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6 Types of Creative Block and How to Overcome Them

14 July 2017

6 Types of Creative Block and How to Overcome Them

“I have total clarity and nothing but great ideas bubble up in my head. It’s like being on a creative high; you’re on top of the world and work seems to be just pouring out of you.” – Anthony Zinonos

That is collage and mixed media artist, Anthony Zinonos’, description of what it feels like to be in the creative flow. It certainly does feel good to be in ‘the zone’, producing great work seemingly effortlessly and loving what you’re doing. But sometimes it takes a little work to get into that state of mind. Sometimes it can take a lot of work.

Every creative person in the world will understand that feeling of helplessness as you sit and try and try to come up with something that works. Lots of creatives have different tips on how to go about breaking this block, so we’ve collected a few for you to try out. We’ve also identified six different types of creative block so that you know which techniques are the most appropriate for your particular mental stagnation.

Inspiration Block

“You cannot wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London

Possibly the most common type of creative block, inspiration block is where you just don’t know where to start. Maybe the task is a really big one and it’s too daunting to get going. Or, maybe your mind is remaining stubbornly blank for some unknown reason. If you’re suffering from inspiration block, here’s what we suggest…

Research other projects like this one

There’s nothing wrong with looking at what people have done before you to get a couple of ideas. Create a mood board of all the examples you like and take aspects of each design to form your own variation. You could even try copying out one of your favourites in an attempt to channel that energy and hopefully that will stimulate your mind into forming new ideas.

Go for a photo/sketch walk

Staring at a blank piece of paper isn’t going to produce anything. Get yourself out of the studio and into the big wide world. Take photos of, or quickly sketch, anything that catches your eye. This should help focus your mind on what works for you and, in the background, your mind might start applying this to the project you’re working on.

Innovation Block

Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? That’s an innovation block. Maybe you’re not stuck for ideas exactly but they’re all the same ideas you’ve had before and you can’t bring yourself to doing them again. Here’s a few things you can do to loosen up some new concepts…

The Creative Unblock Project

Illustrator, Lisa Congdon, came up with a programme for rewiring the brain a bit so that you can start to see things differently. She suggests you take one thing that you enjoy and are comfortable drawing/painting/creating (an animal, object, person, etc…) and commit to producing that image in thirty different ways. You could use different mediums, different colours, and different angles. Just as long as they are all different.

Learn a new skill

If you haven’t got time to produce thirty different versions of the same thing, scale it down a bit. Find one new skill that you’re really interested in and take a little time to get reasonably good at it. If you can, incorporate this new skill into the project but don’t worry if not. This should still have shown you that there are different ways of doing things.

Perfectionism Block

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Formal education has instilled most people with a sense of right and wrong. Designers stuck with a Perfectionism Block are struggling because they are looking for one right answer. However, the beauty of creative projects, is that there is no one right answer, so stop looking for one! Try these techniques instead…

Give every idea a chance

Try out every single idea you have in your head, even the ones you initially rejected as bad ones. Once you put pen to paper, so to speak, the ideas may develop and turn from bad ideas into brilliant ideas but you’d never know this until you tried them out.

Argue with someone

This might sound a little strange but, in order to realise that there can be more than one opinion out there, stimulate your mind with a little debate. Find someone who disagrees with you on something and prod them until a debate ensues.

Motivation Block

Motivation is what keeps us going. If you’re not really keen on a job then it’s very easy for our minds to not both and switch off. Some jobs will never become interesting to you but there are still a couple of things you can try…

Set a routine

Lay down strict rules on when you’re supposed to be working and when you’re not. Get your brain into the mind-set that you have to something, anything, towards your project in this time. Before you know it, the job will be done!

Get rid of distractions

A lack of motivation all too often leads to procrastination. Switch off all technological devices and get yourself in a space designated specifically for working. Often, once we start making progress on a job that we’ve been putting off for a while, the creative juices start flowing and we wonder why we spent so long messing about in the first place. You just have to allow yourself to get started.

Practicality Block

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso

Sometimes logical thinking can get in the way of really great ideas. We can have one voice in our heads saying “Hey! Why not try this?” and another replying “Because of this, this and this.” We need to get rid of that second voice and let our imagination run free. Try these exercises out and see where your mind takes you…

Do something really silly

Social constraints can limit us just as much a logical thinking, you need to break out of that way of thinking and really let loose. Dance around the living room, singing at the top of your voice; have a water fight; play dares with a friend in public. Break the rules a little.

Talk to a child about the project

Children have the craziest imaginations in the world. They haven’t discovered this thing called logic yet and, to them, anything is possible. If you know any young children, have a chat with them about what you’re up to. They may suggest something physically impossible but you could take aspects of their ideas and put it into your work.

Enjoyment Block

There are times when the idea of sitting down to do some work just drains the energy out of you and you’re not getting that sense of satisfaction you usually get. Perhaps you’ve been working really hard lately, perhaps there’s something else going on in your life to cause you anxiety. Whatever the problem is, sometimes there is only one answer…

Take a break

Depending on the level of tension you’re feeling, taking a break could mean having a day off for some ‘me-time’ or it could mean going on holiday for a complete change of scene. Long-term stress can have big impacts on your health, both physical and mental, so you need to make sure you have time to switch off every once in a while. When you come back to work, you’ll be refreshed and in a much better frame of mind to get stuff done.

Do you have any tips for getting over creative block that we didn’t mention? Don’t forget to check out our Design Inspiration and Designer Spotlight sections whenever you’re going through an inspiration block to get ideas.


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