We’re creative. But you’re stuck. (Just like I was last week.) So I’ve done deep thinking about the reasons, along with some research for us. Here’s what to do, and where to find out more:
Do Some Soul-Searching (as my mother used to say). When I’m not functioning at my usual energy levels, there are reasons for that. I’ll ask you what I ask myself:
- Are you distracted—by a messy office, tasks that you’re avoiding, too much of a good thing?
- Are you feeling stressed—by taking on too much, a situation you can’t control, a dear one’s problems?
- Are you rundown—by poor-quality sleep, a lack of exercise, bad nutrition, an illness you’re fighting?
- Are you having relationship problems—the ones you can address, or the ones you can’t (or won’t)?
- Are you suffering emotionally (feeling lonely, isolated, anxious or depressed)—and you’re unable to work through your negative emotions?
It’s important to note and acknowledge what’s making you off-kilter, and to give some thought to how to cope. It’s not realistic to think you can (or must) make any huge behavioral or relationship changes before you solve your creative block. Instead, the idea is to be self-aware, which gives you permission to move on to your creative work while feeling you’ve been honest with yourself.
I find there’s great power in talking this over with myself, writing it down or dictating it into my voice memo app. That act of self-empowerment frees me up to keep working on my work, even as I’m working on myself.
Here’s how some creativity gurus weigh in on getting unblocked:
“The more important something is to us,
the more likely we are to resist it.”
Embrace Your Creative Blocks, says artist/creativity instigator Melissa Dinwiddie, in HuffPost Arts & Culture. If you seek perfection but really fear failure at your craft, you’re more likely to freeze than to create. My takeaway from her excellent advice, which includes listening to Phil Hansen’s TED Talk, Embrace the Shake, is to take baby steps:
- Afraid you’ll never get that great novel published? Write a short story instead (see Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips to get started).
- Does writing a short story daunt you? Try your hand at Flash Fiction (see how to here).
- Flash fiction too much for you? You can have fun with six-word memoirs, like Creativity, Blocked. Ready to Be Unlocked. (Find more, some hilarious, most clever, at Life in the Boomer Lane.)
- Need some encouragement as you try out on a new painting style? Start an art blog (here are some examples) so you can share your efforts with fellow artists.
Reach Out to Your Community. Ever wished there were an AA for Creatives? I began looking for creative comrades to interact with when I took up this lonely, creative life (by lonely, I mean that to create, you’re alone in your studio, alone at your Mac, alone with your sketchbook, alone with your camera, alone with your thoughts . . . you get the idea) yet we all need human interaction for support, sustenance, energizing us. As the addict gravitates towards AA to find a community who empathizes with her issues, so too do creatives need to find other creatives to feel validated and understood.
- Don’t have a creative community? Find one here: Creative Mornings
- Can’t wait to get to the next meeting in your town, or there’s no chapter near you? Watch the members videos here.
- Find a writers’ group, or a painting group, join a local design organization, go on a photo walkabout, or start a group for your craft: Meetup.com makes it easy to find one or start your own.
“Creatives have to conserve energy every now and then,
or risk total creative meltdown.”
Allow Yourself to Rest and Recharge. Create some strategies to recognize your creative energy flow, and when you may need a restorative break. An athlete can’t perform at peak effort 24/7, and neither can creative spirits. Expending lots of creative energy, when you’re on a roll designing, writing, drawing, making art, teaching, sharing, always leads me to an eventual slowdown. It’s not a slump. It’s not that I have no more creative ideas, and I never will again, ever, for the rest of my life. I just need some time to restore and recharge. If you’ve got the luxury of time when this happens, your journey can be totally in your head and completely exhiliarating. How does that work for me? Read Jumpstart Your Creative Mojo.
Break Out of Your Slump with Activity. What if you’re on deadline and you’re stuck? First, back up and re-read the last section about planning ahead for your (necessary) creative restorative time-out, and put it on your calendar ahead of your next deadline. But if the block hits when you need the flow instead, get up and do something else that will completely take your mind off your inaction. For me, it’s a walk where there are some irresitible sights and sounds of nature; or a 20-minute restorative yoga posture with ambient music and a scented eyebag; or modifying a recipe for tonight’s dinner with my own culinary twists. In 10 Creative Block Breakers That Actually Work, social psychologist Dr. Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today‘s great Creativity in Flow series, about “creativity—with a twist of rationality” (how refreshing!). Of her 10 suggestions, these three can offer immediate relief when you’re blocked but on deadline:
- Dirty your canvas—with some wild brush strokes, so you’ll have something to replace (or build on). I think that works because you’re afraid your painting won”t be “good enough,” so you’ve defeated your fear just by getting something on the canvas to begin with.
- Draw or scribble blindly—then relax and see what comes up. This could work at the Mac, too, by just wildly punching at keys. Either way, I think your muscle memory will take over where your mind is absent, and give you a chance to restart.
- Fill your head with the problem—then go do something else so completely demanding that you can’t focus on your block, like operating heavy machinery or hiking up Machu Picchu. I think you’ll find, like I do, that when you have some time to breathe, your block will be lifted. ♣
When do you experience creative blocks, and what do you do to get out from under their weight?
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Craving even more ideas on thwarting creative block? See if you can find any inspiration at my website, Austin Details Art + Photo.