Posted on November 6, 2014 at 6:00 am
It happens to all of us: the blank screen, the empty studio, the silent singing voice. Occasionally, we’re all visited by block of one kind or another. What’s a creative person to do?
Although some blocks just take time to lift and lessen, there are a few things I’ve found to help shake up my creative juices, and get them flowing again. I hope you’ll find one or two of them helpful for you as well.
When I’m staring down a deadline and the words just won’t come, I like to let my feet do some of the work. I turn off my brain and stroll through my neighborhood. We have a little park close by, and I like to go there, if only because I find it calming to look at water (there is a pond).
Nature is good, and if you’re not near natural beauty, I’d recommend finding someplace close to drive. Woods, a trail, or even a beach or lake often work well when I’m trying to clear my head.
If you’re not in a nature mood, someplace with good people watching can also help. For this, I like malls, or downtown areas, anywhere that people are congregating.
If you usually write fiction, consider writing a poem or an essay. If you’re into watercolors, try mixed media. If you normally play R&B, take classical for a spin.
You can even get outside of your art completely, to really shake things up. If you’re a writer or musician, do an art piece in a medium you’re not very familiar with. Paint a pot to be fired at a local pottery, take a dance class, or pull out the finger paints.
Occasionally, my deadlines loom and I forget how much I enjoy writing. Sometimes an exercise, unrelated to things that I need to be doing, can be cleansing and fun, reminding me of why I started writing in the first place.
If you’re a visual artist, you might try giving yourself a challenge of some sort, or putting your own spin on a piece by an artist you admire.
Even something simple, like trying to figure out a pop song on your guitar or cello, can provide enough mental distraction to help you unblock.
Often, when I can’t write another word, it’s because I’ve been working too hard. My ideas go on strike, telling me that they won’t work until they get some rest. At times like these, I give myself permission to take a night off. It might look like a night out to dinner with friends, or a marathon of whatever show I’m currently loving, but it’s amazing how much it resets me.
Every once in a while, I’m so overwhelmed by all that I need to do that I don’t know where to start. This can paralyze me so much that I can’t get anything done, just at the time I need to the most.
I have a free app called Any.Do, which works on my smartphone, desktop and iPad. I can easily see what I need to do each day, and work ahead only if I want to. Sometimes a visual reminder that I’m on track does wonders for the frozen corners of my brain.
When I’m not reading, I find that I’m not a very good writer. Many great writers have come before me, and are writing now. I don’t want to copy what they are doing, but I do want to read like a writer, trying to understand how they do what they do, and how they infuse their art with who they are.
Something about taking time to appreciate a project of someone else’s gives me strength and inspiration for mine.
When I’m feeling uninspired, I often try to connect with other creative people. Sometimes they are in my field, sometimes not. Whether it’s a conversation over a cup of coffee, an author event at my local bookstore or library, or a writer’s group, I find that the presence (and encouragement) of other creative people can give me the strength to keep going.
Sometimes we talk about what I’m working on, but much of the time, I just want to hear about what they are doing. Hearing someone talk with passion makes me want to tap into my own passions as well.
The popular book The Artist’s Way suggests a creative practice of taking yourself on Artist Dates. I have a friend who will only take herself as a child. Before she plans her time, she ponders what the little girl version of herself will enjoy, and chooses that option.
I think that Artist Dates can be helpful no matter what, but I was intrigued by the thought of thinking specifically about the girl I once was. After all, she is the reason I am a writer today. She was constantly scribbling stories in journals and lined notebooks, telling them to anyone who would listen. She was the one to be fascinated with story and human nature, reading for hours in her bedroom.
Sometimes this practice will lead me to write something for her, but I think my favorite pieces are the ones I’ve written as her.
I hope that creative block doesn’t come your way often. I know that it can feel crippling, almost as if you have lost the use of a limb. Even with wonderful strategies, it might hang on for a while. Still, every one of my cases of block have resolved, if I’ve been patient enough. I hope the same for you in your creative journey.