Creative block is a phenomenon that is universally experienced by all artists and creatives, yet it feels strangely deflating and cruel when it happens to you. Who among us hasn’t lost their creative spark and felt a little lost, at least occasionally? And with our creative identities being so wrapped up in how we view ourselves, it’s easy to feel defeated and down.
There is, however, a secret opportunity that is concealed within this experience – a silver lining, if you will. And by taking a step back, reevaluating your work (and your life), and trying a new course, you can return to your practice with a renewed sense of excitement and creative vigor.
The first step? Just be gentle with yourself: you haven’t lost your passion, talent, or edge. In fact, taking a moment to reflect — or even just a break! —and reassess might be just the thing you need to level up in your work. Like most artists, there have been times when I have felt out of touch with my work, but when dealing with creative block, I have always been able to overcome these slumps and come back more energized than ever —- and I have no doubt that you can do the same.
Tips for Overcoming Creative Block
I’ve spoken with artists across multiple fields to discuss how to get past creative block and what they did to get inspired once again. A critical factor is being honest in these moments of frustration. From rethinking what makes you tick to the audacity of taking a nap, we’re going to take a look at some unique solutions to creative block that will get you back on track and back to work.
It can feel counterintuitive to step outside your studio, especially when you’re on a deadline and struggling to finish. But science itself has proven that going for a walk can significantly reinvigorate your creativity. In fact, a recent study at Stanford University found that walking can increase someone’s creative output by as much as 60%.
By conscientiously removing yourself from your surroundings and getting your blood pumping, your body will naturally begin releasing endorphins, elevating your mood, and helping you tap back into your creative curiosity. It’s also a great moment to meditate on your passion. Remember that this temporary challenge is also an opportunity to explore why you feel the need to create in the first place.
Get Some Rest
Another counterintuitive concept, but one that’s just as important: have you considered the possibility that the creative block you’re actually experiencing might be burnout? Defined as chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, it’s often the result of feeling the pressure of running a small business — and: a considerable component of being a working artist that we don’t acknowledge nearly enough.
The pressures of dealing with clients and securing new projects can easily cast a shadow over the joy of creating, sometimes turning our passions into pain points. And with our minds racing as we try to figure out where to pivot next, it’s no surprise that we sometimes feel like we have no bandwidth to create.
Check-in with yourself: how do you feel in your body and spirit? If you’re feeling tired and burnt out, the only solution is to rest. Even carving out a meager 20 minutes to lay down and practice deep breathing exercises can be enough to help you feel calmer and more rested, giving you the energy and fresh eyes needed to start again —- but with a renewed attitude.
I realize that this tip totally contradicts the two above, but hear me out: sometimes, you’ve just got to do the thing. It isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t easy, but one thing I’m grateful for is a deadline – lest I noodle a piece for the rest of eternity. And there are some days where I feel uninspired and don’t want to turn towards my work — – and that’s okay.
The reality is that when I have to get something done, it gets done. It may feel a little clunky and cumbersome initially, but I always feel tremendous pride and accomplishment when I finally get through it. Try setting a deadline for yourself. When the date arrives, what’s done is done — and done is better than perfect.
Seek Inspiration From Others
What better way to get back that creative spark than to immerse yourself in the work of others? Seek local exhibitions or connect with other artists online to see what others do. Crack open a book by or about an artist you admire (and chances are, they’ve dealt with creative block and might have some strategies, too!).
The one caveat? Don’t listen to the devil on your shoulder who insists you compare yourself: this is not the time. Instead, use this as an opportunity to give your ego a break and allow your senses to feel invigorated.
Try Something New
Another thing to consider: you don’t need to focus exclusively on your craft. I am a writer, but when I don’t feel inspired, I’ve taken the time to play with ceramics, draw, and collage, and I’ve ultimately found the same value in this exercise. The big picture is that you’re trying to get yourself out of a rut: disrupting the negative cycle of resenting your work or feeling uninspired is the real aim here, not just finishing a project and doing something new releases you from the obligation to be good.
Instead, you get to experience the fun of creating without earning a living or showcasing it to the world. And that can be incredibly freeing.
Taking the time to experience another creative discipline than the one you practice can be just the ticket. It doesn’t stop at the visual arts, either: treat yourself to a night at the theater, take in a matinee, dance it out at a show, or get pensive at a poetry reading. Sign up for a class in another field or gather your supplies and get messy. If art-making runs in your blood, you need to take the time to engage and get inspired.
Gather Your Friends
I’m not just talking about a friendly get-together (although that can truly be a great distraction and morale booster!). Instead, put together a coworking session or critique group with creatives you know or ones you want to connect with, whether in your community or online. Set some ground rules to convey thatPut out the intention that folks will be spending a certain amount of time —- let’s say one hour —- on a project and that everyone will be encouraged to share what they worked on afterward.
