I’ve always been curious about how others work — other writers, researchers, artists. I wonder what inspires them. I wonder about the particulars of their process. I wonder how they overcome self-doubt and fears of failure.
These questions have been at the forefront of my mind even more, now that I’m working on my own book about creativity.
Ironically enough, writing a book — even on creativity — includes a lot of staring at the wall, second-guessing yourself and getting straight-up stuck.
Whatever your work — whether it’s writing or art-related or not — you’ve probably experienced a creative block (or maybe more like many). You’ve probably been puzzled and paralyzed. And you’ve probably felt unsure about yourself, your direction, your process.
In the book Creative Block: Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists, Danielle Krysa interviewed individuals who use various mediums — everything from paint to mixed media to embroidery to photography.
She asked them about their process, what inspires them and how they cope with the inner critic and inevitable creative block. They also share exercises for breaking through a block.
Krysa writes the popular blog “The Jealous Curator,” which she launched in February of 2009. Every day she features a different artist on her blog who “makes her jealous” but in an inspirational way.
As she wrote on her blog in 2009:
“There is one moment, in the first few seconds, when you look at a piece of art and know that you love it. It’s the moment when, if you’re an artist yourself, you look at it and feel a rush of uplifting inspiration … and total soul-crushing jealousy all at the same time. It’s when you walk away thinking, ‘Damn, I wish I thought of that.’”
Here are five of my favorite exercises from Creative Block to inspire you and help you get unstuck.
Mary Kate McDevitt’s mediums are hand-lettering and illustration. She gets inspired by vintage design and collects trinkets from the 1930s. When she experiences a creative block, she steps away from her work to make a cup of tea or starts doodling to “shake the creative juices loose.”
To help readers break through a creative block, she suggests jotting down a quote that inspires you (or a quote you heard on the news or your favorite show). Then draw one quote every day for 30 days.
Overcoming Artistic Fears
Lisa Golightly majored in photography in college and eventually started painting, even though she was initially intimidated by the medium. “The concept for most of my work comes from my life, memory, and then the circle of watching the same sort of memory being created in my kids,” she said.
When she’s creatively blocked, Golightly has experimented with different mediums. She also gives herself permission to focus on making, without getting preoccupied with the product.
To get past a creative block, she suggests writing down the three artistic things you’re afraid of trying. Then do them. “For example, if you’re afraid of painting on a large scale, buy a huge canvas or paper and go!”
Making Old Things New
Anthony Zinonos is a collage and mixed media artist. He finds inspiration in travel books and magazines from the late 1960s and 1970s, including National Geographic and Good Housekeeping.
He suggests readers visit a thrift shop and buy an old magazine and an old book. “Take them home, chop them up, and make five new collages.”
Artist Martha Rich finds inspiration everywhere — in everything from ads to wine to riding the train to eavesdropping. When she’s experiencing a creative block, she finds it helpful to distract herself. For instance, she takes pictures, visits a museum or hangs out with her friends, “and then something in my brain usually pops back into place.”
She suggests readers pick an interesting object and draw, paint or represent it at least 100 different ways. She gave the example of a ring. You’d start by drawing a diamond ring. Next you might draw a ring around Saturn or a ring around the rosie.
“Things get interesting when you start running out of ideas and are forced to get ridiculous and stop thinking so much!”
Keeping A Daily Diary
Illustrator and animator Julia Pott is inspired by fiction writers, such as John Irving, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut. She keeps a notebook of quotes from books, which she turns to when she’s stumped.
She’s also inspired by live-action films and radio shows such as “This American Life” and “The Story Collider.”
To overcome a creative block, she suggests picking a week when you can make plans every day, such as going to the park or having coffee with a friend. Keep a diary the entire week.
“Write down everything that happens to you, every cool thing you saw, and, most importantly, everything you thought — all the mean, grumbly, romantic, pervy things you thought.”
After the week is over, make something inspired by something in your diary, anything that’s “particularly funny or poignant or visually interesting.”
When you’re going through a creative block, what helps you break through it?