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Creative blocks, and how to break through them

Feeling stuck? A few ideas to get you back into flow…

By Sheryl GarrattPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
Creative blocks, and how to break through them
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I’ve been feeling blocked this week.

I just wasn’t feeling it. Four mornings now, I’ve sat down at my regular writing time to work on this post, and four mornings I’ve produced nothing worth sharing.

Most of us have these times. When we’ve no idea what to do next. When we show up to do our creative work, and the well is dry, the ideas just don’t seem to be there.

We all have our triggers, too.

For me, that was the clocks changing for winter, the days getting darker, colder, drearier. The political situation here in the UK and elsewhere, which is deeply depressing. And my Covid booster, which made me feel tired and under the weather for a few days (though also relieved to feel safer this coming winter).

So what can you do when the ideas won’t come?

Years ago, whenever I got stuck, I’d try to fight it by simply pushing harder. I’d work punishingly long hours. And when that failed to work, I’d go back to my default settings of beating myself up, wondering what was wrong with me, and deciding I was never much good at this writing lark anyway.

It didn’t help much. Which is why I eventually — you know, after just a decade or two of misery — started trying other strategies. Here are the ones that work for me — and for many of my coaching clients.

Free-writing

This could be regular Morning Pages, which are one of my favourite tools for getting unstuck when the grey fog descends. But it could also be just an hour or so of stream-of-consciousness writing. Writing by hand works best, and you need to suspend all judgement, editing, or trying to do this well. Non-writers find this easier; if you write regularly, try scribbling it all down without any attention to grammar or sentence structure. Just keep your hand moving, and pour out your gripes and moans, the obstacles in your way, your to-do list, your excuses, your terrible ideas. You might strike gold in the process. Certainly, you’ll give your mind a spring-clean by getting all your nonsense out and onto the page.

Change the setting

When I’m stuck, I take myself and my laptop out of the house and work in a coffee shop, the library, a cosy restaurant or pub — anywhere but my home office. Sometimes, being round other people and away from helps me focus better. (Especially if I choose somewhere without wi-fi.) And other times, a change of scenery just seems to get the juices flowing again. Besides, if you’re sitting alone in front of an open laptop, you feel silly if you’re not working. Or at least I do. So I tend to tap away at the keyboard and eventually I start writing for real.

Go on some play dates

Do something different, something out of the ordinary. Or just take yourself off to see or do something inspiring: a film, an exhibition, a walk. Here are 100 ideas for creative play dates, to get the ideas flowing.

Take a duvet day

Stay in your PJs all day. Read in bed. Listen to good music. But try not to scroll or watch too much TV. Nap whenever you want to. Keep a notebook with you in case ideas bubble up, but don’t feel pressured. Rest is sometimes all you need to get back on it the next day. I did this on Sunday. And behold! It’s Monday now, and I’m back in flow.

Tidy up

Permission to putter is sometimes the best way to get unstuck. Flick through your magazine or book pile. Sort out your art materials, or your music queue. Go through old notebooks. Your aim here isn’t necessarily to file it, action it or even really to declutter. It is to get distracted, go down rabbit holes, search through the stuff you’ve been keeping, to see if there’s anything interesting there.

Take a chance

I sometimes use Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards, or the Know Yourself card prompts from the School of Life. And I’ve just ordered Marina Abramovic’s Instruction Cards To Reboot Your Life, which look inspiring. You could use angel cards or tarot cards, if you have them. I’ll draw three cards, then combine them in some way, or choose the direction that resonates most. If you have dice handy, write 6–12 strategies and number them, roll your dice and let them choose what you try next.

Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt

Do it badly

Give yourself full permission to be awful. Write a truly shitty first draft. Make a child’s drawing. Create something a beginner would be embarrassed by. Write a laughably cliched song. Design something using all the tired old tropes. Hold yourself to the lowest standard you can imagine — then go a little lower. You might find the seeds of something interesting down there.

Be a covers band

Stop trying to be original for a while. Imitate instead. Write a song in the style of an artist you admire (or an artist you see as a total hack). If the well is really dry, just copy something. A song. An artwork. A few paragraphs. A classic design. You’ll probably learn something. You might see something you can adapt. Or maybe it will get you moving into a direction of your own.

Show up anyway

Don’t know what you’re going to work on? Turn up anyway. Do it gently, kindly and with curiosity. But sit at your desk, in your studio, in your workspace and do something for at least an hour. Then let it go. And the next day, turn up again. At the same time, if you can. If it’s been a while since you’ve created regularly, be patient. It will come!

So those are my tactics

Which ones work for you? And do you have any different ideas to share? Please let me know in the comments.

***

Sheryl Garratt is a writer, and a coach helping experienced creatives of all kinds get the success they want, making work they truly love. Get The Creative Companion, my bi-weekly email packed with articles, links and resources for creative professionals. (Or those who want to be.) It’s free!

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About the Creator

Sheryl Garratt

Sheryl Garratt is a former editor of The Face and Observer magazines, and has written professionally for more than 30 years. She is also a coach working with creatives of all kinds. Find her at thecreativelife.net

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    Sheryl GarrattWritten by Sheryl Garratt

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