Insight October 31, 2017

Why I Stopped Worrying About Creative Block


By Anna Condon, Junior Copywriter

What do you do when creativity fails you? Most of us have encountered a project, a constraint, or a particular day where suddenly, there’s a wall. It feels like your mind is blank; you’re sitting in a midterm for a class you never attended and you’re expected to produce something resembling the right answer.

Sound familiar?

Nobody knows exactly where creative work originates. There’s no set process to help you dream up new ideas – and that’s exactly why creative block can be so frustrating. If there were an easy solution or a 12-step BuzzFeed listicle, creative ruts wouldn’t exist. Without a manual to follow or a troubleshoot menu to explore, we’re left to figure it out on our own.

While there’s no secret formula or special code to help you cure creative block, there are a few helpful tricks that we’ve learned over the years to turn it into an opportunity for growth:

Get over yourself. Harsh suggestion, I know. But creative work can be intense – and it’s easy to get caught up in your own ego. For me, creative block tends to creep up whenever my confidence wavers.

It started in school, when my teacher enacted a free writing period at the beginning of each class, and I spent an absurd amount of time (seriously, it was weeks) editing and rewriting the same story. Up until that point, all my writing was carefully guarded, and I’d never had to endure (very reasonable and constructive) criticism.

Letting go of that emotional barrier was hard. I’d struggled with writing anything new because I was worried it would be exceedingly bad. And some of it was, but getting over the initial fear of sharing my work helped me become a better writer.

Put yourself back in the box. Freedom doesn’t always lead to better creative. When you feel overwhelmed by endless possibilities, it can be helpful to set some rules for yourself. Once you pare down your options, you can start to focus on the specific problem at hand.

When I’m tasked with writing a new blog post for our website, it’s easy to waffle over ideas for posts, and it happens much more often than I would like to admit. The exercise is a reminder that creative block doesn’t necessarily equate to a desert of creativity. Occasionally, it looks a lot more like an idea overload, where you’re paralyzed into inaction by an overwhelming number of options – none of which appear to be the best solution.

If you’re writing something, consider selecting a topic or prompt and going with it, regardless of whether it feels right. The point is to challenge yourself to create something. The same principle applies to design. If you’re designing something, determine what medium you’re going to use or a specific style you want to emulate. As we’ve said before about thinking “inside the box,” “If we can learn to embrace the box, we might find that limitations can push us to be better.”

Hold a heated debate. OK, maybe a “heated debate” is taking things a bit too far, but it can be useful to get some perspective. With creative work, it can be easy to get stuck in your own head trying to make “the right approach” work. But when you’re so focused on one method of solving a problem, you fail to see other options.

Who is the one person in your life you can always count on to disagree with you? Try to talk things out with them. A fresh look at the problem may reveal incorrect assumptions you’ve made, or a different perspective you’ve missed.

While there’s not really a go-to naysayer at my office, I do regularly engage the other copywriters when I’m struggling. Many times, just sitting in a room and throwing ideas (no matter how silly, or vulgar, or impractical) up on the wall can help you push through the barrier and into a place of creative exploration.

Still struggling? Try this.

Let yourself be bored. Sometimes, project timelines or other constraints make this impossible. But when you have the time, it can be beneficial to take some time alone with your thoughts and no pressure to produce. If an idea comes, explore it, but give yourself license to let the creative block happen. Then, work on something else – even if that something is laundry. Come back to your project with fresh eyes for a fresh start.