Overcoming creative blocks

Anybody who has spent some time being creative will probably have encountered a form of creative block at some point. They're incredibly annoying and could completely cause your work flow to come to a screeching halt without anything in sight to help you get back on track. Frustration may take over and only cause you to stall further and further, stuck in a vicious cycle of no creativity. Defeated you may give up for a while and hope creativity will strike you again in the future, but this doesn't have to be the case whenever you're hit with a creative block.

In this guide I'll go over many aspects of creative blocks and how to overcome them. In all likelihood not all of them work for you, but hopefully a handful will and isn't that all you need? Of course not all creative blocks can be solved easily as they come in many different forms and may require different solutions and different amounts of effort, so don't expect yours to be solved within a few moments just in case you're dealing with one of the more powerful blocks.

Types of blocks

Before we delve into all the possible solutions for creative block it's first important to identify what kind of creative block you're dealing with. There's no point trying to fix something if you don't know where it's broken. There are many different influences that could cause a creative block after all and some are harder to deal with than others. In some cases you may even be dealing with multiple influences. The following list is by no means complete, but it does cover many of the most common influences.

Mental influences

One of the more common influences are mental ones. Mental blocks often occur when you're stuck in a certain way of thinking or a specific way of approaching a creative problem. In some cases it's being stuck inside your own comfort zone, sometimes without even realizing it and in other cases it's simply you being your own worst critic and thus not allowing yourself to see other possibilities because "they're not good enough".

Emotional influences

Another common block is the one caused by emotions. You may fear the mundane, be embarrassed by the subject matter, hurt by a subject that hits too close to home or just plain angry at yourself for not being able to do better. Emotions are difficult to deal with, but not impossible.

Work ethic and habits

Sometimes the problem is simply how you work. There may be too many distractions around you, your work place may be incredibly dull or too cold or too warm. Maybe you work for too long into the night or not long enough or maybe you spend too much time answering emails whenever they pop in and thus interrupting your work flow rather than keeping them all for a later moment.

Lack of resources

Sometimes the problem is simply a lack of something. This something could be both tangible and intangible. You could lack resources or the right equipment and you could lack time, skills or knowledge. You could even lack other people who could work with you to do the huge amount of work you'd have to do for a specific project.

Too much

On the other hand you could have too much of something or of everything. Too many ideas, too many resources and methods to pick from, too many people to pick between for your project and all the time in the world to do it in. Not exactly the worst of the creative blocks, but it can be very overwhelming.

Other influences

There are many more influences that could be at play. Problems in life (breakup, family issues, etc.) or at work/school (people working on your project see things differently) or something different entirely. These aren't always easy to deal with it, in fact they rarely are. But it's important to figure out what the issue is that is causing your creative block or you probably won't be able to deal with it.

Solutions

Figured out what's causing your creative block yet? I sure hope so. Let's delve into many different solutions that could help you overcome your block, but keep in mind that not all will work on all types of blocks or on all types of people. So don't get frustrated when one solution doesn't work or not as good as you had hoped, there's always another path to explore.

Notes

Ever had a great idea while doing some shopping or waiting for the bus, but you later have no idea what the idea was anymore? Prevent it by immediately writing down the idea. The idea doesn't even have to be good as even bad ideas can lead to good ones or to creative ways of doing something.
You don't even have to keep a notepad on you, you could simply save them on your phone or even write them down on your hand if all you have is a pen. Then add them to a list you keep at your creative space so you can sift through them from time to time. A great way to get creative is by simply exploring (old) ideas and see where they take you, so this way you'll have plenty of your ideas to explore.

Do chores (aka step away)

Ever wondered why creative thoughts pop up while you're doing some shopping, waiting for the bus or taking a shower? It's because these tasks are mundane, they require little thinking or decision making and thus allow your thoughts to wander. When you're doing a mundane task your thoughts are no longer focused outward on the real world, they're no longer trying to figure out how to do something or paying attention to details. Instead they're focused inward, sifting through random thoughts and often looking more at the bigger picture of things. Simply doing a chore could give you a random thought that sparks a whole new range of ideas, but make sure you're not doing a chore with the specific intent of finding an idea or your brain will remain focused on solving problems and thus not relax.

