How to banish creative block: practical steps

Last week I talked about the psychological aspects of creative block and understanding why it happens. This week we’ll continue by dealing with the tricks your mind can pull to stop you from producing. Then we’ll start to outline some practical steps you can take to kick creative block out of your life.

The sidetrack
There are all kinds of ways that the devil on your shoulder can put you off.

Procrastination, diversion and lack of commitment are other roadblocks on the journey, and are all signs of resistance. For example, if you’re:

  • putting off important tasks
  • repeatedly finding other things to do rather than knuckling down
  • being half-hearted about a project
  • postponing meetings
  • feeling unwilling to move things forward

– there is something inside of you that is pushing against the situation.

If this is the case, you need to be truthful with yourself about why this is happening. Ask yourself:

  • Do I like what I’m doing?
  • Is this inspiring me?
  • Do I like the person or people I’m working for/with?
  • Is this a good collaboration, or a negative relationship? Are colleagues treating me well or badly? Are we getting on ok?
  • Do I feel resentful because I’m not being paid enough, or for some other reason?
  • Am I simply not interested: is it a hackwriter (or hack-artist) job?
  • Is it actually me who’s being difficult?
  • Do I genuinely want to be doing something else?

This may open up further avenues of self-exploration, but that may not be such a bad thing. Part of being a creative is to stay aligned with your higher purpose, and this can mean asking yourself a few thorny questions from time to time.

If what you are doing is not taking you where you want to go in the wider scheme of things; if you are really not enjoying what you’re doing, it’s a case of working out what will put you back on track – and then, making it happen.

Go play
When we’re working on a project, we have an end result in mind. This can be a positive force, as it can give us a clear sense of direction and purpose, and motivate us to keep progressing forward.

However, when we’re experiencing creative block, that end result can feel like a long, dark tunnel with barely a pinhead of light to guide us out.

The idea of play is helpful here because when we make something purely for enjoyment, we suspend any notion of getting to the finishing line. We throw goals and deadlines and all that pressure to perform out of the window.

Play reconnects us with what inspires

What play does is to free us up to brainstorm, freestyle and reconnect with what inspires us.  It re-engages us with our process, rather than focusing on the product.

How can we do this? There are well-established ways of artistic brainstorming, such as Brian Eno’s creative cards (Oblique Strategies, available as an app), and Tony Buzan’s mind maps (or spider diagrams).

One great way you can tap into your creative process is to choose something you love to do – for example, painting, photography, drawing or writing – and start up a play project.

The 30-day project
This concept is a very popular and tried-and-tested creative tool. It is used by writers, photographers and all kinds of artists to keep themselves lively; it’s even applied as a proactive measure to ward off stagnation.

One professional photographer I know does this every year, usually in August. She calls it ‘The 30-day Challenge’. She puts out a call for a theme or topic, then she goes out every day for a month to make a picture. This exercise stretches her both technically and in terms of subject matter: she has to find things to shoot that have no relation to her usual client work, which helps her to stay fresh in her medium.

The idea is that every day for 30 days you make one item of work. It could be a pencil drawing, a sketch or cartoon, poem, print, writing fragment, quick watercolour or painting. For photography, it could be taking one shot a day on a theme such as black and white, nature or urban architecture – whatever you fancy.

This task is purely for you

None of it has to be perfect or even particularly time-consuming; and you don’t have to show the project to anyone if you don’t want to. The point is that this task is purely for you.

(If you do want to upload your project to your website, or publish it on social media in order to interact with others and get their feedback, that’s fine too. The important thing is to do what you feel most comfortable with – just approach it how you choose!)

What the play project does is to encourage you to come up with lots of varied, simple ideas, and to make something just for the fun of it. It’s about unlocking your creative energy, and doing something completely different to what you normally do. Most importantly, you’ll be deactivating both that internal egg-timer and nagging inner critic.

At the end of the 30 days not only will you have a file full of work, but many varied examples to show for it: some of which might even inspire you to follow up with more fully-formed projects. In scratch form it may not be the best work you’ve ever made, but you will have relaxed and enjoyed doing it – and above all, you will have stopped worrying about feeling stuck. That is the main object of the exercise.

Just give it a try. You never know where it might take you!

In the final part next week, we’ll be talking about reconfiguring your workspace and exploring new avenues to keep that energy moving.

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