This is something that I can speak to personally: When I am really dragging, I love to get together with some pals. I find this working method breaks up the monotony and helps me reorient myself. I even found meetup groups during the pandemic to help keep me writing when inspiration was truly difficult to find. Did I love absolutely everything that I created?
No (and to be fair, that’s never the case, even when things are going great). But it got me out of a slump and helped me feel connected to something larger than myself, which was something I desperately needed at the time.
Another thing to consider: you don’t need to focus exclusively on your craft. I am a writer, but I’ve also taken this time to play with ceramics, draw, and collage – and I’ve ultimately found the same value in this exercise. The big picture is that you’re trying to get yourself out of a rut: disrupting the negative cycle of resenting your work or feeling uninspired is the real aim here, not just finishing a project.
Shake It Up
I will let you in on a secret: routines and I don’t always have the best relationship. I require them to feel in control and thrive, but when they become monotonous, I lose my spark. And I find the idea of switching it up daunting, as scheduling and organization aren’t my greatest virtues. In short: I’m afraid that doing something different will upset the entire balance of my day, which my anxious brain then translates into predestined failure and embarrassment. Fun!
But when I feel creative block or even a little bored, I try to switch things up. Curtailing any nervous feelings becomes a little easier by acknowledging what needs to be done. Is my deadline today, or is it tomorrow? What else do I need to tackle? If I decide to go to the botanical garden for an hour or two, will I have time later in the day to play catch up?
More often than not —- and despite what my reptilian brain would have me believe —- I can incorporate something a little different while still getting everything done. And the best part? Giving myself that space and time usually makes my work easier. That’s right: something that I thought might take me five hours magically turns around in two.
Turn Creative Block into a Game
This is something that I stumbled upon in a very unconventional way when I broke my wrist a few years ago. The biggest challenge of knowing so many unbelievably talented people is that I’m acutely aware of my own shortcomings,: and while I love the feeling of a pen or pencil scratching across a piece of paper, I find the actual act of drawing to be terribly daunting.
But when I broke my dominant wrist, something interesting happened: I challenged myself to draw with my opposite hand. And I loved it —- and, somewhat surprisingly, the results. Knowing that this hand was weaker, it was as if my standards had magically dropped. Indeed, my expectations totally shifted, and I quickly rediscovered the sheer joy of mark-making.
Is it possible to turn everything into a game? Sadly, no – especially when you’re working on something specific for an exacting client. But it can be a terrific way to shake things up and get out of your creative rut.
Consider a Side Hustle
Before waxing poetic, let me clarify one thing: this is only a good choice in overcoming your creative block if you genuinely have the bandwidth, desire, and time to commit. In a culture so hyper-fixated on productivity as a measurement of success —- or worse, personal worth —- many artists would feel overwhelmed and frustrated by this sort of endeavor.
But that being said, I’ve personally seen this pivot usher in a period of vibrant creativity and, over time, a new career. While working as an illustration agent, I needed to develop another outlet. I’d always loved writing, and the time was ripe to jump into the blogging scene —- so I did. And it was a very pure endeavor that I did only for myself, something I found challenging yet profoundly fulfilling.
Look ahead ten years, and suddenly, I was a professional writer (a reality I still have trouble wrapping my head around). I’ve also known incredibly talented illustrators with styles so unique they had trouble fitting into the editorial and publishing worlds, but they went on to start their own brands. Making incredible street apparel, prints, and even homewares, they are now wildly successful and spend their days doing what they love.
Rediscover Your Inner Child
One of the things that I find most fascinating about getting older is that so much of my 20s and 30s seem to have been about getting back to what I loved as a child. Two decades of exploration have thrilled and delighted me, yet somehow, those quiet moments spent with my oldest hobbies bring me the most peace.
But there’s still one thing I can’t quite tap into: that bold lucidity and confidence that children magically possess. We must fight to reclaim their willingness to experiment, be silly, and even fail later in life. And what better way to do that than to literally get on their level? If there are kids in your life, I implore you to spend time with them.
And when your conversations become increasingly absurd and feel more off the rails than ever, let them! This is not the time to indulge in boring adult concepts like facts and reality. Let your guard down and try to see the world through their eyes: their honesty and revelations are profoundly inspiring and often quite funny to boot.
With so many ways to overcome your creative block, you’re bound to get there eventually. However, my original sentiments bear repeating: be gentle with yourself, take a breath, and don’t allow negative self-talk to take over. I realize how difficult this is: it’s something I often struggle with myself. But remember that even if you do it for a living, joy and curiosity lie at the heart of your creativity. T
o be blunt: don’t let the pressures of capitalism extinguish your light. Getting back your creative spark means getting in touch with yourself, which is far more potent than any arbitrary productivity metric.
Have you experienced a creative block? What helped you break through? Share your tips in the comments.