You know that feeling. You’re working on a project, and suddenly you hit what seems like a dead end in your thought process. You’re at a loss for words and you’ve wracked your brain for viable solutions, but nothing fits. Enter the dreaded creative block. It may answer to a different name, depending on your discipline, but it’s frustrating all the same.
When we reach that point in our work, it may mean we need to pause and grab a snack, take a short nap, catch up on the news—anything to take a break from whittling away at the problem. Sometimes a momentary diversion from the grind can be beneficial. It becomes a problem for me when my short breaks turn into a means of procrastination. A tiny snack becomes a quest to read the nutrition facts on everything in the kitchen. “Doing a little research” leads to laughing at and sending coworkers dog or cat memes. In the end, the problem is still there. At some point you have to face it, right?
It’s not always possible to completely avoid the creative block, but I’ve learned there are things I can do to be a little more prepared when it does happen. Establishing certain habits and learning to focus and work through moments of resistance has helped, because waiting for inspiration to alight on your shoulders can be the least productive solution to the problem. While anticipating the next creative block, I’ve found these habits to be helpful:
Whether it’s through pen and paper or your keyboard, committing your thoughts into writing is a great way to keep yourself from getting stuck, or helping yourself get unstuck. I’ve reaped the benefits of writing at least 750 words on a page first thing in the morning. You don’t have to worry about writing the next great American novel or even sign up for NaNoWriMo. Straight up stream-of-consciousness writing is enough to air out your brain to tackle whatever creative challenges the day has in store.
Make it a habit to also write down (or draw) your ideas. On lucky, rare occasions, the ideas do come to us when we’re not thinking so hard. I try to keep a notebook with me at all times to jot down ideas, or draw them out. On the fly, I’ll voice record into Evernote so the idea won’t slip away. Evernote is also a great option for journaling, if you’re not really into writing by hand.
750words.com is another great option for journaling digitally. Your daily entries are completely private, and the site even has a feature to analyze your writing through algorithms and generate some really fun charts describing your current state of mind, mood, and typing speed. You can even track data on 750words, and the site generates bar graphs based on the information you’ve designated to be tracked in each daily entry.
Contrary to popular belief, searching for more inspiration may not always be helpful. I get it—researching source materials or inspiration is necessary at the beginning of a project. I think it becomes unproductive when we start resorting to the search engines or social media every time we get stuck. Google, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. are great, but they’re black holes once you use them as the only sources for answers. We already overwhelm our brains with so much information on a daily basis. It’s also easy to be influenced by people we admire on the Internet, and there’s always a risk of creating solutions that align too closely with something someone else has already done. Momentarily staying off your phone or browser is difficult, but worth it. Just give it a shot and be receptive to the world outside your screens.
When you’re working hard on a task, it’s easy to isolate yourself inside the silo within your head. Having laser-sharp focus is great, but once you start to feel like you’re running in circles, maybe it’s time to get out of the silo and interact with your fellow humans. Whether you love being around a group of people or prefer one-on-one conversation, there can be a place in the creative process for some sort of human interaction. Hearing honest input or someone else’s stories might be the fuel you need to move forward.
The Internet may have the answers, but I still turn to books if I want to delve deeper or escape further. I’m a huge believer in varying your reading material because it’s always possible to find ideas in subjects that might not appear to be directly related to your discipline or the project you’re currently working on. You’ll never know when you might use the information gleaned from different reading. If you read fiction exclusively, try a little non-fiction, and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to venture into genres. Someone’s autobiography or findings in human cognition might provide some unexpected inspiration for this project or the next one. It could be as simple as finding a title that piques your curiosity. As a creative person, expanding your knowledge of the world around you can better equip you to deal with creative blocks.
Dealing with any sort of resistance is a normal part of doing work you love. There are no quick solutions to these mental road blocks, but I believe including some personal edification into your daily habits is helpful for chipping away at the creative block. Keep at it; sometimes the things worth doing aren’t always the easiest to accomplish.
So therefore I say unto you: close your browser, go forth and create.