By thesanfranciscoegotist / /
I used to think I needed a muse. Growing up, I loved the electric moments when inspiration struck… which were often in class! Imagine a scrawny, bespectacled kid quietly flipping to the back of her math notebook to scribble out the next chapter of her latest novel and you’ll have a pretty good picture of my childhood from ages 8 to 13. Because, you know, as a creative writer, when the muse calls, you need to answer. Right? How Homeric.
Fast-forward 15 years or so and I’m a full-time writer who gets to be creative every day. But having a creative role doesn’t automatically mean you feel inspired. Some days, finding inspiration is easy; things flow and I feel like that notebook kid again. Other days, it’s a challenge—especially in unprecedented times like these.
But it’s a challenge that writers and designers are prepared to meet. Here’s the thing: When it’s your job to come up with different ideas every day, you can’t wait around for the muse to show up. There’s always something new to uncover. You just have to get a little… well, creative.
So I asked my fellow Firewood creatives from around the world: How do you stay inspired? When your plate is full but you’re out of juice, what do you do?
1. Get into the right mindset
“Rituals are important for me to get into a creative space. I have a process where I have my coffee, I have my bubbly water, and I’m listening to music on low. Doing these specific things kind of cues my brain: Now it’s time to be present and open to ideas.” —Christina Pedroza, Visual Designer, US
“I find that a lot of times, when I can’t think of a solution for what I’m working on, it’s because I’m stressed out. I take a moment and just listen to music because it helps me relax.” —Gabriel Muñozcano, Associate Creative Director, Mexico
2. Peer into the future
“I plan far ahead, which is why I’m able to really take my time when it comes to my inspiration and how I craft my projects. Being calm keeps me inspired. That’s why I plan out so far in advance. I want creativity to come as naturally as possible, and in order to do that, I need time.” —Fallon Davis, Art Director, US
3. Look for inventive examples
“I’m a big fan of making lists of inspiring things I see and sharing them with the team. So I’ll create a presentation deck and start adding some really cool emails or animations. Essentially digital scrapbooking. Share it out to the team and get everyone to put more and more stuff in there, and when you need some ideas, you have this continuous evolving inspiration resource to go to.” —Eric Kelleher, Associate Creative Director, Ireland
“I love looking at other people’s work. If I’m looking for subject lines, I’ll go to my unread emails because 99.99% of it is awful, so if anything in there catches my eye, I know it’s good. For email inspiration, I like Really Good Emails or HubSpot. I subscribe to Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day email. Sometimes you need to get out of your head, and seeing other people’s inspiring work is a great way to take a quick mental break.” —Liza Mock, Senior Copywriter, US
4. Make the clay
“I often think about writing as a process where you make the clay and then you sculpt the clay. So when I’m stuck, I make as much clay as possible. If I just get generative, typically something pops where I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a way in,’ and once it exists, then I can really start playing with it. Sounds totally dumb, but to get inspired for work, I start working!” —Tobin O’Donnell, Senior Copywriter, US
5. Race against the clock
“The pressure of a looming deadline is a great motivator for inspiration. It helps your brain start to really fire and try to figure out that problem, like fight or flight.” —Tony Landgraf, Associate Creative Director, US
“Deadlines light a fire under your butt. In that moment of pressure, I start getting ideas.” —Christina Pedroza, Visual Designer, US
6. Put your cards on the table
“I like to lay out all the work I’ve done, from the very beginning of the project to the end, and see its evolution. It gives me a little overview of my strategy—and maybe I didn’t realize I had that strategy.” —Sara Omidvar, Associate Creative Director, UK
7. Switch it up
“Change your space. Go to a different room, open a window, or sit on the porch to think through your projects breathing different air. It gets me out of my routine, shakes up my physical environment without being too disruptive to a work day, and puts me out of reach of distraction for a minute.” —Holden Hume, Creative Director, US
“Sometimes I hop off the frustrating project and work on something else to give myself some distance from what is frustrating me. I find that coming back to the problem at hand after a little break can help.” —Lauren Turetsky, Senior Art Director, US
8. Tap into your team
“What inspires me most are the people I work with. I really enjoy the camaraderie—being able to have a symbiotic moment with somebody, even at a distance. Seeing them being proud of their work inspires me.” —Jess Kaihoi, Creative Director, US
“What really inspires me as a writer is connecting with an art director, throwing out all our crazy ideas, and playing with the ones that resonate. When I first started in advertising, we used to call this ‘jamming.’ It’s about creating something new and exciting from the different ways your two minds think.” —Jessica Raya, Creative Director, Copy, US
9. Keep the human connection
“In between working, having conversations about non–work-related things inspires me. At the end of each of these marketing pieces that we’re sending out—whether it’s video, branding, print, direct mail—there’s a human being. And if you don’t have that connection with people on a one-to-one basis, you can lose sight of that.” —Brad Jacobson, Associate Creative Director, Copy, US
“It’s important for me to stay excited and inspired because that’s something we need to offer the clients. They need to be excited and inspired by the work we provide them.” —Sara Omidvar, Associate Creative Director, UK
10. Get ’er done
“Well, if I’m on deadline, sometimes you just gotta rely on pure professionalism and experience, and ‘get ’er done.’” —Mary Mazonson, Production Designer, US
“The only thing I don’t do whenever I’m stuck is stop trying.” —Gabriel Muñozcano, Associate Creative Director, Mexico
“Sometimes a great idea hits you in the shower, but more often than not it takes time to make it spark. So you get a cup of coffee. You look back through your sketches and headlines. You see whether approaching a good idea from a slightly different angle makes it great. You start from scratch if you have to. Which is to say, you keep going. That’s the job.” —Jessica Raya, Creative Director, Copy, US
As a creative—in the immortal words of Shia LaBeouf—sometimes you just have to do it. In the end, it’s really about whatever method of inspiration works best for you—whether that’s looking at a collection of cool things, bouncing ideas off of a colleague, or just putting your nose to the grindstone. One way or another, you’ll deliver something great.
And of course, if you’re really in a pickle, you can always just flip to the back of your math notebook and start scribbling.
About Christianne Michel
Christianne Michel is a Firewood copywriter based in San Francisco. As part of a creative and strategy team that serves a Firewood technology client, she creates messaging for email campaigns, presentation decks, websites, and other communications.