It can happen when you least expect it. One moment you are on a roll, in your flow, ideas and thoughts pulsing through your very being and jumping out on to your canvas. Like a well-oiled machine you generate abstract concepts with ease, marshal them, infuse them with meaning and translate them onto the page. Dynamic isn’t just a word, it is your middle name! And then suddenly…
The words? Gone. You stare at your brush, your pen, your camera, but nothing seems to grip you. Your creative tools no longer dance with artistic life, instead they are prone, disconnected, taking on an uncomfortable stillness.
Creative block can happen to anyone, and will most likely happen again in future.
Perhaps this sounds all too familiar, and if so know that you are not alone. We all experience the dreaded creative block, and this plight does not discriminate. You may be at the starting point of a new venture, progressing with a project or looking to finalise a piece. The important point is that creative block is not only normal, but also temporary.
In a nutshell, creative block can be defined as an indeterminate period during which the artist will struggle to produce creative output at sufficient or meaningful levels, along with a general lapse in inspiration. Its triggers can vary, along with the duration and severity of the issue. Unfortunately, common second-order effects can include a significant emotional toll as the person afflicted will often draw a parallel between intrinsic creativity (our epicenter of novel and abstract ideas that powers our creative work) and the internal mental barrier produced by creative block. This can lead to poor mental health outcomes including feelings of failure, worthlessness, depression and anxiety.
A Starting Block
So how do we overcome creative block? First let’s establish some key concepts that will be the foundation of our strategy. At the top, here are some personal belief-changers that will help correct any lingering negative self-talk that might be fueling that pesky blockage.
- There is nothing wrong with you.
- Creative block can happen to anyone.
- It will most likely happen again.
- You will get through it.
That third point might strike a chord with those considering giving up on their current creative endeavour, after all, what’s the point if this will happen again? A very good question. The idea is to understand that just like in nature, droughts can occur. It doesn’t mean that we should write off whole land masses due to an irregular dry season. Rather, accepting the situation is an important step in freeing yourself from a mindset that won’t serve your creative goals.
Similarly, knowing that you are in league with many of the greatest artists in history who have likewise faced creative block should help quell any misplaced feelings of doubt around your own creative endeavours. Experiencing creative block doesn’t make you any less talented of an artist, instead see if as an opportunity to grow. Just as the athlete who is being faced to dig deep to deliver that winning performance, you too are being called to produce something of value. It is time to overcome.
We can flip the script and invite creative block as an opportunity to reconnect to what we enjoy, the experiences we desire, and the people we love.
You vs The Wall
One day, like many others, you decide to go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Just like all those other days you decide to cut through an empty lot in order to get to the local park, intending to take a lap and maximise the sunshine and fresh air. However, today is different. Even though you feel great, are equipped with your faithful walking shoes and are well hydrated, you notice a brick wall has been built on the now partially constructed lot. Your path is blocked. What are you to do? Just because you can’t progress in your regular fashion toward the park, does that make you a failure at walking? Should you quit? Or double down and see if you can bend space and time by floating through the wall? Of course, these are rather absurd conclusions, yet so many of us will employ similar logic when dealing with our own mental brick walls. Instead, if you took a step back, you may realise that there are in fact several options available to you. Perhaps you could attempt climbing the wall, going around the wall, digging under it, or simply altering your path.
Block Busting Strategies
If our internal creative well appears to have run dry, then no amount of fumbling with the faucet will help us return to our flow state. It is time to replenish and restore. Here are a few strategies to get you going and help refill your creative spring.
- Take a break. Leave your station behind and get some fresh air. If the weather is poor, go for a drive, or at the least change where you are right now in your home or studio, if even for a few moments.
- Engage in some physical activity. Walking, running, yoga – anything that will kick in those rewarding endorphins and help balance your mental wellbeing. Even better if you can bring a partner, join in a class or team activity.
- Catch up with a friend. Talking with someone about anything other than your project may invite some inspiration, as the other person will undoubtedly have other novel experiences to share. And they may miss you.
- Ask curious questions. Ignite your creative spark by prompting some interesting and reflective self-talk. Where are your favourite places in the world? What do you love to eat? What are your hobbies? What makes you laugh? Songs you enjoy?
- Set a reward. Even if you are working on a paid gig, commission job or project, tie an external reward to its completion. Perhaps you could partake in some of the items or experiences from the previous point. Promise yourself that you will deliver on the reward and your neural pathways may realign to seek out that reward and invite some inspiration as a welcome side-effect.
The common thread through all of these is self-care. You are at your most creative when you are feeling your best, so engage in activities and experience that will recharge your batteries and restore your mental wellbeing. Along the way you might reach a physical achievement, help out a teammate, share a laugh with a friend, remind yourself what makes you happy and treat yourself to some kindness.
You Got This
Creative flow is known as a time of productivity, inspiration and artistic bliss. Yet creative block is often seen as a negative experience leading to mental and emotional distress. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can flip the script and invite creative block as an opportunity to reconnect to what we enjoy, the experiences we desire, and the people we love. The next time you feel challenged by a mental brick wall, use some of these free and readily available strategies to navigate past your temporary blockage and get back to enjoying life.
If you have had success with any of these tactics or have other winning strategies that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments.
– AMR Team