Ever have a deadline looming with a blank page staring back at you? Where’s the inspiration when you need it the most? Struggling for ideas happens to the best of us.
If you’re a creative person like me, you often come up with hundreds of ideas a day whilst eating lunch, brushing your teeth, or trying to go to sleep (every.single.night). Yet, somehow, when it comes time to put it down on paper, you stare at your computer or notebook blankly. If you’ve experienced this, you likely understand the nuisance of a creative block. Maybe you just don’t find it interesting enough of a task; maybe the importance the task seems so daunting that new ideas slip out of your fingers. So, time after time you find yourself sitting around, bored, doodling with your pen, and thinking of something completely unrelated.
Creative blocks happen to all of us. Working as a professional in a creative capacity can be incredibly demanding- especially if you’re relying on it for your livelihood. Outside factors such as tight deadlines, lack of project diversity, and creative risk-tolerance can also contribute to a lack of production. Even if you work in an environment that facilitates your passion and interests, it is still challenging to be creative-on-demand.
When you’re spending a significant amount of time trying desperately to tap into your creative mind, a lack of results can leave you stressed and discouraged. In turn, it is noticeably harder to delve into your imagination. And so, one can easily get caught in a vicious circle. Your workload piles up, deadlines close in, and you begin to think an all-nighter or two might be necessary. Downtime becomes elusive, and motivation wanes. Unfortunately, all this cycle does is crushes your struggling creativity. You’re so focused on meeting those deadlines and reducing your workload, you push yourself into mental paralysis.
Every professional creative has felt this at one point or another, and luckily there are some every day tricks you can do to help break through that block and get the creative juices flowing. Here are 5 tips I’ve learned over the course of the last 10 years to help you get unstuck:
1. Take A Break
Taking a break may sound obvious, but many still avoid it. I’m not talking about a “get-up-and-go-to-the-toilet” type of break. In my experience, when I work on a project for too long and can’t think of anything exciting, I need to take my mind off my work and put the project aside.
You may be thinking: ‘How could I possibly do that when I need to get all this work done’? By consciously shifting your focus, your subconscious gets a chance to relax, allowing it to come up with the solution. Take the pressure off, have a tea or coffee, go for a photography walk outside, or play some Lego (whatever works!). Sometimes you may be too busy to take a long break, so instead try to shake it up by working on a different project. Changing your scene mentally or physically will allow your brain to relax and reveal the solution to your brain block.
Try not to lock yourself into familiar thought processes. Redefine the problem, and try to come up with solutions by adopting different perspectives. Come up with as many solutions as possible, and start to cross them off your list. Carry a sketchbook, make lists, talk to people – try lots of of unfamiliar angles to tackle the problem until that lightbulb moment suddenly goes off in your mind. This approach should give you the best results as you may be able to choose the winner from plenty of potential ideas.
On the flip side, sometimes one can feel paralysed by options. When you feel that way, it may be time to cut down by beginning the elimination process until you find the idea that can actually be realised. Enforcing creative restrictions can open up new pathways for inspiration by giving us a starting point, boundaries, and structure. Make sure to not scrap those other ideas; they might be perfect for a different project.
Let’s be honest with ourselves- we all have our professional strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, a creative block can stem from agonising over a part of our work in which we don’t feel confident, and feel discouragement when the results are not our best. I learned the following trick from Mel Robbins, the creator of the 5 Second Rule: when faced with a creative block, try to focus on the part of your work that energises you, and delegate the part that depletes you. Acknowledge the parts where others may be able to contribute in a more meaningful way, and learn to not feel diminished by this. Identify your problematic areas and get your team to help you out. If you don’t have a team, you can find freelancers on outsourcing sites such as Fiverr or 99designs. Creative people tend to feel very personally attached to their work, and thus put a lot of pressure on themselves. By thinking impartially about your strengths and weaknesses, you can reach out to other creatives to help you improve and produce better results.
4. Stop Procrastinating!
Often times, the start of any project is the most difficult part. Sometimes we procrastinate because we lack the confidence in our ideas, and doubt ourselves to the point of inactivity. Don’t wait for validation – just put something down and work from there. As Ashley Percival puts it:
“You can’t please everyone – people will have art that they like and dislike – the main thing is that you as an artist are happy with your work.”
Every great piece of art began somewhere, and took time to cultivate and improve. Try not to overthink how a project may look at the beginning, and instead start with the smallest step possible. Micro-commitments break the habit of overthinking— with each step you get closer to your goal.
In case you were wondering, there is an app for this too. It’s called Procrastination.
Personally, I find exercise to be the most helpful stress reliever of them all. After a good run where I push my boundaries and my mind, body, and soul feels clear and happy. Don’t underestimate the power of endorphins- these natural uplifting hormones produced by your nervous system help you feel more confident, content, and creative. There are many ways to up your natural endorphin production, and exercise is an important one. If you’re sitting at a desk for hours attempting to be productive, your endorphin level is probably at a low- get up and get active to get your blood pumping, along with your creative flow.
Ultimately, there are countless pieces of advice given and used to help with the problem of mental blocks. The important thing is to find what works for you. Find the best tactics for you to overcome stresses and frustrations, and use them! Always keep in mind that creative work takes time, and each project is a journey, so don’t beat yourself up. Once you break through your creative rut, the satisfaction of completing your project will be enough to help you get back on track.
How do you deal with creative blocks? Leave some of your tips in the comment section below!