Five Ways to Break Through a Creative Block



You might be able to relate. For the first two weeks of November, I was in a total uninspired funk. Perhaps it's natural. I had a very busy October and I expected to need a few days to rest and regroup. But I didn't expect to need two whole weeks! In my dream world I was going to relax for a few days and then hit the ground running with the most inspired action plan for conquering life. Instead, I only felt inspired to do the bare minimum until I could get back to literally Keeping up with Kardashians.

Somewhere in the second week, I finally hit my unproductive limit and reached into my unblocking tool box. I'm happy to say I've come out of it with way more motivation and have a much better vision of the course of action to take now and through spring in order to achieve my goals. Phew! I am feeling much better now that I have my ideas and my direction back.

What I'm talking about today is that frustrating period of time in the creative process when you need ideas except absolutely nothing (or at least nothing great) is coming to you. It can be so stressful when you rely on your brain for work and it is failing you, like it has shut down. In case you are going through a similar situation, or just want to bookmark this for the next time you do, I thought I'd share my favorite go-to methods for getting over a creative slump and getting back your inspired, innovative, problem-solving mind.


1. Ask Questions / Find the Soul of the Project

If you lack clarity on an idea, it's likely because you don't have enough information yet. Ask yourself questions like: Who is the target audience? What do they want? How do I hope they will feel? How can I make their lives better/easier/more inspired? How have other designers approached similar problems? Parameters and constraints are the perfect springboard for creative ideas. So if you've been banging your head against a wall, it may simply be that you need to do a little more research. A well-defined plan should be established before you've even looked at your paintbrush, keyboard, etc. Getting to know the soul of the project is a perfect foundation for having your best ideas yet.


2. Come Up With Many Ideas

Anyone who's watched Mad Men is probably familiar with this method (my favorite for brainstorming). When Don hears of a new client or product pitch they need to prepare for he will tell the team that they each need need to come up with 50 taglines, or something to that effect, for their next meeting. I usually give myself a limit of 10, but whatever number you decide, the process of coming up with too many ideas is great for a couple of reasons. First of all, it helps you to see that you have a lot of options. When you are feeling at a loss for ideas, this can be a crucial morale booster. Secondly, it forces you to open your mind to consider more possibilities. It doesn't matter if some are silly or impractical, the act of considering more options will automatically get you in a creative state of mind. Needing to come up with 10, 20, 50 ideas will ease the pressure that comes with trying to find the one perfect idea.


3. Shake Up Your Work Space

I don't like to start working at my desk until it is cleared off and organized. A clean work space helps my mind to also be a blank space, perfect for tackling tasks and projects. If you are feeling stressed, take a moment to create a zen haven. Clear away any trash or dishes, organize your work tools, and add a little ambiance by lighting a candle or putting on some calming music. If you are feeling uninspired? Take it a step further and consider rearranging some furniture, adding some fresh flowers or a colorful piece of art, or even simply moving your chair to a window or the other side of the desk. Not only will the act of changing the space get your creative wheels moving, but having a "new" space will aid in the production of new ideas. If all else fails, you can always head to a coffee shop or park and get inspired by your surroundings outside of your work space.


4. Get a New Perspective

As much as changing your surroundings can literally provide a new perspective, sometimes it's helpful to turn this theory inward and think about things from another angle. One method I like is to start at your end goal and work backwards, asking how and why at each level. Say you want to write a children's book but are having a hard time getting started. Think about the day the book launches: How do you want the first person that reads it to feel? Now why is this important and how can you make sure it happens? Get smaller and smaller with each step until you have decided on a starting point. Another tactic for gaining a new approach is to ask yourself how Benjamin Franklin/Joan of Arc/Beyoncé (whoever) would approach the same project. Thinking about it outside of yourself can alleviate the pressure and fear that comes with creative ownership and help to open yourself to ideas you may have not yet considered.


5. Activate Your Brain Trust

Collaboration breeds creation, so when in doubt, reach out to all the creative geniuses in your network. Whether it be as a fan, by saving quotes, reading great literature, looking at inspiring art, or checking out an innovative film or concert, there is no doubt that great works of art can help inspire creativity in your own work. As for your more personal connections, keeping a regular meeting of people in similar fields, finding a mentor, and simply reaching out to those closest to you can all help in finding the missing link you are looking for to make your idea whole.


The most important thing to remember when experiencing a creative block is that it is a natural and important part of the process. Try to look at this frustrating time as the perfect opportunity for growth. You haven't run out of ideas yet, you are just pushing yourself to find your best ones. The struggle is a valuable part of getting to your best creative work.

You've got this!



How do you break through a creative block?