Skip to content
Image/Video Carousel

How to unstick yourself when you’re stuck

Studying a creative degree at university requires a lot of self-direction and idea generation when responding to project briefs. It can sometimes be hard to generate ideas, and you may find yourself stuck. Martin Schooley, Director of Communication Design shares seven tips for overcoming that creative block

Don’t panic or worry about being stuck without an idea or thought. It happens to all of us, so there’s no shame in it – it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish. It just means you’re stuck for a while. The question is, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to un-stick yourself?

Tip 1 – Research

It all starts with research: you need to understand what topics, subjects and themes are involved in a given project. A lot of the time when a person is ‘stuck’ it is down to either the fact that they’ve not done enough research (learning about and understanding the relevant subject matter) or they’ve done the research but they’re not looking at what they’ve found properly.

At the very least, make sure you ask these fundamental questions:

“What really matters about this subject?”

“What is most important?”

“What do I really need to say?”

Tip 2 – Look

Look at other great work for inspiration. De-code it, understand how it was put together. Ask the questions: what makes it work so well? How does the idea work.

Tip 3 – Move

This is key: to have an idea you need to be active. Sitting slumped in a chair is about the least active thing you can do. So – if you want to sit, make sure you are chatting actively with someone. Or – get up and walk about the place. Do anything except sitting slumped in front of a computer screen or a blank sheet of paper.

I get a lot of ideas just walking around. I take a folded-up piece of paper and a pen in my pocket, and then I go for a walk – and I actively think about the project as I walk. If an idea pops into my head, I quickly scribble it down.

The point is, if you’re stuck, getting up for a walk is much better than sitting in front of your laptop/sketchbook staring at a blank screen. What you have to realise is that you are not only ‘at work’ when you are at your desk, with your laptop open and pen in hand. Creatives are always at work.

So you can be at work when you are going for a walk, or waiting for a bus, or on a train journey, or in the middle of the night…

Tip 4 – Look again

Look at other, unrelated things. Looking at work within your practice can be great – but it can also be limiting. There’s a risk that you just end up doing what other creatives would do. Go to a gallery and look at art, or a museum, or read a novel or a decent newspaper. Go to the opera or ballet. See a concert or two.

The point is – we need to get our heads out of the problem we’re stuck with, and into a different and bigger world. Most problems are about the bigger world, so we need to put ourselves there.

Tip 5 – Go to bed

Sleep on it! Have a thought, get it down somehow, and then take a fresh look at it a while later, or even the following day.

Tip 6 – Talk

Show your work to others. Be brave – ask for honest input. This is ok – and expected in what is a very collaborative industry. You rarely crack a problem completely on your own. So share your ideas and ask for input from others.

Tip 7 – Try a new way of making

We have a wide range of campus facilities. Trying a different way of making can help you to work through your creative block from a different perspective.

Explore our Campus Facilities