There are some universal truths which everyone who dabbles in one artistic medium or another will at one point experience: criticism, praise, rushes of inspiration, and creativity blocks. That last one is unequivocally the toughest to deal with. Not only are creative blocks completely frustrating, but they can also be career damaging, depending on the artist and how it is they make a living. In order to overcome this challenge, it’s important to remember that a creative block can arise due to various situations and states of mind. Once you identify what exactly is preventing you from coming up with fresh ideas, you’ll be able to go back to creating, guaranteed.
Identifying which type of creative block you’re suffering from isn’t as daunting as it sounds, nor does it require a trip to the psychiatrist. Have you recently experienced an emotional event that has left you feeling weird? Creative block. Have you become so comfortable with your current artistic techniques and practices that you can no longer come up with anything you haven’t already done? Creative block. Are you surrounded by noise, distractions, an overwhelming amount of projects, a messy schedule? Creative block.
Luckily, most of these can be easily fixed. Try reorganizing your working space, because a tidy desk or studio space will lead to a tidy mind. Buy an agenda (or download an online planning app) so you can efficiently organize your day, breaking it down into hour-long sections for doing different things and working on different projects. Lay out the day ahead of you. Since any artistic practice involves using your mind, make sure you leave a bit of time throughout the day for brain-healing exercises. These should include moments of meditation or comforting silence, as they will allow you to relax, put your problems aside, and focus on writing, painting, designing, or whatever it is that you do. Art itself is meant to be therapeutic, so thinking about the fight you had with your significant other or the hefty amount of school-induced debt you have to pay off shouldn’t be on your mind at the time. You can worry about that later.
As a creative writer, I experience mental blocks all the time. Usually what helps me is to:
a) Drink a (few) cup(s) of coffee (I’m not sure why this works so well, but it does)
b) Listen to music that carries meaning for me
c) Read old things I’ve written or a piece of work by an author I like
d) Get some fresh air
These solutions, however, aren’t universal nor are they completely reliable. The important thing to do is try different things that have the potential to stimulate whichever emotion it is you’re trying to convey into your work.
Another helpful thing to do is to read a good book, watch an interesting documentary, browse online portfolios or flip through books of your favourite artist’s work. Behance is a really neat site because anyone with an internet connection can create an account, upload their work and fabricate their own personal, online portfolio. You can type anything into the search bar (i.e., greeting cards, landscapes, dogs) and instantly discover a million different pieces. There are infinite amounts of cool projects people have done; I guarantee that after clicking through a few pages you’ll be inspired to work on your own thing. However, if browsing the net isn’t doing anything for you, sometimes the best thing is to walk away from what you’re working on and return to it with a clear mind.
On another note, you might be feeling down about not being as good as you wish you were at what you do. If so, click here. There’s an incredibly uplifting video narrated by Ira Glass (host of the popular radio program, This American Life) and put together by Daniel Sax, a designer from Germany, in which Glass talks about the creative process and what it takes to really be proud of your work. It’s safe to say that Glass knows what he’s talking about, and hearing him explain the difference between skill and good taste allowed me to look at myself, my ambition, and the things I’ve done in a totally different light.
Practicing a bit every day is essential to become better, and definitely a solution for diminishing creative block. Whether it be scribbling nonsense on a page, mixing paints and making random brush strokes, designing a poster for a made-up event, or taking interestingly-angled pictures of your houseplants, this stimulates your brain, your creativity, fuels your ideas, and harbours skill. Can you imagine how much better you’ll be in a year once you’ve accumulated 365 different rough drafts? You’ll start to see the results, you won’t be able to look past them.
As annoying as they are, creativity blocks happen quite often and no one is exempt. Don’t let this discourage you—remember that even the greatest artists in history went through moments when they threw everything down and said “Oh god, I suck. I’m out of ideas.” But they weren’t.