Five Easy Tips for Breaking a Creative Block

Five Easy Tips for Breaking a Creative Block

When you rely on creativity for work, a battle with the absence of these abilities can be detrimental, especially when you’re freelance. No matter what type of creative work you do, there will come a time when you feel like your powers have dried up and you are no longer capable. It will seem like the ability to do anything is gone forever, everything you make is crap, and no good ideas seem to be coming to you. To understand this problem as universal and cyclical is a step towards understanding what it is that drives your creative abilities. There are ways to elevate past these woes and continue creating your best work. Here are five easy practices that can help you in your woes next time you are met with a creative block.

A brief aside, when I was young in a Catholic family, I was taught to pray to St. Anthony when I lost something. The prayer was a little more than a couple of lines. The trick was to keep repeating the lines until you found what you had lost. It was a near flawless method of finding superficially lost items like keys, the remote control, or a phone. Though many more faithful than me would argue that there were spiritual elements at work, I argue that the effectiveness of this prayer was in the calming effects of repetition, giving the mind the platform to retrace where it was that you last saw the item. Just as such, these useful tips for regaining your creative control are based in the ability to reset the mind. Understanding this principle is especially helpful; approaching each step as a meditative practice will achieve the best results. If you expect these tips to act as magic spells you will be greatly disappointed.

Make a List

I place this at the top because it is my favorite way to break my creative blocks. Additionally, I feel this is a healthy practice for staving off the blocks to begin with. As I get ideas, I add them to an ongoing list on my phone. The act of writing something down helps commit it to memory and give the idea an element of permanence. The general act of writing down thoughts is a enormously effective tool for the creative. If you are not journaling or documenting your thoughts in some way, your are missing out on very useful tool.

In an article regarding the science of writing thoughts down, it is argued that committing thoughts to tangible pen and paper will effectively help you think bigger and free up mental RAM. In a research completed by Dr. Gail Matthews, it was concluded by studying 267 participants that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

Sub-tasking the list is my favorite meditative way of dramatically increasing the effectiveness of relieving my creative blocks. Essentially I come up with an idea and break down all the necessary steps to accomplishing said idea. This allows me to forecast exactly what I need to do to accomplish a creative endeavor. Since I began doing this, I have started to look at my creativity a little more methodically, rather than just spurts of impulsiveness, thus overall conserving and pacing my abilities as an artist.

Collaborate

This is an excellent way to learn something new and step outside of your normal creative routine. As a photographer, we are often very individualistic in our endeavors. Long hours in solitude, editing or in a dark room, have convinced us that we are a one-person show of creativity. To understand the power of more is to embrace the healing of collaboration.

Try exposing a full roll of film and give it to a friend to double expose; the results can be incredibly inspiring and revealing. I once worked with an friend who was an illustrator for some mixed media pieces. Even if the project you’re working on has little or nothing to do with the style of work that you typically do, the chances are when you start working on a new and exciting idea that the creative juices will start flowing again.  Before you know it, you’ll recharge that energy you need. Remember that these tips are meditative practices meant to lead you to a solution, not solve it directly.

Take a Break and Exercise

This is huge and universal no matter what you do. Stand up, get outside, go for a run, play a game. I’m a big fan of endurance sports for relieving my creative woes. Running, cycling, swimming, and hiking allow me to silence my mind and let the things I need to work on surface.

Many studies have concluded that short periods of vigorous exercise can relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression for hours at a time, whereas regular exercise can effectively reduce symptoms indefinitely. Being able to control your mind is a huge step forward in restoring your creative abilities. You don’t have to be in great shape, however making conscious steps towards a healthier lifestyle starts with a few small behavioral changes. Even just taking one or two minutes every hour to stand up or separate yourself from work for a brief meditation can have drastic and lasting effects on your work.

Break Down Your Process

This is more of a proactive tip as you work. Understand what time of day you are most creative and consider this in your scheduling. You will always have conflict, but understanding when you work best will have drastic on your work. If you love to peck out that term paper over a cup of coffee in the morning, or bury yourself in the darkroom first thing every day, then you may want to schedule future projects in the morning. If you can only come up with ideas as you’re winding down at the end of the day, then you might want to consider that you’re more of a night person.

Chances are that you already understand what times of day your best work already. It is also likely that you don’t have a whole lot of control of when you work. Like many of us, you are probably bound to a preset work day and expected to deliver regardless of your mind state. To shake this up, try getting up a little earlier or going to sleep a little later. If you’re drastically struggling with a creative block, try to go to sleep a little earlier tonight and wake up an hour earlier tomorrow. Use that extra time in the morning to put on a record and write some thoughts down (if you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge proponent of the effectiveness of putting pen to paper as a chief weapon against creative blocks).

Finish Everything

This can be very torturous, but finish everything you start. If you’re like me, it can be mentally painful to finish a project that is just crap to begin with. What seemed like a good idea can often lead to a stagnant state of disapproval. Carrying out these projects no matter how ridiculous can help you dramatically in recharging your creative mind. The act of carrying something out can open new doors to where your creativity comes from. There are many elements here; you may discover a talent or drive that you never recognized before. Additionally, distracting your mind from your normal work load can add unique perspective. 

Once I got a wild hair that I wanted to dive into the world of watercolors. I started a number of little projects that turned out pretty cool and quickly scaled up and began a large piece, only to quit halfway through. A few weeks ago, while struggling with a concept for a commercial photoshoot, I pulled the watercolors out again and began to paint. The piece is still horrible to look at, but the therapeutic process of finishing the project helped me close that chapter and think forward on what I needed to accomplish with my commercial shoot. I was able to ideate a number of concepts for the shoot, one of which the client selected.

These are just five tips to help your block. As I mentioned, they are mostly meditative; they are recommended in their ability to distract your mind from whatever is blocking it. It is important the recognize that as suggestions they all seem very simple and obvious, however in practice they are dramatic in effectiveness.

What are some other techniques that you’ve used in your creative process? How have you recharged your creative powers and forged through projects that seemed otherwise insurmountable?

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2 Comments

I've used:
drawing - actually cartooning, I've been doing it since I can remember
watercolor - just started recently when I needed something different
changes in venue - go on a trip somewhere (far away preferably), or just jump in your car (for me subway) and go, but don't bring a lot of equipment, maybe just your camera and one prime, then wander... you may find something inspirational, you may not take a single shot
step back - don't force it, step away from everything for a while, let it find you, clear your mind, or focus on something mundane like paying the bills or grocery shopping
Whatever you do, try not to obsess about it and when something does come to you, I agree, write it down and see where it takes you...
Thanks for this article, all of the above as well!

Jason Hudson's picture

dude, love it!
I especially love the idea of bringing limited gear - it forces you to work creatively with what you have! My go to is my EOS 650 35mm camera with a Sigma 35m art lens. Toss that in my backpack, jump on my bicycle and see where the day takes me!
Thanks for the additional ideas brother.