It’s probably safe to say that, at one point or another, all of us have run into a wall with our work. We’ve all had that terrifying moment of stagnation when we realize the creativity well has run dry, and it only takes a few seconds before our minds become as parched for the once-flowing ideas as our lips would get drinking dust instead of water. It’s a sad state of affairs.
There is a solution to this problem that tends to work pretty well, though, and it’s so simple that it’s easy to overlook. Work backward.
Now, I don’t mean try to type while facing away from your keyboard or to walk backwards while you talk on your mobile phone (though that can be a good way to get inspired). Nay, what I mean is that you need to approach the problem from the opposite direction you were approaching it from before, which means that this tactic will look different to everyone, depending on how they usually tackle a problem.
A simple example: before writing this article, I was trying to come up with something to write about. I was thinking about things I knew a lot about, brainstorming interesting tricks and tips, and mentally going over what friends and colleagues had asked me about recently, as that is where a lot of my material comes from.
Not coming up with anything I could really sink my teeth into, I occupied my hands by flipping through the stockpile of old illustrations I created for an older project (which is where a lot of the illustrations for this site come from). I stopped at one image in particular, and the idea hit me.
“Ah ha!” I announced to no one in particular. “The ant, he is racing against the clock, working harder and harder, which makes the clock go faster and faster. If he really wants to get ahead, he’ll run backward instead, which will save him all the time in the world. Silly ant.”
Within this (fabricated and metaphorical) statement there was a very practical idea; that we can get so caught up in run-run-running forward at breakneck speeds that sometimes we don’t realize that we can save time by working backward instead. I was able to cut my brainstorming time in half by starting at what is usually the last step of my article-writing process, choosing the illustration.
Whatever it is you’re working on right now, give it a shot and let me know how it turns out in the comment section below.
Update: April 23, 2016
I should note that all of my posts used to have accompanying illustrations that I drew for them (or in some cases, which I had already drawn, and which were used as inspiration for the posts).
I stopped using illustrations for my posts, or images of any kind, years later when I realized that it was my least-favorite part of blogging, and was in fact keeping me from blogging more. I still think about this sometimes, actually, when I’m deciding how to get myself motivated to do something. Is there some component of this thing I want to do that makes the whole activity seem tedious or difficult? Can I just get rid of that thing?
Common wisdom at the time said that you don’t publish a blog post without an image, because that’s what people are attracted to. I decided that I didn’t want people who were clicking through because of a pretty image, and that the words were what was important. This also gave me the incentive to focus more on the words.