Creative block – What to do when it hits you


Have you ever found yourself staring at a blank page, stressfully watching how minutes pass by without you coming up with any ideas? It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a painter or if you’re into other types of art: creative blocks may strike any creator and become a serious reason for worrying. Many artists regard their art as the most important means of expression, as well as a method to reflect upon themselves and the surrounding world, while also being able to clarify their thoughts, emotions and understand and internalize their experiences. Thus said, a creative block constitutes a serious problem and can result in feelings of worthlessness and depression. As many artists identify with their art, they may come to lose their sense of self or begin to doubt their value.

Why do creative blocks occur?

creative block

  • Burnout – after a period of creating intensively, many people find themselves devoid of the creative energy, being drained of any original ideas and so the creative block is installing. This is a problem especially for those who make a living through their art and are obliged to respect deadlines, the creative process becoming a burden instead of something pleasurable
  • Incapacity to set goals – many artists find it difficult to set the right amount of goals. In some cases, the set goals are unrealistic and unattainable and the failed attempts which follow lead to complete discouragement. In other cases, the goals are too vague if not nonexistent, which leads to stagnation and low self-esteem, preventing the artists from continuing to generate novel ideas.
  • Fear of failure – multiple past failures can lead to a creative block, as the artists’ sense of resilience may be affected. The numerous previous attempts which did not culminate with success prevent the artists from being motivated and rely on their artistic skills, thus leaving them paralyzed and unable to produce more pieces of work. The fear of future failures is as paralyzing since the artists become anxious and end up focusing more on the possible negative outcomes than on the creative process.
  • Perfectionism – focusing on every improper detail may hinder creativity, as the artists do not allow themselves to take risks and explore new possibilities, thus affecting their work in terms of both quantity and quality. The limits they impose themselves may eventually lead to creative blocks, as they believe that the works which don’t turn up perfect are not worth starting at all.
  • Imposter syndrome – those experiencing imposter syndrome believe that their success is due to external factors instead of their own talent, skills, and experience. They often fear that they are not meeting the standards demanded by others and eventually sabotage their own success.
  • Depression – the lack of creativity can be associated with depression, as those who suffer from depressive disorder fail to find any purpose or meaning and are unable to experience pleasure when engaging in activities that were previously regarded as enjoyable, such as creating art so the creative block occurs.
  • Need for approval – creative blocks may occur when the artists attribute too much importance to the way in which their art will be criticized by others, as they end up refraining from creating new pieces of work because of the fear that their ideas will not be appreciated and will face rejection.

What can be done when facing creative blocks?

  • Mental rest – the sensation that creating art is obligatory may have a serious negative impact on the creating process, turning it into something stressful and preventing original ideas to develop. Detach yourself from the creative task by engaging in other activities which will clear your mind, like exercising or meditating. It is important to take as much time as you need and not rush the process. Moreover, although your brain is consciously focused on other tasks, unconscious mental activity can generate new ideas.
  • Small tasks – do not plan to write a whole novel or paint a masterpiece, but instead, change your goal to writing a chapter or draw some sketches. Succeeding in completing small tasks will lead to a feeling of gratification which will boost your confidence and motivate you to get more work done.
  • Openness to new experiences – besides trying to pick up new hobbies and develop your thirst for knowledge, refraining from abiding by your regular schedule and making changes in your daily routine is as important. Being stuck in a rut constitutes an obstacle for creative ideas.
  • Inspiration from others’ works – if you are currently unable to produce art, focus on exposing yourself to other artists’ work and discover new techniques, ideas, and perspectives that will stimulate your imagination.
  • Social interactions vs. solitude – balancing social interactions with moments of solitude is extremely important. While social interactions mean gaining more experience which can become a material for creating art, the moments of solitude ease the immersion in complex thoughts; having time for reflection leads to a better understanding of events and the way in which they can be transposed into forms of art. Moreover, solitude diminishes the pressure to conform and enriches the potential to develop original ideas without facing judgment.
  • Accepting limitations – beginning the creative process with the expectation that mistakes will be made and the progress will not be linear may be helpful in surpassing the moments when you encounter a creative block
  • Goal setting – setting a goal too far in the future may be discouraging, as it comes to be regarded as illusory if no progress is made or if there is no clear process through which it can be reached. However, focusing only on the daily tasks is dangerous as well, since failing to complete them on several occasions may lead to feelings of hopelessness and distract you from seeing the bigger picture; thus said, a balance between the two perspectives is extremely important in order to manage to recover from the crisis of a creative block.

After trying all of the above, it’s time to take your pen/brush/guitar and just start creating, even though the first attempts may turn out to be terrible; as Chuck Close noted, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”


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