Saturday, October 1, 2011

Overcoming Creative Block

Hello, and welcome to another post at Saturday Sequins! Today's topic? Overcoming creative block.

Creative block happens to all artists at one point or another, and it can take many forms. Maybe you've just run out of ideas. Maybe you have all the ideas you'll ever need, but you don't know where, or how, to start. Maybe you've just finished a huge project, and you're sleep-deprived, dehydrated, achy, and both emotionally and physically drained from all the hard work you put in.

No matter the source of your blockage, you can get through it! I know it. This is because creative people have something in common, namely resilience. No matter how bad things get, we keep creating because it's a part of who we are, as essential to our health as food, water, oxygen, or... chocolate.

But! Sometimes we need a little help getting back on our feet, and that's OK. This is where our fellow artists come in. Today I'm going to share a few of my tricks for getting through various types of creative block, and I invite readers to chime in and share!

Inspiration Overload. I like to think of creativity in two ways. First, as a set of batteries that needs to be recharged every so often. Second, as a pitcher of water that needs regular filling so it doesn't run dry. Whichever analogy you prefer, my advice is the same: seek inspiration, and seek plenty of it, wherever you can find it! Read books. Watch movies. Go to galleries. Browse photos on Flickr. Go out in the world and observe. Read or listen to interviews with other artists. Do this until you're just bursting to create.

Explore another, similar area. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone to get our creative muscles working again -- there's nothing like a new perspective to help us approach our work with fresh eyes! If you write novels, try poetry or song writing. If you paint with watercolors, do acrylics. If you quilt, try embroidery. If you write about vampires, try witches. This gives you the perfect chance to learn things that might carry over into your own area of expertise while giving you a break from your normal routine.

Explore a completely different area. And sometimes... we need to take a flying leap out of our comfort zone! The fact of the matter is, our minds are curious and hungry things. They thrive when they learn new skills and have different experiences.

Combine random concepts. The author of The Creating Brain describes the creative process as idea fragments colliding and combining in random ways until something interesting happens. Well, I see no reason not to do this consciously! Go to a dictionary. Pick two words at random. Now, mash them together, and see what you get! You can also try this with your favorite themes, colors, concepts, materials, or anything else that comes to mind. Keep mashing until you get something you're excited about.

Variation on a current project. Take a piece of work you've made that you absolutely love. Prepare to do it again, only this time... make a slight change. And then another. And then another. And then another, until your idea has evolved into something you can hardly recognize from the original!

Change your work habits. Routine can lead to stagnation for creative types, so try switching things around. If you tend to work early in the morning, try working later. Work in a different room of your house, or take your things to a cafe or the library or the park. If you write freehand, try typing, and vice versa. If you work from a sketch or outline, try creating randomly. If you work in colors, try black and white, and if your work is busy, try for simplicity. Obviously, you want to own what makes your work yours, but there's nothing like a change to help you strengthen that definition... or expand it.

Break up with perfectionism. Mastery of technique is a beautiful thing, but it's possible to take it so far that it turns into crippling perfectionism. Perfectionism isn't your friend, even if it tries to convince you otherwise. So for the day, if not longer, tell it you need to see other people. Don't focus on creating something precise and flawless, but something that is uniquely yours and fun. If you want, be intentionally messy! There's something freeing about creative chaos.

Make something just for you. And while you're making something unique and fun, make something that isn't intended to impress publishers, beta readers, gallery owners, judges in a contest, clients, or your friends on Flickr. Make it exactly how you want it, to your very own specifications. Who cares if it's trendy? If it's the right length or word count or colors for Fall? This is your present to yourself, something just to make you happy.

Make something for a friend or loved one. I've found that collaborating with a friend to produce something special can be just as fun as making something for yourself because you get to work with someone who loves your work and appreciates you for the creative, awesome person you are. Also, a new, but gentle and loving, perspective could introduce you to interesting directions for your work that you might not have considered before.

Take care of yourself. If you've just finished a huge project and you have no energy, then you might just need a break! Go ahead. You deserve it. I'm giving you permission. Dr. Sequin* prescribes the following: Take a deep breath. Congratulate yourself on a job well done and give yourself a reward to celebrate. Have a nice, hot bubble bath with candles and maybe a book, and keep your favorite beverage handy (mine's Ghirardelli hot chocolate). Deep condition your hair, give yourself a guacamole facial, and take care of all the other grooming you might have neglected in your rush to finish your important project. And then, if you can, devote a few days to resting, relaxing, and catching up on all the other things you neglected. Like food. And sleep. And friends. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that taking care of yourself is actually an important part of the creative process, and that happiness is an important part of life.

Participate in my Creativity Challenge series! There will be more to come, I promise. If you like what you come up with, I'd love to see it! Especially if it has anything sparkly on it.

Now it's your turn. What do you do to overcome creative block?

Thanks, and have a sequintastic day!

*Dr. Sequins is not a doctor of anything except sparkly things, and these should not be taken internally.


  1. What a great post! I love wandering my favorite thrift and craft stores for inspiration - my problem is too many projects, too little time :)

    I love Halloween too - so glad it's October! :)

  2. Welcome, Stephanie!

    Thanks! :)

    Oh, I know what you mean about having too many projects and too little time. One idea I've toyed with is micro projects -- turning the things I want to do into smaller versions of themselves so I can do them in a fraction of the time. I do that with novels sometimes -- I only write the juiciest scenes and skip over all the other stuff. ;)

  3. oh my goodness! I like that stuff about micro projects. It's intriguing. I think that comment about micro projects is worth a bigger discuss this week!

    By the way, I had a dream that I was taking a political science class that Mr. Sequins was teaching and he had given out a SUPER HARD EXAM! :D

  4. I'm so glad the idea has you excited, because I went and wrote a blog post all about it! In fact, thanks for reminding me -- I'm posting it today! :)

    Hee! I had a dream that Mr. Sequin and I were in highschool together and were going to the prom. Or maybe that's a nightmare?

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  6. I think I'll be doing the make things for yourself bit next time I get stuck lol xxx


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