Overcoming a Creative Block

By Karl Anderson

03/14/16

Do you sometimes feel stuck, devoid of inspiration, or totally unsure about what to do next for a project that’s due? You’ve got a creative block. It can feel frustrating, maybe even stressful, but take heart: everyone struggles with this from time to time—from history’s greatest writers, artists, and thinkers to today’s cutting-edge innovators. And yes, even professional content marketers occasionally find themselves facing a difficult creative block!

When this happens, it’s easy to get bogged down with what can appear to be an overwhelming and complex problem. How can I present something new, something of value? Where do I even begin? We may start to feel self-critical and dismiss our talent and creativity. But this type of negative mindset is neither accurate nor constructive.

Fortunately, creative blocks are temporary setbacks and far from insurmountable. In fact, finding a way around a block is a creative opportunity in itself. You know you’re a creative person—you just need to use your creativity to approach the problem in a way that leads you to new ideas.

Research and Experiment
Sometimes you may feel blocked because your typical approach doesn’t fit the problem at hand. If you’ve developed a comfortable method for working through most assignments or projects, encountering a problem with aspects that are outside of your established knowledge base—or where there are unexpected variables and unknowns—may seem daunting.

If you have a general idea of what you want to create, but you don’t have enough information to draw from, do some research, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if there’s someone who may know more about the topic. You might discover an angle to the project you didn’t expect, which could turn out to be the puzzle piece that makes the rest of your work fall into place.

If you’re not that far along, and you’re trying to and decide upon a topic or idea to write about, present, or express, you may need to experiment and explore various techniques. This can help you determine what works and what doesn’t, but it can also help you find inspiration in unexpected places.

For example, creative writing instructors often advocate daily “free writing,” about anything, without the burden of self-judgment, just to get students’ mental gears working. In other mediums, doodling and improvising are common ways to get into a more open frame of mind and perhaps unlock new ideas.

Take a Break
You may find that the best course of action can be to interrupt your current task and do something else, and then come back later to confront the problem with a fresh perspective.

For example, in the words of award-winning British author Hilary Mantel (as quoted by Emily Temple of Flavorwire), “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem.”

Changing your environment or doing something heathy to get your blood flowing, or even simply switching to another assignment that you have a more immediate sense of how to complete, can be just what the doctor ordered. If a creative block is causing you a significant amount of stress, giving your mind a break may make it easier to come back to the task refreshed and with renewed confidence.

Take One Step at a Time
What about when you have a deadline that’s just around the corner? If you’ve got a project that needs to be completed for a client, an assignment for a publisher, or an upcoming presentation for your company or organization, you might not have the luxury of time to take a break. You need to work now, and you’d better come up with something brilliant! No pressure, right?

First of all, take a deep breath. You can do this.

One of the many quotes attributed to Mark Twain is “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

It’s good advice, and while it may seem obvious, it’s also easy to forget in the moment. In my personal experience, I’ve found it to be a helpful way of getting back on track, both when I’ve had creative blocks myself, and also when I’ve tried to help encourage other writers to work through theirs.

Looking at a project as a whole and thinking that it’s impossible is a frightening state of mind, and it can make us feel paralyzed. But you don’t have to succumb to this fear.

Instead of thinking, Oh my gosh, how can I write three more chapters by the end of the month? or How can I finish designs for this many proposals by Wednesday?, give yourself permission to set those broader worries aside for the moment, and instead focus on one piece of the problem at time.

I’ve often found that when I do this, and give my full attention to small, individual steps that I can check off as I go, I actually end up completing the total project ahead of schedule, and I end up being more pleased with the results.

Above All, Don’t Get Discouraged
If you find yourself feeling blocked, try to remember that it’s a normal part of the creative process, and it’s an opportunity to try a different approach. Your method for getting through or around the perceived impasse may be a completely different strategy from someone else’s process, or it might even be unique to the specific project, and that’s a good thing. But if you can set aside anxiety and trust in yourself, and have patience, you’ll find a good solution.