More than once, in the midst of a creative block (which for me is truly just a baby step away from full-on existential crisis), I’ve been told by well-meaning writer friends that my block isn’t real. “It’s all in your head,” they say, as if that’s helpful, as if the fact that my blankness resides in my head (where, incidentally, my imagination, my creative writing skills, my ability to link disparate ideas together in meaningful ways also reside) makes it any less real.
Part of what makes creative block so hard is that, despite an absolute dearth of ideas, the urge to create never really abates. It becomes instead an ache, a disheartening, self-esteem-bashing sadness that permeates the rest of our lives and makes us feel lesser. Creatives who aren’t creating are among the saddest humans around.
It’s been a while since I experienced a creative block that lasted more than a day or two, and the reason they’re so short-lived now is that I’ve developed some strategies that really work. Today, I’m sharing.
Seven Cures for Creative Block
Experiment with an unfamiliar art form.
If you’re a writer, knit a scarf. If you’re a painter, join a drum circle. If you’re a jewelry maker, compose a sonnet. Stepping (or bounding puppylike) out of your comfort zone is freeing. Unfamiliarity opens you to a sense of play and experimentation that is sometimes hard to accomplish within your normal medium. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be a perfectionist when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Being a beginner forces you to focus on the process of creation rather than on the outcome, which is good because it’s there, in the act of creation for creation’s sake, that real magic can happen.
And the best part? Creativity begets creativity. Work on something utterly unrelated to your art, and you’ll find one endeavor feeds the other. Maya Angelou says, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” (And seriously,who among us wants to argue with Maya Angelou?)
There’s nothing like a change of scenery to recharge the soul, and right outside your door there’s a whole, big, perpetual-motion-world full of beautiful, surprising, crazy, sad, breathtaking inspiration. Step outside, look around. Plug into your world.
Play with books.
You can read them, of course, that would be the obvious (and best) thing, but I love this advice from designer Debbie Millman: Color code your library. Stack your books, alphabetize them, arrange them by theme or size or degree of undying devotion. Whether it’s the autopilot nature of organizing or the irrefutable magic of the books themselves, I can vouch for their power to inspire (even unread) strange and wonderful acts of creation.
You knew I had to say it.
Some creative projects take a while to flesh themselves out. I carried “Me and My Body” around for almost a year before I could actually write it down. I’m about to start a big writing/illustration project that I first conceived of more than two years ago. Back then, it was just a writing project because I didn’t know doodling was part of my creative arsenal. It wasn’t until I reconceived the project, all this time later armed with new information, that I felt it light me up inside. I’m convinced that creative inaction, however uncomfortable it might be, is very often part of the creative process, and the best thing we can do for ourselves is to try and make peace with it. In Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, writer Douglas Rushkoff writes:
The creative process has more than one kind of expression. There’s the part you could show in a movie montage — the furious typing or painting or equation solving where the writer, artist, or mathematician accomplishes the output of the creative task. But then there’s also the part that happens invisibly, under the surface. That’s when the senses are perceiving the world, the mind and heart are thrown into some sort of dissonance, and the soul chooses to respond.
That’s an outrageously gorgeous way of saying INCUBATE. Trust that something’s happening just below the surface of your worried, frazzled over-achieving consciousness.
Creative output takes energy, so you have to, in the words of Julia Cameron, “fill the well” from time to time.
In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun… Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery… In filling the well, follow your sense of the mysterious, not your sense of what you should know more about… Ten minutes of listening to a great piece of music can be a very effective meditation. Five minutes of barefoot dancing to drum music can send our (inner) artist into its play-fray-day refreshed.
Sometimes we get blocked before we’ve even begun. (And by “we,” I definitely mean me.) I (almost) always have good reasons for not getting started on the creative project I inwardly long to do. It’s too big or too frivolous. It’s selfish or silly or vague or outrageous… or yes. “I’m not a “real” artist,” I tell myself (even though I don’t know what that means and I would never let someone I love say it about themselves). “I don’t have the time or support or bandwidth to do what I want to do,” I say. But really, that’s all bullshit – excuses to keep me safe (if not entirely happy or fulfilled) in a largely unexplored life. Which, of course, is not where I want to be. Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
And Step 1 in the pursuit of expansion: BEGIN.
Okay, your turn. What do you think? Are creative blocks real? Have you experienced them? Do you have some block-busting strategies to share? I’d love to hear them.