5 Ways to Combat Creative Block
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
By Gia Shin
We’ve all been there before. You could stare at a blank page for hours, days, even months, without being able to produce anything. This dreaded mind block happens to everyone who uses mediums for creative self-expression. Whether you are a potter, filmmaker, composer, or poet, creative blocks are very frustrating to deal with.
Why do creative blocks happen in the first place?
They happen for a multitude of reasons. They can occur if you are mentally drained, if you’ve lost the meaning of your work, or if you possess the need for perfection. Personally, I was definitely anxious about my writing because the final product wasn’t going to be good enough. I was often afraid of writing because I had many doubts. Am I even good at writing? Would people really want to read this? I’ve come to realize that the issue of creative block lies much deeper than just a blank mind slate. It stems from fear. Every one of us is our worst critic and the first stroke, the first word, can be very intimidating.
So, here are five tips I found helpful for unblocking my creativity:
1. Recognize that fear is allowed
What is the fear that is hindering you? Is it competitors? Is it the art itself? Instead of letting fear plague you, use it to your advantage. Dean Koontz, an author who sold at least 450 million books, said that “the great stuff comes to life in those agonizing and exhilarating moments when writers become acutely aware of the limitations of their skills, for it is then that they strain the hardest to make use of the imperfect tools with which they must work.”
2. Find new sources of inspiration
Instead of focusing on the same kind of content that you work with, broaden your scope. For example, let’s say that you are a YouTuber. If you’re constantly viewing the same content and the same creators, your content will stay stagnant as well. Immerse yourself with different mediums of art you don’t normally work with. Try baking or painting, any activity that engages your creative mind.
3. Change your scenery
Using the same logic as the first tip, finding a new environment can help you generate more ideas. When I’m forced to hammer out words at my desk all day long, I often have a hard time finding inspiration. A change of scenery allows you to feel more focused and productive, as our minds associate certain places with certain feelings. If you’re constantly feeling stuck and frustrated in your cramped room, work on your project elsewhere. Without realizing, your mind may be what’s sabotaging your success.
4. Establish a routine and stick to it.
If it’s an hour again or just ten minutes, set aside time every day to work on your project. Don’t wait until you’re feeling inspired; don’t hold any expectations. Tchaikovsky once said that “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” Keep working even if you don’t feel like it. Getting some work done is better than getting no work done at all. If you’re writing, keep the words flowing without worrying about the quality. You can’t edit a blank page, so just get started.
5. Take a step back from your work
Working on the same project for too long can stifle your creativity. If you can, sleep on it because sleep is crucial for processing all of the new information you’ve gathered.
Graham Wallas, a psychologist, came up with the theory of four stages of the creative process based on his own experiences: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. In the Preparation stage, you brainstorm, collect all of the resources you will need, and enter the right state of mind. Incubation, where no real effort is involved. Wallas says that “the period of abstention may be spent either in conscious mental work on other problems, or in a relaxation from all conscious mental work.” Many great minds including T.S. Eliot and Alexander Graham Bell advocated for the importance of incubation. The next stage is Illumination--new ideas and insights that flash in your mind. “Sometimes the successful train seems to consist of a single leap of association, or of successive leaps which are so rapid as to be almost instantaneous.” Lastly, Wallace describes Verification as taking “hope from these inspirations, which are the fruit of unconscious work [and] obtain points of departure.” Notice how most of the thinking is done unconsciously; these four stages constantly overlap each other in our stream of thought.
In the end, don’t listen to the people who say your work isn’t good enough -- even if they are just the voices in your head. Art is difficult because you’re creating something from nothing at all. In order to do so, you must come face-to-face with your inadequacies.
Jenkins, Jerry B. “How to Overcome Writer's Block Once and For All - Jerry Jenkins.” Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips, Jerry Jenkins, 5 June 2020, jerryjenkins.com/writers-block/. Accessed June 14 2020.
Pollock, Michael. “Tchaikovsky on Work-Ethic and Creative Inspiration.” Michael D. Pollock, 20 Nov. 2014, www.michaeldpollock.com/tchaikovsky-on-work-ethic-and-creative-inspiration/. Accessed June 15 2020.
Popova, Maria. “The Art of Thought: A Pioneering 1926 Model of the Four Stages of Creativity.” Brain Pickings, 30 Jan. 2016, www.brainpickings.org/2013/08/28/the-art-of-thought-graham-wallas-stages/. Accessed June 15 2020.