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How Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Can Help You Find Inspiration

Cooking duchess Martha Stewart is releasing a new book today called 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat. It got our attention since, well, we do have a (major) weakness for these devilish cakes, but also because it hints at our thematic of today's post: inspiration.

Indeed, coming up with 175 variations of one simple treat is no easy task - it asks for a lot of trial and errors, incessant baking and, best of all, endless cupcake tasting. Ultimately though, you need to be inspired to make it work. Inspiration comes and goes, which is often inconvenient when you need to come up with interesting ideas on a regular basis (if you're writing a blog, you know what we're talking about.) So how can you find inspiration when it feels like your head is empty?

How to Find Inspiration

There is no fool's proof method to gain inspiration, but there are definitely actions you can undertake to help jumpstart your brain. Here's a simple list to get you started:

Get Away from the Problem

You don't know how to get started on that cloud computing essay? You feel like you've explored every facets of social media on your blog? Your problem might be that you need a fresh perspective. When immersed into a subject matter for a long period of time, it gets difficult to pull yourself back and get an outsider's perspective on your work. Being able to examine your work through different lenses is important as it can help you find new details and ideas. If you feel you need a new perspective on your work, then get away from it for a little while. Explore other subject matters outside your usual field. The cloud computing expert could have a look into photography or football. The social media expert would benefit from discovering the pleasures of design and architecture. Opening up your mind to other disciplines can help you gain the necessary distance for fresh ideas to blossom in your mind.

Do Research

Another great way to gain inspiration is by having a look at the work of other people. Start by browsing del.icio.us for subject matters that interests you. Whenever you find some links that are of interest to you, look up whoever provided the links and explore their profile. This can open doors to new correlations you never thought of before. You can use the same process with Reddit or any other bookmarking sites. Flickr is a fine website to get inspired. Check out their stream of most interesting pics, or perform some queries on your subject matter and see what shows up. You'd be surprised to see how other people visually approach your choice of semantics. Remember though that there is a fine line between gaining inspiration and stealing other people's ideas!

We believe books remain a great way to gain inspiration. First, their nature encourage immersion - when you read a book, you forget about what surrounds you. They have a calming effect, which is perfect to generate new thoughts. Also, books (fiction or not) tend to thread a deep web of ideas and concepts. Blogs and white papers are great at communicating ideas quickly and efficiently, but their short, scannable nature remains a far stretch from the deepness books can achieve. Taking time to read books is a great way to gain inspiration.

Brainstorm and Keep a Journal

We find that brainstorming sessions work best in groups. Indeed, bouncing ideas off with other people can enable new connections or perspectives you wouldn't have considered otherwise. But don't stop there. Sorry, that's not true - do stop there. Once you have brainstormed, take a break - a few hours, or if you can afford it, a few days - before getting back to that session. Again, removing yourself from the problem can help gain a new perspective. Also, while you're away from your blockage, your mind is still processing that information, creating new links and bridges. When you're ready to explore your brainstorming session once more, new concepts and ideas could make their way to the top.

Another way to brainstorm regularly is to keep a journal at hand. Make sure you can access it easily as you never know when your brain will come up with some brilliant thoughts. Fill it with quotes you loved from blogs, magazines, billboards, etc. Put in thoughts you're having - it doesn't matter if they're boring or utterly crazy. Don't censor yourself, be as open as possible. That journal will come handy when you're looking for ideas or when you're having those brainstorming sessions. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad idea when you are brainstorming.

Change your Environment

An easy trick to stimulate your writing process is to write in a different environment. Leave your desk or wherever you're used to write and change location: try your local café, the library, a bookstore or some other public place. This change in external stimulations might be the push your brain needs to come up with a wealth of inspiration.

Bake Cupcakes

Finally, if you feel totally uninspired, stop and do something completely different. Try baking cupcakes, go for a bicycle ride, have a pic-nic, visit your friends and family. Sometimes all your brain needs is a little break!

How do you fight a writing block? Let us know what your secret is!

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More Stories By Ambal Balakrishnan

Ambal has robust 17+ years experience working at and partnering with high-profile technology companies in both B2B and B2C marketplaces building scalable, reliable, high performance products (both hardware and software) for business with multi-billion dollar in annual revenue. She has done various roles that includes engineering, program management, business development, strategy and marketing for premium and fast growing product divisions at Cisco, Telecordia (prior name Bell Labs) and strategic marketing consulting firm ClickDocuments. At Cisco, she focused on world wide marketing and positioning of Cisco's Cloud & Data Center switching business. She brings both strong engineering & marketing skills with verticals experience from many different industries. Ambal received her Masters in Computer Science from Purdue University and an MBA in Marketing, Strategy and Entrepreneurship from Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Ambal is an avid reader and hiker. Her hiking pursuits have taken her to several mountains including Mt. Whitney at 14,500 feet (which she managed to climb in 1 day). Ambal lives in Austin, TX with her family of 3 boys (that includes her husband!) and a border-collie+lab mix dog named Rainbow.