3 Ways to Beat Creative Blocks

You sit down to write or draw. The page is empty, the canvas is blank. And suddenly your mind is blank, too.

Isn’t it the worst?

“Writer’s block” sounds exclusive to one craft, but anyone who has ever tried to make anything has hit creative walls at some point.

Here’s the hard truth, though: Those walls don’t exist. Short story writer Robert Bruce denounces “writer’s block” and so do most artists.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. —Stephen King

So how do you wreck that wall with irresistible force? The following three tactics have been immensely helpful to me, and I’m confident they’ll inspire you, too.

#1: Set the Timer

Two things you shouldn’t trust: inspiration and yourself. Both are more fickle and infrequent than we would like to admit, even if they can come through as powerful motivators.

Set the timer for fifteen minutes, and get to work. Don’t think too hard, don’t worry if your contributions feel less than perfect. Chances are you’ll realize something about the work that you would have missed otherwise. And once you get into it, you might even find yourself staying overtime. Either way, you have just made or contributed something, and it was easier than you thought. #success

Repeat the timer method again the next day. And the next day. And the day after that…and suddenly you’re forming a habit.

#2: Mix It Up

I was feeling bloated with the amount of political theory I had been reading, so I opened Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It’s a book about musical hallucinations and tells the stories of people who were afflicted with them. It’s not something I would normally read.

I can’t remember the last time I found so much inspiration in a nonfiction book. Suddenly my mind was flooded with connections, possibilities, observations, and ideas.

Do something you wouldn’t usually do. Go somewhere completely foreign to your familiar setting. Living in the country? Visit the city. If you’re into Bach, listen to Brubeck. If you’re reading about nihilism, read about neuroscience. Whatever it is, make sure you step out of your familiar setting. Spend time in the new “place”. Reflect on it. Your immersion experience may feel uncomfortable or uninspiring at first, but that’s okay. You want that.

As you reflect on that experience, write down the thoughts and ideas. Consider how flavors and combinations and connections work that shouldn’t, and then bring those connections into your work.

#3: Read Curated Things

Follow curated emails like Prufrock or Arts & Letters Daily. Notice how the articles and ideas they select unites seemingly unrelated topics. Now take it back to a notepad or empty dry erase board. Spend time writing impossible two-word juxtapositions like “melon fabric” or “scream maps”, or sketching unusual image combinations, and develop those relationships. You’ll be surprised by the relationships you discover, and the ways in which they can inspire you creatively.

Art and creativity require effort and nutrition, and they need to be fed constantly. Don’t let this be a discouragement—look at it as a bonus. You get to make something. So get to it!


Image by Drew Coffman via Flickr.

Joseph Cunningham

Joseph is a featured Humane Pursuits columnist. He works as a marketer in West Chester, PA, and writes music, articles, and the occasional short story.

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