      I had to write this one so that when I'm stuck I can pull it out and it'll work for me too. Thanks for finding it. =:)

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      I do not know how on earth I missed this hub, Winsome, but I've been corresponding with Rebecca E. and she recommended I read the hub she wrote in answer to your question about hubs.

      You are one remarkable writer and I've been following you for a while, but this one got by me. With a title like this, I don't know how! :)


    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      You are kind to say so Catlyn. I'm very happy it was helpful. Thank you for visiting. =:)

    • Catlyn profile image

      Catlyn 7 years ago from Somewhere in the OC

      Brilliant! This is a Hub I will print out and highlight!

      ps I bookmarked it too!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Thank you Salt--you are very gracious. I'm glad you're my 200th fan. =:)

    • salt profile image

      salt 7 years ago from australia

      Absolutely wonderful.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Very nice of you to notice Fetty. I really enjoyed those kids too. You are the first to mention them--I think they are hilarious. =:)

    • fetty profile image

      fetty 7 years ago from South Jersey

      Beautifully written, very thorough with a wide array of really neat ideas. I especially loved the article on the children's "Deep Thoughts". You emit such a wonderful vitality in your writing. I, also , have bookmarked this one. Thanks.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Nice to see you laughing CW, and don't look now but LOTS of people see your published hubs--if you at least let a few positive people in on what you're thinking before you publish, it just might stimulate a little more creativity. Thank you for the kind words. =:)

    • profile image

      Crazdwriter 7 years ago

      hehehe I don't do the whole sharing thing. I don't like my friends reading my stuff even though I want to get my stuff published. How weird is that? I need to get over that and let people start reading my stories. I have only let my husband, 2 friends, and my mother-in-law read two of my short stories...I guess I need more people read them lol

      The list is great! Your hubs are a fun read.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Or not. =:)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Fish stomachs - ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey JG, you're very welcome. I get a text message from writer Dave Farland called: "Daily Kick in the Pants" and it's helpful little hints spur me on.

      Well when you are suffering from "malaisia," perhaps you can use that to help you with the upcoming food contest--maybe an easy dish like: Perut Ikan (Stewed Fish Stomach with Vegetables)--yumm. Can't get enough of those fish stomachs. =:)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      My profile says I'm currently suffering from writer's block, but it's really writer's *malaise* in general. Thanks for the kick in the pants to get off my duff!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Micky what a pleasure you are. Thank you for your comment.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Fantastic! Thank you!

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      As always, you give excellent advice. I'll send you an email telling you what I did. That particular day, though, the fact that I was proctoring a final exam caused a problem.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hello M'Lady, thank you for your comment and yes send me an email about the result. The saying "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink" is true of individuals who have heard the best advice in the world and still refuse to take it. I was a substitute teacher during college in the public secondary schools and I was usually able to get a class to work minutes after I began even when they had their minds set on partying. The key for me was finding out where they were and leading them on from there. This would work for 95% of the students, but occasionally there was a child who's home situation was so non-supportive that only love and acceptance would get a response. Since I don't know this student's situation, I would find out her motivation landscape and go from there. I might even start the essay by asking her questions and writing the answers down and having her pick up from there. Getting started is the hardest part. (see How to Keep Motivated When You're Barely Hanging On) Always good to see you M'Lady. =:)

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 8 years ago from Florida

      You give some great suggestions. I wonder how you would handle this scenario: You are giving an essay final exam to an advanced class and notice one of your best students is simply sitting there, staring at her paper. You take her into the hall and try to find out what is bothering her. You suggest everything you can think of: doodling, stream of consciousness, anything to get her to put pen to paper. She refuses. She sits there for the entire hour. If you are interested in what happened next, let me know!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Cris, you are welcome and although your hubs are always "award winning, crowd pleasing, blockbuster" ones, I am delighted if any of these ideas help us to see more of them. Thank you for your comment. =:)

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Wow everything you suggested makes sense. Now I have no excuse to not come up with, as you put it, "award winning, crowd pleasing, blockbuster ideas". Great hub, thanks for sharing :D

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Dobson, that's a good sign, it means it's starting to work. =:) Thanks for stopping by.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      You are very welcome GL, even more fun is to do a random doodle and then look at it to see what it reminds you of and then try to draw that using your doodle lines in the finished product. I have a notebook with some great ones that I would never have come up with the regular way. You and I will have to post some of them. =:)

    • Dobson profile image

      Dobson 8 years ago from Virginia

      This is some list. I think my brain hurts now!

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Excellent Winsome! I love the idea of doing rapid doodle level drawings to stimulate the brain. My old school notebooks were littered with them.

      We do think alike. I've written about Living Backward and getting out of the box so often, I think I'm at a point where I'm ready to squeeze out a different flavor of creative brain juice. Thanks for the guidelines and the inspriration.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Ha ha RM, yes there are no rules in this hub. Splendiferously, outstandingly...everything is fair game when you let the creative juices flow. Thank you for stopping by.

    • raisingme profile image

      raisingme 8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      This is great! Just plain and simple and outstandingly (is that even a word?) GREAT! I love how you used the quotes. If I get stuck er that should be when I get stuck....I am definitely coming back here for a mental job around this hub!

      Thank you!

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Doc, that was pretty amusing that picture of you waking up to try to read what you wrote as you were dropping off--"Rememb to take the zhalhhg;b out of the asugfkc. It's VERY importsdinn! =:) Thanks for the bookmark.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      PE thank you for the kind words. I'd like to see you trying to brush, it's pretty funny the first time. I'm glad they are helpful. I wanted to give you guys the best--and consequently they are very helpful to me too. Amazing how that works, huh. =:)

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey FP, I had to use everyone of those tips to get this thing finished. If I hadn't written the prequel about motivation it may never have seen the light of day. Ha ha Thank you so much for your generous comment. I love your "lazy cat" extremely well written hubs--Come sleep on my rug anytime. =:)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 8 years ago from south Florida

      Your creative tips are excellent. I'm going to bookmark this page. I particularly like to write things down when a creative thought pops into my head, and it's often right before I fall asleep.I have written hundreds of wonderful ideas that way.

      The only problem - when I wake in the morning and look at them I can't read what I wrote.

    • perihelionecho profile image

      perihelionecho 8 years ago from Michigan

      Wow Winsome! I only write as a hobby, I don't really have to work toward a deadline (except my own personal one) so I don't write under super stressful circumstances, but your information in here is invaluable. I do use the mini deadlines when writing, and I use a map to brainstorm and organize my thoughts. I am eager to try to use my left hand to brush my teeth or put my left shoe on first, I am a creature of habit and I can always use the extra boost in creativity.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      I've read other hubs on how to overcome a creative block, but Winsome, yours get top marks! Thank you for these very creative tips - now if only I was organised or committed enough to put them into practice. I can manage the green tea, but the rest seems like too much work for a lazy cat. Maybe I should just stop writing! :D


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