The miracle happens only once in a while. If you are a writer, designer or artist, you often find yourself with an open window of time. You envision to be in the shaft of a light stream and an angel chorus. But, then, suddenly, the scene gets dark, and this creative soul is struck, not able to work anymore. The ink stops flowing, and there are no marks on the page and code doesn’t come out. You will face your worst fear – The Creative Block.
Creative block is frustrating, and it pulls you down. If its short term, it is still fine. Which is the problem; short-term pain avoidance may be evolutionarily adaptive for not getting eaten by wild beasts, but it’s not particularly amenable to creative growth, which, let’s face it, is an often-painful process. Creative block is something which begins from childhood, and it is mainly because of fear of the judgement.
Self-protection can be useful, except when it isn’t. For creative workers, the ego-protecting mechanism known as a block or a writer’s block, protects our sense of self at the expense of our most important work. To grow as creative people, we have to, first of all, put in the sometimes-painful reps that develop our crafts and then expose our work to the world, where it may be rejected or ridiculed. It’s perhaps no wonder that the bigger the creative ideal, the stronger the follow-up reaction to protect oneself by shelving it may be. Part of the problem with pursuing the big creative project may be the many thoughts, both positive and negative, that spring up about the project. Focused attention is key to creativity and the various thoughts about failure, success or meta-cognition about how difficult the task is all contribute to making creativity that much harder to sustain.
Given the real problem a block can present to someone who works creatively, the simple advice to “get over it” or “push past it” (often delivered harshly by interior dialogue as from someone else) just doesn’t cut it. Instead, to overcome creative block, you need concrete strategies. Here are a few:
1. Make a list.
Who doesn’t love a good list? A list that takes the project as an intimidating whole and breaks it down into specific tasks gives you a palette of options to choose from each day, ranging from the mundane to the more creatively ambitious. You can then pick and choose, depending on how you are feeling that day. Also, by breaking your project into actionable steps, you are also reminding yourself that the project is not you; instead, it is a thing you are doing. Sometimes a simple reminder of this fact can be soothing.
2. Change the scene.
Sometimes bad or blocked feeling will never go if we try to overcome it from the same place. As a result, a simple shift to a new room or a new coffee shop can offer a fresh start on the project.
3. Approach the project lightly.
This shift is both attitudinal and material. What if, instead of taking the big work seriously, you found the room to play in the project or in the project’s creation? This might look different depending on your working context, but a delightful study on enhancing the creativity of children by improving their moods offers the suggestion that simply playing upbeat music and participating in simulated laughter can improve creativity. What if you took a second to laugh, even if forced, before starting? What if you broke out coloured pens and pencils to draft your proposal? What if you took a walk and dictated while breathing the fresh air? How can you shake your process loose from heavy feelings?
4. Apply the minimum possible effort.
Given your field of work, what’s the least possible thing you could do? Is it running the spell check? Is it printing something out to read? When you are really stuck, small items like these keep you in touch with the project and keep it moving forward without necessarily activating the scary feelings associated with a big creative project.
5. Try the trick of least possible time.
What if you radically limited the amount of time you allowed yourself to spend on the task? Sometimes big, grand creative projects seem to demand significant, intimidating work hours. But what if you told yourself you could work on the project for only five minutes every day, scheduled those five minutes on a calendar and used a timer to hold yourself to that tiny upper limit? Chances are you’d build the muscle of touching the project regularly, and by keeping things limited for at least a week, you might even build the desire to work more going forward.
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