Muse back into amusement

Another incredibly important element of creativity is fun. When we're doing something that makes us feel good, happy and/or relaxed dopamine is released into our bodies and, without going into how studies think this may affect our brains and our creativity, being happy means you're more energetic and more open to everything the world has to offer.
While making yourself feel happy isn't always the easiest thing, especially when you're feeling down, it is worth trying when you're trying to be creative. Put on music you enjoy listening to, grab a drink or snack you really like, put on that super comfy sweater you like or strip completely naked if that's what makes you happy. Just make sure you're not bothering others with your birthday suit of course.
It's far easier to explore your creativity when you're feeling comfortable and happy, so try and make this the first step before being creative.

Routines

If you're going to make feeling happy and comfortable step 1 of your creativity process you might as well go all out and create a routine. It doesn't have to be a strict one, but many creative people find a routine helps them not only overcome creative blocks, but also prevent them. This will depend a lot on what kind of person you are as not everybody works well with routines, some may feel like deadlines have been put into place by this and I am one of those people. The trick is to make your routine fluid and not bound too much by time.

I have a very fluid routine, in large thanks to being my own boss so I know I'm in a very fortunate position. But every morning I check my emails to see if people have sent me suggestions, thank you notes and other messages and I answer them all. I may upload a new name generator or other content to the site if I've finished something and then once I'm done with all that work I move on to working on new content. I will take however much time I need to answer emails and upload content so I'm not restricted by time to get things done before 10am for example, this way I can move on to the next part of my creative work in a relaxed state and this is very important.

Distractions

Speaking of emails, many tasks can be very distracting no matter how small they may seem. Answering emails whenever they pop in your inbox is one of those distractions that tends to creep up on you unnoticed, but is actually very disruptive for a creative work flow. It's far easier and in many cases far more efficient to keep all these tiny tasks for a specific time and do them all at once. This leaves you with a good period of time of doing nothing but work on your creative project.
If you have enough tiny projects that require little thinking, like having to deliver reports or papers, you may even end up creating a new mundane chore for yourself that lasts long enough for your mind to wander like we covered in a previous solution.

Spice up your space

Getting rid of distractions in your work space is one thing, but you can also improve your work space to help with your creative flow. A comfortable chair and good lighting are one thing, but also consider plants, painting or candles, anything that can help you relax and get in the mood is worth considering. Just make sure it won't act as a distraction.

Change of perspective

Besides changing your work place it can also help to look at your work from a different perspective and this can be taken very literally. If you're drawing or doing something visual simply turn the canvas upside down or look at it with squinting eyes. Your work will look differently and you may see new ideas in the shapes you've created so far. This method is more about seeing and exploring new ideas rather than improving the one you're working on, but if you let your mind wander you might find both.

It's a little trickier to do things like this for writing and other non- or less visual works, but it can still be done. Writing a story and you have no inspiration for a battle scene? Try writing it as a poem. Trying to create the next musical masterpiece, but the tunes aren't coming to you? Try playing what you have using different instruments, in a different style or at different speeds.
If all else fails you could always make somebody take a look at your work and see what they think. A new perspective doesn't mean it has to be your own.

Look to others

Other people aren't just good for opinions on your work, you can also look at the work of other people to be inspired. We all overcome obstacles while being creative and the way some have overcome theirs may just be what you need. At the same time the work of art created by another may just spark an idea in your head you hadn't thought of before. The creative works you look at don't have to be in the same medium as the one you work in either.
I personally love movie trailer music and movie/game soundtracks. Whenever I listen to them (story) ideas just pop up in my head without any effort. But there's plenty of other things to explore, both free and paid. Many museums could provide inspiration from unexpected sources for example and even graffiti or other street art could just spark a new idea.

