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Breaking Through Creative Blocks

I’m going to be straight-up honest - I’m blocked.

Not in the digestive “I ate-too-much cheese” kind of way, but more in the “where have all my ideas gone” feeling. A full-on creative block. It’s absolutely frustrating, because I know that the ideas are still there. They’re just not rising to the surface. My mind might as well be a rigged claw-machine that I keep pushing quarters into.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in these feelings, considering the amount of advice there currently is regarding motivation and creativity. So, why should I bother writing yet more tips and advice on the subject? Well, it’s part of my strategy to not only get myself unstuck, but to let this post be a testament that I can come back to when I feel the need to remind myself of this journey. If I also get a chance to help others in their own creative struggles, then awesome - I’d call that a win!

It seems like a small paradox, doesn’t it? To be writing a post talking about how to boost creativity and be more productive with your ideas while going through a creative block? Maybe not. Thanks to experience, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt stumped. Maybe not quite to this degree, but through experience, I am familiar with what it takes to succeed.

Dumpster Diving

It’s pretty common for us as creative individuals to have loads of unfinished scraps tucked away in all sorts of hidden corners of our space. Sketches that never really took off, doodles of weird ideas that may have just not been their time, unfinished stories, poetry/rap from that time we felt like we could pull it off, an abstract painting that sort of resembles a splattered bug, or even those macro photography experiments.

Whatever the trash might be, reclaim it, take the idea that you started, and use it as a catalyst to go a whole new direction. Use something already started to nudge yourself forward just enough to make it happen.

Artists: Scribble

A blank canvas in front of you can be intimidating. The longer you stare at it, the more it feels like it’s staring right back at you, daring you to touch it. As if a single mark will be the biggest mistake of your life.

Well, it’s high-noon, and you’re about to show the canvas who’s in charge. Un-holster that pencil/pen/stylus and scribble. Not more than a few seconds, because what you do next is the key to making this work in your favor.

Study that scribble, and look deep. Try to find something to work with in the lines you just threw down. Look at those lines, and bring them to life. I know this probably sounds crazy, but it’s one of my favorite techniques.

One of my personal favorite illustrations is of a bird that I painted in Photoshop years ago. I was playing around with some muddy colors, and couldn’t think of what to create, so I just scribbled some lines. Shortly after, I saw in those lines the shape of a large beak, and a branch. Then, feathers. Before long, it became a snowball effect, and I had created “Sir Frumpet”.

Authors: Start at the End

Do you have a story or post that you’re working on, and can’t quite find the path that takes you from point A to point B? Try writing the last chapter or paragraph (whichever applies to you).

As the author, you’re allowed to skip ahead. There’s no worry of spoiling anything, since it’s not technically written yet, and you control all of the variables. By doing this, you will create for yourself a target that can serve to focus the rest of the story, and prevent tangents (or your mind) from wandering too far off topic. A funnel for your words might be just what’s needed to nudge the creative genius inside you.

A Tribute

Something that I haven’t done much of, but have certainly considered, is fan-art. I have read about how well this works for other artists, and I can see the benefit. The ideas are all around us, in movies, tv shows, books, comics, posters, video games, and on t-shirts. How cool would it be to do a remix of one of your favorite heroes?

Authors can use the same advice, but turn it into a bit of fan-fiction. There’s a whole universe of ideas out there!

Designers can get in on the action, too. What sort of app would a hero need, and what would it look like?

The only bit of caution I offer here is to be aware of copyright laws, and the limitations of fair use. Be clear on crediting your sources, and never, ever steal someone’s work.

Become Nature

Trees, leaves, flowers, plants, bugs, rocks, dirt. We’re surrounded by beauty and life on a macro level. Find your favorites, and recreate them in your own style. Know where there’s a stump (or a photo of one)? Draw it. Have you seen a praying mantis recently? Give it a name and write a story!

Your sources shouldn’t be in short supply, wherever you call home. If you don’t see what you like around your home, head on over to Unsplash, or Pexels for some quality photo searches.

Seek Advice

Often, it’s not the worst idea to reach out to peers that you know will have advice for you. I recently posted on Twitter that I was writing this, and was curious what others did to break up their own mental blocks. Here’s what James Mathias says:

I find when I'm blocked a break always helps. I either walk, shoot baskets, or punch the heavy bag. All three disengage my mind from the problem, and by the time I'm back at my desk, I'm clear, focused, and the block is gone.

Well said, James!

Publish and Share

Hopefully the above suggestions help you find a way of creating something new, and knocking a little bit of that block from your creativity. Whatever you end up coming up with, there’s one final suggestion I can offer: Regardless of where your effort landed, get it published and shared, even if it’s just among friends.

A sense of checking that box off of your list should offer a sense of accomplishment, and inspire you to want more, or an urge to do it again, but better. Continue to improve.

If you are critiqued on the work, listen to the advice, but don’t take it too personally. Everything is an opportunity to improve.

Good luck!