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Getting Over Creative Block

Updated on January 31, 2017
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John is a fervent writer, avid gamer, and guitar lover. He earns his sandwiches fixing automatic transmissions.

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If you’ve ever worked on a lengthy creative project, you may have experienced creative block. You’ll no doubt have heard of “writer’s block,” which is a more commonly known manifestation of this phenomenon, but it’s basically the same thing.

Creative block is when you struggle to come up with ideas, get stuck on how to push forward with your existing ideas, or just generally fail to find enough motivation to move forward with your creative project.

It’s more commonly seen in writing—particularly with long form work, such as novel writing—because that kind of creative project is a long slog that takes extended periods of concentration and focus to see through to completion. I mean, a full novel can take months—even years—to complete. George R. R. Martin, famous author of the Song of Ice and Fire books that inspired the Game of Thrones TV show, notoriously took six years to write and release the fifth volume of the series. Writing is hard, but it’s not the only creative endeavour that can stretch us to our limits.

Why it Happens

Creative block can affect artists attempting to craft a painting, musicians composing a new song, filmmakers shooting… you get the idea. And it’s not limited those creating; people filling roles like editors and music producers can be just as susceptible to creative block as the creative types themselves.

Now, if you’re a home creative, unless you’ve landed yourself a book deal, or a record contract, or have some other externally imposed deadline on your work, the problem of creative block is likely exacerbated. Having deadlines set for you may increase stress levels, but it also gives you a motivating factor that you’d otherwise lack—meeting that deadline. When you’re a home creative and you’re making things for your own enjoyment, or in the hope that something may come of your creative work, it can be easy to adopt a very casual attitude about pushing through creative block.

So, to the part of this article that you came for. Here are five tips to help you get over, around, or through that pesky creative block.

Deadlines

Setting deadlines can motivate you to stay on track.
Setting deadlines can motivate you to stay on track.

Starting with the aforementioned lack of a deadline; if you haven’t got a target date with which your project needs to be complete, arbitrarily assign one. Don’t be unrealistic with your goal—it should be something you can feasibly achieve—but don’t be too lenient with yourself either. If you think a month is a reasonable time frame to complete your creative project, set yourself a deadline of three weeks. Push yourself a little.

If your project is quite large in scope, it can help to break it up and set deadlines for each aspect. For example, if you’re writing a screenplay, set yourself a deadline for the first draft, then another for your subsequent revisions, and finally for your finished draft.

Of course it’s up to you to respect your self-imposed deadline. You need to treat it as though it were a hard deadline set by an employer, publisher, studio, etc. It will still take an effort of will on your part to mentally assign the significance your deadline needs in order to be effective, but having that cut off point can help keep you going.

Schedule

One of the biggest enablers of creative block is distraction. It is very easy to sit down at your computer to illustrate your latest digital masterpiece, only to look at the clock and find an hour has passed and all you’ve done is check Twitter and watch videos of goats making funny noises.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

Scheduling your time isn’t merely about setting a specific time to work on your creative project, it’s about using that time to focus entirely on it. Close Twitter, turn the TV off...unplug the Internet if you have to! For the time you designate to your creative project, you need to give it your full, undivided attention.

Keeping a schedule can help you focus on your work.
Keeping a schedule can help you focus on your work. | Source

This includes mental wandering. If you find yourself drifting off and thinking about doing the shopping later that day, or the night out you have planned for the weekend, stop! Force yourself to give your project the attention it deserves, and you’ll have a much better chance of pushing through that creative block.

One trick to help in this respect is to try simple things like "distraction free" software, and switching the Internet off for the period you’ve set aside to work on your project so that you're not tempted to go down the rabbit hole.

Switch It Up

If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’re finding the creative juices aren’t flowing like they were, it can be handy to break out of your routine and change things up a little. This kind of exercise can take many forms, from going for a walk with a notepad and pen in hand, to grabbing your gear and setting up shop in an entirely different locale.

The beauty of being a home creative in this day and age is that, unless you’re doing something locale specific (filming on location, or painting a landscape, for example), much of the equipment you need can portable enough to take anywhere you need. Camera’s aren’t the big bulky lumps they used to be, easel’s have always portable, you can get keyboards for your iPad. Sure, it’s not practical to take your home recording studio out to the local park, but an acoustic guitar or a music production app can easily do just that.

Remember, the goal is to get through your creative block. You don't have to take your computer with you and carry on writing your audio drama, you can just take a notepad and scribble down notes to be worked into your project later.

Seek Inspiration

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Sometimes, when you’re stuck creatively, it can help to take a break and consume something. I don’t mean eat or drink (though being hungry doesn’t help your concentration), I mean watch a movie, read a book, take in a play, listen to an album. Don’t limit yourself to just the platform that you’re creating in; if you’re painting a picture, don’t assume you should just be looking at paintings for inspiration.

Be intentional about your choice of media to consume. Don’t just put daytime programming on and hope for inspiration to hit. Look for media that’s along the lines of what you’re creating. If you’re composing synthwave music, try watching movies from the 80s. Writing a fantasy novel? Play a video game set in a fantasy world.

The truth is anything can inspire you, but it doesn’t hurt to guide your potential inspiration with intentional choices on what you consume.

Do Something Easy

Along the same lines of taking a break to get inspiration from other mediums, this one is about getting inspiration from yourself. Put your creative project down for a time, and go for walk, a run, do some chores. The key here is that whatever you do, it should be something that doesn’t require a large amount of your attention. Something you can “switch off” while doing.

Walking is perfect for this, but any mindless task will do. You’re looking to free up certain parts of your mind to do whatever it is they do when you’re not forcing them to work. Many a great idea has come to people at unexpected times, and you might find giving your brain a break is just what you need to break out of your slump.

How to Overcome CREATIVE BLOCK - A Different Perspective!

So there we have it, five ways to get over creative block. Remember to be persistent. The worst thing you can do with creative block is give up on your project or put it to one side with intentions to come back to it “when the mood is right.”

Taking a break is fine, but set yourself a limit on how long that break lasts, and when it’s up, get back to it!

© 2017 John Bullock

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