Cart 0

When inspiration doesn’t strike

Posted by Ilise Benun on


Here’s the latest from Tom Tumbusch of WordStreamCopy:

One of the secrets of being a successful creative professional — whether you design, snap photos, write, or whatever — is developing the habit of sitting down and doing the job every day, even if “the muse” doesn’t show up for work on time (or at all).

Painter and photographer Chuck Close nailed it when he said:

I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. Every great idea I ever had grew out of work itself. If you’re going to wait a around for the clouds to open up and lightning to strike you in the brain you’re not going to make an awful lot of work.

Choose your yardstick

The type of discipline Close is describing isn’t something certain people are born with. It’s a business skill like any other that comes from committing to a work routine and doing it consistently. One of the benefits of running your own business is that you get to decide what that routine is.

The best way to build discipline is to pick something that can be measured and make a commitment to it. This is easier if you have one or more long-term goals you can roughly break into smaller pieces, each of which requires about one workday.

Option 1: Punch the clock

One of the most common benchmarks, especially in the corporate world, is to carve out of chunk of time exclusively for business. You can follow a traditional 9-to-5 routine, work around your family’s schedule, or pick any other timetable that makes sense to you. The most important part of building discipline in this model is to work when it’s time to work, and to not work outside those hours.

Option 2: Pass the goalpost

An alternative to the time model is to set daily productivity milestones. For example, many writers set a goal of writing a certain number of words or pages each day.

Sometimes it may take you all day to reach your goal, while on others you might hit it in a few hours. Either way, you have the option to stop working for the day when you hit your goal, deadlines permitting. This method offers a value-based way to beat the 9-to-5 grind, and gives you a great incentive to get your work done as efficiently as possible.

I use daily, weekly, and monthly revenue targets as my standard measurement. When I meet or exceed that day’s goal, I give myself permission to take off for the rest of the day unless I’m in the mood to work ahead or need to play catch-up for that week or month.

Getting in the mood

Another strategy for strengthening your discipline is to use some kind of warm-up exercise to get your creative juices flowing. This can be as simple as drawing a few doodles or writing down whatever you happen to be thinking about at the time. Don’t make any judgments about what you do in this 5- to 10-minute period. Just get something going — anything at all.

This may seem like goofing off, but it’s actually the creative equivalent of stretching out before you do physical exercise. You can make a habit of doing your warm-up every day, or just use it when you need a little push to get going. Sometimes the value of this exercise will come from clearing out distracting thoughts. You might also find that an inspiration for a current project will hit you seemingly out of the blue.

In fact, this article happened in exactly that way: the core ideas came to me during a free-writing exercise on a morning when I wasn’t feeling motivated. I knocked out a paid project quickly after I did my warm-up, then polished my rough notes to create this post after I reached my daily goal.

Is it working?

Choose a model that seems right for you and stick to it for a while — at least a month. You’ll be able to judge how effective your plan is by your productivity. If your method is keeping you focused and you’re meeting your goals (or close), you’re probably on the right track. If not, you may need to work harder to stick to your plan or try something else altogether.

Need some extra help getting inspired about your business? Join me and hundreds of other creative pros at the Creative Business Conference (part of HOW Design Live) in Chicago next month. It’s not too late to register, and you can save an extra $50 with the secret code “TUMBUSCH” (in all caps). Hope to see you there!

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for designers, creative agencies and green businesses. He is the author of the free eBook The Writer/Designer Dream Team and periodically shares more casual wisdom on the WordStream of Consciousness Blog. His tiny solar-powered corner of the Internet can be found at

*Yardstick, courtesy, Shutterstock.

  • More in: Guest Mixers

  • Share this post

    We also recommend for you...

    ← Older Post Newer Post →