Inspiration: A Creative’s Shangri-La Moment

[This is part three in a three-part series about the anatomy of an advertising creative’s mind.]

A moment of inspiration can be positively euphoric. It can erupt suddenly and unexpectedly in the mind. Like a spell or chemical high. We creatives spend our days in anticipation, hoping these moments will come. When they do, we bask in the glow as long as it lasts.

It’s one thing that separates creative people from noncreative people. Creatives dive headlong into a moment of inspiration, giving themselves entirely to it, pushing aside reason and doubt. Noncreatives tend to brush it off.

The big question is, how can we have more inspirational moments? Are we forced to just wait and hope that moment comes? Or can we trigger it? 

I believe it can be triggered by creating the right conditions. Every creative has their own technique but I'll share mine.

Creative people are inspired by stimulus. Some listen to music. Some are inspired by film. Some are inspired by nature. No matter what the source, it’s all a form of stimulus. Personally, I like to peruse art books and magazines for inspiration. I’m visual first. For me, a single image can trigger a thought or idea. Every page turn is a potential spark.

It’s difficult to ideate in a vacuum. Sitting in a room and staring at the wall rarely evokes anything of value. Yet, some creatives like peace, quiet and isolation. That’s what makes the creative mind so interesting. No two people are alike.

As an advertising veteran, I advise young art directors and copywriters to seek stimulus, in whatever form they choose. Ideas are born by association. Therefore words, pictures, and speech trigger ideas. Many creatives like to be in a room full of imagery and engage in open discussion. 

We can also inspire each other. Few things are as invigorating as an idea that takes shape when two creatives are concepting. There’s an initial thought which is built upon and evolves into a big idea. It’s an incredibly magical moment and it’s what we live for. That’s why talking more can be extremely productive. 

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened: my writer partner starts off by  explaining an idea in his head and my brain thinks he’s going somewhere else, so I'm sent off into another place. Often, two ideas come out of the experience—both born from the same kernel. But if he hadn’t said a word, neither of us would have benefitted. And it works both ways. Sometimes I start it off.

To those who struggle to get inspired, simply take a stack of photo books and/or magazines into a room with your creative partner, then encourage a lot of chatting. Words and pictures trigger ideas. The more the merrier. Then let ideas evolve naturally. 

Be careful to write everything down so you can move onto the next idea. We frequently get stuck trying to force an idea to work, when in fact it’s like chewing on a piece of gristle. It might be a dead end, so just write it down and move on to something else. Keep riffing. 

Often I’ve found that concepting in short sessions of 30-45 minutes is most profitable. A three hour brainstorming session can be exhausting and counterproductive and you end up floundering. So change the scenery. Take a break. Take a walk. Clear your head. Do whatever. Then come back to it later. 

We can’t predict when inspiration comes. We can only try to create the environment for it to flourish. Each of us has a different method. Some like noise and lots of stimulus. Some of us like total sensory deprivation. Do what works for you. But be open to trying different methods. 

Ultimately, the informed mind is the most prolific mind. Read, watch and discuss. Absorb everything you can. It will spark inspiration and generate ideas. You can't output without input.


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