Coping techniques: Creative blocks

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. Accept that creative blocks are a normal occurrence, like the trough of a wave pattern or the pause before spring.
  2. Keep a notebook in which you jot notes of ideas, conversations you hear, pieces of music that come to you or in which you sketch things you see. When blocked turn to your notebook.
  3. “Shop” on behalf of the unconscious. Keep your eye open for whatever odd objects catch it. In traditional Chinese culture scholar stones—naturally occurring stones selected for their ability to engage the viewer– were kept in plain sight in creative work environments. In the Western tradition there is a practice of making art from “found” objects. Choose a book at random; open it with your eyes closed and put your finger down on the page: open your eyes and read.
  4. Wild mind writing exercise. This can be used for writing or for graphic work. Start the clock, put your pen to the paper and write or draw without pausing, stopping or editing for five minutes, ten minutes or whatever length you decide on. Yes, you can write “I can’t think of anything to write” fifteen times, just as long as you don’t pause. This can challenge the idea that there is “a right way” to make art, and detour away from the more critical associations you might have about creative work.
  5. If you’re stuck in front of a problem come up with ten solutions in a short period of time. Not ten perfect solutions or even ten good solutions, but ten possible solutions. Don’t pause to develop or edit or reject them. Write down everything that comes to you.
  6. What patterns do you see?
  7. Consider that a quiet period might not mean an unproductive one. An idea may be gestating in the unconscious psyche. In such periods what will best support this process? Do you quiet yourself and simplify your life in order to reserve as much energy as possible for the process? Or do you seek out images, music, environments that will feed it? Both?
  8. Look into fields other than your own. Go to a museum, an auto body shop, a market catering to a community with which you’re not familiar, a bookstore with books and periodicals in a language you don’t speak, a hardware store, the train station, a convention on a topic you know nothing about. In this same manner try a creative field that’s new—drawing if you’re a writer, or dancing if you’re a composer.
  9. Go towards what you fear.
  10. Notice your way of being in the world. Are you most awake early in the morning or late at night? Do you respond best to deadlines or to broad expanses of time? Does sex enhance your creativity or compete with it? What do you know about yourself and what can you find out that tells you the optimal work pattern for you?
  11. Although our culture endorses the image of the artist who creates only in inspirational surges, many writers, artists and musicians describe putting in long and regular hours at their work. Consider making and keeping a commitment, such as, “I will write five pages every day, no matter what,” or, “I will paint for two hours each morning.”
  12. With such a commitment in mind, what happens to the idea of “creative block?” If you’re engaged in keeping your commitment to your work to paint or compose for those hours—whether you’re inspired or not—does it become less important if you’re currently “blocked?” Does that become just another fact to observe, like the weather? So that your art becomes less identified with being a product and more identified with being a practice? Less about the ego’s need to prove once and for all this or that very important thing about itself, and more about the Self being given expression?
  13. Manage your commitments in order to decrease overwhelm and the demands it makes on creativity. Does this include the time spent engaging in social media for you?
  14. Engage the block. Write it, draw it, sing it, dance it. Let it speak. What does it say? What does it want? What are its goals?
  15. What about your work? Does it “belong” to you—is it yours? Are you its? Are you and the work in service to something greater than either or both of you?
  16. Consider a mind-clearing practice such as meditation. Or jogging, yoga or dancing. Or yard work, ironing or sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor.
  17. Experiment with setting parameters to your work. Narrowing the field can result in greater focus. Willingly taking on a restriction can occasion the release of energy. This could be related to form, as in haiku or sestinas. Or it could be in subject matter, such as drawing or painting the same tree in ten different treatments.
  18. Consider delineating the backstory to your work. Write the history of the characters in your novel, or draw the subject of your art work from different angles.
  19. Consider whether you’re trying to please someone with your work. Who? Why? Someone in the environment such as a client or agency? An internal figure?
  20. In terms of internal figures, who are your mentors and patrons in your work? Who inspires you?
  21. What do you need to hear about your work so that it thrives? Bring people into your life who have that as their natural response to what you do. Or who you are.