Death Before Creative Block
Handling the affects of creative block
So you opened a new document 10 minutes ago and instead of beginning the project, you fall into a strange type of semi-paralysis that seems to only affect the motion of your thoughts. You reach for your phone and begin scrolling through Instagram seeing new posts by other creatives every time you refresh the page. Instead of admiration and support, you are filled with petty questions. Like — how did he think of that? Did she get hired to do that? He got that many likes?? You look back at your blank screen and the frustration starts raising your body temperature. Keep it together you think. Maybe you need another sip of coffee. Perhaps reloading Facebook will help. You think — Why couldn’t I think of that first? Why doesn’t my work look like that?
*Take a deep breath*
And just like that, you have creative block, right? Maybe. Probably. Creative block feels more like a thick fog than a solid idea. All of a sudden your brain decides that beginning a creative idea should feel like the natural bodily reaction moments from biting into moldy bread. I’ve been creating things most of my life and I have my own ways of dealing with creative block. Because with creative block, it’s easy to call it on its bullshit.
So what is creative block?
Basically, creative block is this abstract idea that artists suffer moments of inability to access internal inspiration or unable to create new work. You may find it difficult to think of original ideas and it can affect you for a long period of time. This can be caused by a lot of different things whether it’s career pressure, physical/mental distress, or simply the fear of failure. It can take one small error in your routine like using the wrong mug for your morning coffee to tear your sails and leave you stranded in a sea of a white blank screen. And remember, that’s ok and it doesn’t make you less than. Everyone goes through it so don’t be too hard on yourself.
I’m speaking from the point of view of a graphic designer so take what you will. Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Dribbble has thrown new variables into the mix. Comparison is a dominating ingredient in the creative block of cheese that melts all over your motivation to finish a new project. You assume that the designer who just posted a new project must have effortlessly created that project without breaking a sweat, right? Probably not. Seasoned creative professionals tend to develop their own way to avoid creative block, or at least ways to slow its effects. So taking a step back from your screen could be a good start.
Instead of going straight to the computer in the morning, I first complete small mundane tasks beforehand. These tasks tend to only take a few minutes to complete and have a clear goal is sight. Whether it’s taking a moment to hang your jacket back in the closet or cleaning off your work space. Completing these tasks or chores can give you small doses of achievement and remind yourself what it feels like to start and finish something. This helps to switch your brain into work mode and to better tackle projects that you might have been avoiding or procrastinating on.
I wake up around five in the morning nearly every day and one of the first things I do is wash the dirty dishes left in the sink from the night before. Washing the dishes takes less mental resistance to complete so I’m able to decompress and problem solve while I’m doing so. I do the things I consider low-level work like refilling the water pitcher, sweeping the floors, or wiping clean the sticky microwave handle. What made it sticky? I may never know. I’m not always the person who is able to work on projects first thing in the morning so building productive momentum has been very helpful.
Creating new work
Everyone has a creative filter when it comes to generating ideas. At times, that filter is too critical and the bad ideas can't get through. When I'm stuck with creating new work, I write out everything that comes to my mind. Using my own handwriting or exploring different letterforms along the way. Leaving that filter wide open and building off ideas that seem interesting. Sometimes your best creative ideas aren't sought after but come to you when you least expect it. If you do this exercise, you will end up with a page full of nonsense but chances are there are some design directions to pursue.
Perhaps changing your working environment could help if you're feeling uninspired. The atmosphere of a bustling coffee shop or a quiet park could take you out of a normal routine and normal thought process.
Sleep on it when you can
I find revisiting ideas in the morning instead of staying up late to work on something works well with my creative process. While you sleep, your mind makes sense of all the information from your day and most importantly, it tries to solve problems. Forcing your self to stay up late could cause you to ignore what the unconscious has already figured out. So getting some rest and approaching a project with fresh eyes could lead to making progress on that challenging project.
Take a day off
You are not a robot. We humans need to see the sun and take in some fresh air. The creative juices might simply need time to refill. Go hangout out with friends. Maybe take a walk around town. Be present and aware while you're doing so. If you need to, carry around a small notebook to capture creative ideas that might randomly come your way. A lot of my personal projects come from ideas that hit me while in the middle of a conversation.
Remember, you have a long career ahead of you. So allow yourself to enjoy life once in a while. Don’t be scared to be selfish and take a day off and break away from the stresses of emails, meetings, and deadlines. Those will always be there, but today won’t.