There are some days your brain seems utterly bare. Open it up, and you’d find empty candy wrappers and a few scraps of paper. Coming up with one decent idea feels unimaginable. Stringing a few lucid sentences together feels like a feat.
Whatever your profession, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve experienced a creative block — or 10 — before. It happens to everyone. We’re not robots. We don’t spit out ideas in seconds.
After struggling with his own bout of creative block — while writing a piece on creative block — Alex Cornell, a San-Francisco-based designer and musician, decided to ask for help. He emailed friends and artists for advice. That advice created a popular blog post.
But, not surprisingly, the blocks kept coming, so Cornell decided to create something more extensive than another post: a book. He asked 90 inspiring individuals how they deal with creative blocks.
Here are five strategies from Cornell’s book.
1. Realize that blocks are normal.
It’s so easy to think that it’s just you. You’re the only one who experiences blocks of barrenness. But even for the most innovative people creative blocks are common. According to Christoph Niemann, an illustrator and designer:
“I have always found that there is an implication that writer’s block is some odd obstacle on the otherwise smooth road of creation. As far as my own work goes, I have to say that my entire creative process is one big and viciously tough writer’s block. Ideas never come easily to me, and the desperation that comes with staring at a white piece of paper, being anxious about having finally run out of ideas for good, is simply my everyday work routine.”
2. Stash away anything that inspires you.
Aaron Koblin, a digital-media artist, suggests regularly stockpiling inspiration. “Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook,” he writes.
3. Grab a book.
Dan Kenneally, an art director and artist, turns to his favorite book, Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways, to ignite his creativity. Artist and photographer Todd Hido turns to his vast library, which he’s been building since 1988 at 18 years old. “By cruising through these books that I have lovingly brought into my world, I usually find many sparks of inspiration that get me back on track,” he writes.
Writer Jessica Hagy also turns to books — but in a slightly different way. She picks up a book, opens to a random page and glances at a random sentence. She closes the book, and then opens to another page. Then she uses the two sentences to kick-start a story. Connecting these unrelated pieces of information, she writes, helps to instigate your thinking.
As she writes, “Every book holds the seeds of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac.”
4. Clear your mind.
Camm Rowland, creative director at Digital Kitchen, says that creative blocks happen from too much thinking. He describes the brain as an eight-lane highway. For instance, one lane represents thoughts about work; another lane represents thoughts about family. When all your lanes are packed, you can’t focus on creativity.
He clears his mind immediately by clearing up his workspace and writing a to-do list. He also gets lots of ideas on airplanes and long drives. He suggests readers consider the situations that help you clear your mind, and take advantage of them.
5. Try different disciplines.
Interaction designer Mark Jardine overcomes blocks by channeling his creativity into other fields. For instance, he works on his photography, drawing, music and painting. If Shaun Inman, a designer, developer and composer, gets stuck on a design-related task, he works on a musical or programming project.
“My brain can still process the design problem in the background, and it frequently draws unexpected inspiration from the various problem-solving approaches utilized by the different disciplines,” he writes.
What helps you overcome
a bout of creative block?