Other media

Besides looking at different media for inspiration why not try out a few of them? Don't expect yourself to be amazing at it, but trying to convey what you want in a different medium from your own could give you completely different ideas and it helps get the creative juices flowing.
Since you're also working in a potentially completely new medium the pressure of having to reach the high standards you may have in your own medium are removed and you may be able to enjoy things more again. There's plenty of things to try, like simple stick-figure art, painting or poetry, but they don't have to be standard media either. Try telling a story through cooking or sock puppets or toys like Lego. You could even use a video game to try and convey your creative project, just try to prevent yourself from getting distracted.

Restrictions

Alternatively, instead of trying a different medium stick to your own, but give yourself restrictions. Sometimes having a huge amount of choice can be overwhelming, so giving yourself restrictions could help you prevent this feeling. Creating a song? Don't allow yourself to use vocals or nothing but vocals. Drawing figures? Don't allow yourself to use eyes or faces or hands. Or allow yourself to only use hues of blue.
By putting restrictions on yourself you're forcing yourself to think differently and this will force you to think of new ideas. The end result doesn't matter too much, the process itself is often the most valuable part.

Create a problem

Closely related to putting restrictions on yourself is creating a problem you have to fix. "What on Earth should I draw?" Well, scribble something on your canvas to dirty it up and try fixing whatever you drew by creating something. This method is easier for visual media, but with a little thinking you could do the same for other media. Writing a story? Write whatever comes to you first. It's probably not all that great, but you wrote something so now you at least have something to work from.

Just do it

Nike and Shia LaBeouf have said it over and over again: "Just do it." Words easier said than done, or are they? I personally like to draw, but I don't always have inspiration to draw something specific. So if I can't think of anything I simply practice drawing. I practice drawing circles or use methods to practice a more steady hand. Not only am I working on improving my own skills, I'm also actually doing what I want to do: I'm drawing. And guess what? Practicing your craft is often mundane enough to allow your brain to wander and we're right back to one of the first solutions.

Way of thinking

Sometimes all you need is a different way of thinking about your creative block. Many see a creative block as a terrible restriction that prevents them from growing as an artist. While not entirely false a creative block could also be seen as the border between your current skill and the next step to improving it. If your creative block prevents you from drawing that amazing character design or writing that romantic dinner scene it could mean you simply need to explore methods of how to do these things. Learn, improve and try again.

Brainstorm solutions

Still behind that annoying creative block? Well, what do you think could help you overcome it? Write down every solution that pops into your mind no matter how silly or bad it may be. Done? Good. So do you realize what you were doing yet? You were thinking creatively. Obviously this isn't a perfect solution to overcoming your block, but by trying to think of ways out of it you may actually be in the process of overcoming it. You may even think of ways to prevent your next block, find solutions to future blocks or just find ideas for your project so the block you were facing is no longer an issue.

Solution journal

If you ever overcome a creative block try writing down or remembering how you overcame it. Not only will this provide you with things to try in the future it may also provide you with valuable information about yourself. Perhaps your creative blocks happen at specific moments, like on Sundays or on rainy days. The more you know about your creative blocks the easier they'll be to overcome them, hence why I wanted to help you identify your blocks first before delving into the solutions.

Sleep on it

This may not always seem like a good option, especially if you're bound by time, but sometimes sleeping on it is the best and possibly only solution that works. It'll clear your mind, fill you with fresh energy and the start of a new day is often as great as a clean canvas.
Finish your day by doing what is absolutely necessary on that day, which could still involve parts of your creative projects, but try to leave the big creative parts for the next day if you can.

Sleep on it also doesn't have to be taken too literally. Sometimes all it takes is stepping away for an hour, an afternoon or just for a good meal. Replenish your batteries however you need and step back into your project as if you're just starting. Let go of any time you may think you've lost, there's nothing you can do about it anymore anyway.

Ask me

If you're still stuck or if you just need somebody to bounce ideas around with feel free to contact me. I'll do my best to help you, but do keep in mind that my time is unfortunately quite limited. I'm more than happy to help you with specific parts of a story for example, but in most cases I won't be able to read through an entire chapter of a book to give you feedback on it.

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