7 Things to Try When Facing a Creative Block

Who out there hasn’t experienced a creative slump? At some point every creative ends up facing a creative block. We can’t keep it  from happening, but we can learn to cope effectively with it when it does. Otherwise, it’s too easy to fall into the head games and that can have serious setbacks. The strategies below have all worked for me and although the examples are specific to photography the same strategies can work for all creatives.

1. Tackle a completely different subject. For example, if you usually photograph landscapes,  take macro images of flowers. Or if you always shoot in color, focus on only creating for black and white. One of the things that helped me when I hit my worst creative block was to start shooting with film. The pain I felt when my mom died made it difficult to pick up my camera. Somehow it felt selfish to want to create and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It occurred to me to experiment with her old film camera and that small step got me creating again. I still use it every now and then and going back to film always seems to help if I’m feeling stuck.

2. Remove the pressure to succeed. Forget about doing whatever you are doing as a way of making money or becoming famous. As a matter of fact, set out with the intention of failing. I’ve done this recently. Rather than trying to capture that wonderful image that will sell lots of prints I go out with the mindset that I will be okay if I get nothing good. And I keep repeating this to myself every time I seem to be thinking of an excuse to avoid creating. I’ve been amazed by what I have captured when I do this (see the wave image below).

Blue green ocean waves
Thanks to a nearby hurricane, the waves in San Clemente were spectacular.

3. Give yourself limitations. Sometimes having everything makes it much more difficult to create something. Rather than a bag full of gear, use only one lens and work on creating something worthwhile with that.

4. Spend time with other creatives. It’s so easy for me to get stuck in my own head – but when I’m surrounded by other creative people the conversation and laughter breaks down the barriers. I’m a big fan of meetup groups when it comes to photography. Usually there are people there at all levels and with all sorts of different gear. The ones I have participated in are welcoming and fun and the outings create an opportunity not just to take photos, but to meet some interesting people as well.

5. Get creative in a different way. Rather than photography, explore painting, ceramics, poetry or whatever else interests you. When you maintain your creative muscles limber you can choose to pause one thing in favor of another just to keep things interesting. Drawing and writing do it for me.

6. Put it in your calendar… in ink. Make an appointment with yourself to spend time creating and don’t allow room for any excuses. You may just take your camera somewhere and not take a single photo the first time, but at least you made it there and that sense of accomplishment can be the first little bit of momentum that gets you going. Make this time non-negotiable and even if you create nothing, keep that appointment carved out in your calendar. If you need more ideas, I wrote a post with productivity tips for creatives.

7. Take a timed break. Sometimes you need a break, but don’t let it go on forever. Set a date for when you will return to try again. When I was in grad school it was easier for me. Studio classes required me to create something every week for 15 weeks so by the end of it I would feel a little burned out and would need a break. During my time off I would read or go to art exhibits and take in other people’s work.

Getting into the habit of creating when our inner demons fill our minds with negative thoughts can be challenging. It’s almost like getting started with a workout routine. In the beginning you can come up with the best excuses but once you get going you’ll find that you’re enjoying yourself and that you’re glad you began. Making it a habit is key. We can’t just wait for the right mood to strike, because that may never happen. A book I recommend on the topic would be Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. In this book she gives multiple ideas on making creativity part of your daily routine and given the amount of work she has created over the years, I’d say the strategies have worked very well for her!

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