Thinking about a creative project ahead of starting often conjures exciting and whimsical thoughts. Visions of plain sailing, eureka moments and working to schedule seem perfectly achievable on paper. But the truth is, anyone who has sat down to work on their masterpiece will be all too familiar with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.

“I’ve no idea what I’m doing"

“I’ll never be able to do what the greats did”

“What if I invest a heap of time into this for no return?”

“Why didn’t I choose a more straightforward career?”

It’s important to remember that even the most highly-regarded creatives go through the same struggle. In fact, they’re probably going through them right now. Haruki Murakami describes the beginning as “a kind of torture.”

Whether you’re a novice or a master of your craft, learning to push through the fog is an essential stepping stone to progress.

Find your cave

Daniel Day-Lewis took the creative process so seriously that while filming Gangs of New York he trained as a butcher and caught pneumonia from refusing to wear a warm coat because it wasn’t in keeping with the filming period. Other filming prep saw him kip in abandoned prisons and hunt and kill his own food. Essentially, DDL needed to escape in order to create.

“As with all artistic endeavour, you lose yourself; it’s like time out of time, a period when I lose myself and the clocks stop.”

Submitting to a form of escapism is a necessary ingredient for many creatives. Dani Shapiro refers to this process as being in a cave. Every morning when she wakes, Dani sits in a quiet space and reads for an undetermined period of time. It’s the first thing she does and her justification is that for her line of work she needs to “start the day with good sentences” away from the distractions of modern life. She tells her students that they are either in the cave or out.

Whether it’s a 30 minute jog, an uninterrupted afternoon or a blank canvas to harvest inspiration, find your cave.

Leave familiarity at the door

Despite living in an age where we have more information at our fingertips than ever before, we’re often bound by our own echo chambers. We associate with thinkers, makers and doers who share similar ideas and information to our own. Although there are many benefits to this, it can also create an environment where everything feels recycled. Perhaps what we really ought to do is leave our familiarity at the door.

Artist and filmmaker, Isaac Julien has “a magpie attitude to inspiration: I seek it from all sorts of sources; anything that allows me to think about how culture comes together.” Julien cites everything from new geographical locations to artists involved in different mediums as a creative springboard.

Unexpected sources are sometimes where the greatest ideas are bred. Versace got the idea for his brand’s logo from studying ancient Greek mythology and Stefan Sagmeister admits some of his greatest inspiration comes from staying in “newly occupied hotel rooms” because a new environment allows him fresh perspective.


Accept the blemishes, and learn from them

  • Steve Dyson took over 5,000 attempts to achieve his vision for the bagless vacuum cleaner.
  • The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records because “groups with guitars” were on the way out.
  • JK Rowling received 12 rejections before Bloomsbury agreed to publish Harry Potter.

Failure can be damning, but it can also make us more determined and more hungry for that eureka moment. Instead of viewing setbacks negatively, use them as an opportunity to learn and grow. If something isn’t working, step away from your tools and return with a clear mind. It’ll be much easier to achieve clarity and you’ll find a solution more easily than if you had tried to muddle through.

Finally, keep a log your defeats as well as your successes. They’re an important reference point for future-proofing.

“An idea is just a map. The ultimate landscape is only discovered when it’s under foot, so don’t get too bogged down in its validity.” - Rupert Goold.