How to Overcome Creative Blocks
Creative blocks happen. And they often attack without notice. They sneak up on us; they take hold of our inspiration and motivation and slowly choke them both out.
The scariest thing is that we often don’t realize what’s happening until we’re completely stuck, stopped in our tracks and struggling to make or do anything with our craft.
I know because it happened to me. I went into this year feeling optimistic, full of excitement and enthusiasm and big ideas. But I missed the mark between now and then.
Instead of dashing off into a wealth of creative work, all that energy was somehow funneled into the wrong direction and it feels like I ran headlong into a brick wall.
The Importance of Acknowledging Creative Blocks
It’s not easy to admit when you’re creatively blocked — when you’re experiencing some form of Resistance, as Steven Pressfield would say.
(If you haven’t his book, The War of Art, please stop what you’re doing and go get yourself a copy right now.)
For one thing, you may not even know. You may feel a certain way, and spend lots and lots of time wondering why. Why do you feel that way? What’s going on? What’s the source?
You’ll spend time and energy trying to figure out this feeling, which is all just a distraction from the real problem that you’d likely never guess: you’re dealing with a creative block.
And even if you do suspect you’re somehow stuck or blocked, you won’t want to think about it. If you admit it — or even worse, if you say it out loud! — you don’t know what will happen.
Other people might think things about you. They may question the legitimacy of your creativity or your work, right? Or perhaps if you admit out loud that you’re blocked and give life to the idea, it will become True and then you really will be stuck.
Well, maybe. But that’s unlikely. Let me offer another reason why it’s really, really tough to admit when you get tripped up and feel unable to do your work anymore: if you admit you’re creatively blocked, you must own up to the fact that, yes, there’s a problem — and you already know the solution.
You Already Know What to Do
I avoided admitting how bad things had gotten for a number of reasons. I felt ashamed, because this wasn’t the first time I struggled with feeling like my creativity and ability to do even the simplest of tasks had abandoned me. I felt like my friends and colleagues would start rolling their eyes and talking behind their hands about how dramatic and incapable I was; because haven’t they heard this song and dance before?
Of course, these were just stories that I made up in my own head with no basis in the reality the rest of the world experiences. And they were a nice distraction from the real issue.
Deep down, I knew there was a problem. I would ask myself things like, how do I re-develop the habit of writing every single day? How can I be more efficient and productive with my work? How do I start journaling along with my professional writing? How can I make time to read and learn more so I can improve my craft? How do I create more: more quality, more quantity?
And deep down, I knew the solution. But I wanted to avoid it because it was so painfully simple — so simple that it eliminated all my excuses for not starting to chip away at the problem and move past my creative block immediately.
Consider the list of questions I asked myself. And then consider that these are the answers to each:
Re-develop the habit of writing every single day. (Sit down, every day, and write.)
Be more efficient and productive with work. (Sit down, every day, and do your tasks one at a time.)
Journal along with professional writing. (Sit down, every day, and write a journal entry.)
Read and learn more to improve. (Sit down, every day, and read or try something new.)
Create more. (Sit down, every day, and don’t avoid doing your work. This creates quantity. Over time all that practice creates quality.)
Stop Asking How and Just Do
The solution to most of our problems can be found if we take our how-to question and drop the how-to part. How do you become a writer? You write. How do you save more money? You save more money. How do you exercise and eat healthy? You exercise, and you eat healthy.
Note that simple does not equal easy. All of these things — from creative struggles to the ongoing battle to eat well and stay healthy — are far from easy.
We’re not wired to sit down and do any kind of work when we could do nothing instead. We’re not wired to slog it out for the possibility of greater things down the road when we could get a cheap, fast hit of something rewarding right this second.
We’re not wrong for how we’re wired. We’re just human.
But we must overcome these very human things in order to do great work and move past what prevents us from consistently engaging with creativity.
The very first step is putting aside the need to know how. “How” is not a word that should stop us.
In the last few weeks, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve thought something along the lines of how do I start doing something — or stop doing something, or do something better…
I spent my time with these thoughts instead of dropping my obsession with how and just doing.
That is, until today. Today I got up early. I made myself breakfast and a cup of coffee. And then I did something different than what I’ve been doing for the last two months.
On a normal morning, I’d pull up my email, click around, read the same messages over and over again before finally deciding I don’t want to respond right now, switch to my task management system and pick piddly little tasks to do and then multitask on all of them — wasting hours of time and all the while asking how do I get over my creative block? How do I start writing good stuff again?
Instead, today, I grabbed my laptop and opened my word processor. And I started writing about how to overcome creative blocks.
It’s that simple. Stop asking how. Stop avoiding your work.
Sit down and do.
Originally published at offtherails.co on March 21, 2016.