I’ve been thinking about breaking through creative block lately. For quite a while, between deciding to close Blue Radish and starting Rebecca Angela, I couldn’t bring myself to create. Maybe it was burn-out. It might just have been I’d lost my mo-jo. Whatever the reason, I have found it again – thankfully!
Every creative person becomes stuck at times. Well, I imagine so. There might be the rare individual out there whose creative juices are always flowing. But I don’t think the term ‘writer’s block’ would be so commonly understood if losing your creative energy for a while was not part of the human condition. Artists, writers, musicians, designers, all creatives suffer from it. So what do you do at those times? I’d like to share some of my insights into how to break through a creative block.
Where does creative block come from?
Firstly, let’s consider why creative block might crop up.
It could be our physical selves are tired or sick. We go into survival mode and creativity expends energy that we need to keep our bodies going. It is non-essential so we cannot focus on it.
It could be that there are just too many other more urgent things to do and our attention has to be elsewhere. Our brains just don’t allow us to wander gently down the path of creativity while it is stressing about other priorities.
I also find that time pressure makes my creativity disappear. It is like a panic sets in and taking that gentle wander is impossible.
It could be that we are bored, stale or a bit burnt out. These are all energy draining feelings which also signal a need for a fresh perspective. You have to get a little excited about your craft in order to be creative. You are not excited if you are bored, stale or burnt out.
It could be that self-doubt is creeping (or stomping!) in and we are afraid to let ourselves take the creative path because we fear failure, disappointment or rejection. Creativity requires a little, and sometimes a lot, of courage so we need some confidence to give something a try. Self-doubt saps us of confidence.
Sometimes it could be that you have so many ideas and possible directions in your head that you are paralysed by the need to make a decision to start on just one of those ideas (at least for now) – because although we can do lots of things in series we cannot actually multi-task.
For me, feeling pressure to create a product rather than just allowing myself to get absorbed in the process led to block in my Blue Radish business.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
What to do to rediscover your inspiration
So what can we do when we hit this kind of funk?
First of all, don’t panic! This feeling is temporary and you can work through it. Your mo-jo will return. It might not look just the same as it did before but you’ll create again and your craft will grow and develop with you.
Look After Yourself
After dealing with the urge to panic, the next thing to do is to look after yourself. Give yourself some time to rest and recover if you are sick. Don’t beat yourself up! Keep those negative thoughts in check. Treat yourself as you would treat your six year old. Encourage, support and nurture yourself and the creative being inside.
Make space (and by that I mean time but physical space might also help) in your busy life to be creative. Sometimes there simply is no time to let yourself create so deal with whatever you have to and know that there will be time around the corner. In fact, block it out on your calendar for after your deadline. If you can build it in regularly, all the better. Our brains like routine.
If large chunks of time are hard to find, find some time to set it aside – even just fifteen minutes – and allow yourself to focus on whatever creative activity you choose. Some disciplined people get up in the morning and sit down to write or draw or whatever for a set period of time every day. I haven’t ever managed to sustain that but whatever time you do have, give yourself the gift of letting yourself just create in that time. You may even find you get into a state of flow if you do. Don’t think about the other things you ‘should’ be doing. Creativity is important. You have chosen that, in this moment, this is what you ‘should’ be doing.
Now you’ve dedicated the time, now do something – anything – to get yourself moving again. It can be small. It can be new, especially if you are feeling stale. Don’t judge. Don’t let your critical left brain in. Just immerse yourself and have fun. Play without an aim in mind. Explore a new medium or subject. Enjoy!
Speaking of a new medium, trying something new – just for fun – is a great way to get the creative juices flowing again. Step out of your comfort zone and just give something a try. I’m not suggesting you give up on whatever you normally do. Just take a break from it and play with something different before coming back to your first love with new energy.
Take an Artist’s Date
If you can take the time to get away to a new location, away from your day-to-day, it can really help to unlock your creativity too. It doesn’t have to be far from home, although I have always returned from long holidays with a fresh perspective. It could just be seeing a new exhibition, checking out a new museum or walking through a different neighbourhood.
Creative inspiration is all around us. A lot of my work features nature in some way and I know that is a source of inspiration for many people. There are also books, museums, galleries, music, the built environment, life experiences, emotions, conversations, people-watching… And the Internet! It is an infinite list and as diverse as the people who create. When inspiration is flowing, you see it everywhere and wonder how it could ever run out.
Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way” calls these sorts of breaks ‘artist’s dates’. Artist’s dates are simply taking your inner artist out to play. It doesn’t have to be to an ‘arty’ location. It might be going out to buy some new materials, to take some photos in an inspiring spot, or to give yourself time to play with a new medium. Do whatever will fill your creative well.
Seek Out Inspiration
And go deliberately looking for the inspiration around you. This morning I went for a walk in my local nature reserve as I do many a morning but today I left my earbuds out and took the time to be in nature (not just simply getting some exercise). I was really looking around me and noticing the details. In that short walk, I had a least a couple of ideas for new designs.
If you are a visual person, walking with a camera can also help you focus on things in a different way. But also don’t get bogged down trying to find the perfect shot. That is not the point! If you are a photographer struggling with inspiration, perhaps leaving the camera at home would work for you. What I’m trying to say is step aside from your usual ways and look, listen, feel, smell and taste things differently, consciously and with the intent of experiencing things anew.
The inspiration is out there waiting to be found. It always will be. We just have to make sure we are in the mode to receive it and run with it. Nurturing our inner artist with strategies like those above is the way to get into the mode.