Busting Through the Creative Block
By E. Marie Robertson
Creative block is one of the most stressful, frustrating experiences an artist can have. There are numerous books, articles, podcasts, blog posts and videos devoted to wrestling with it. Almost all of these works include recommendations for dealing with creative block, but many of these “techniques” feel like graduate school exercises which, like graduate school itself, may or may not be helpful. Other times they come off as condescending and almost insulting, as though the problem is simply that artists have no self-discipline or can’t manage time.
I’ve talked to a lot of artists about their experiences with creative block, and have my own to add. I can safely say that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Creatives experience blocks for different reasons that often go far beyond what a one-off exercise can cure. That means busting through your creative block may require more than a nap or an art-school exercise.
The first step is to pinpoint and truly understand the deep underlying mechanism of what creates the blocks that you experience. This phase of discovery is generally skipped by mainstream creativity tomes, because it can be time-consuming, and painful and enlightening by turns. While only you can deduce what is triggering your block, here are some common themes:
Fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of falling outside or inside accepted norms. Consider the project in front of you and ask consider whether there is fear attached to it in any way. Why are you scared of moving forward?
Confusion. Our brains are miraculous things, capable of holding many different ideas, goals, and processes all at once. You may have lost track of the purpose of your work, or let your focus become blurred by competing priorities and plans.
Mindset issues. Your subconscious is just as miraculous as your active brain, and in some cases it works even harder to make sure your reality lines up with your thoughts. But your thoughts about yourself and your artistic practice come not just from you, but from the input and expectations of your family, your colleagues, your upbringing, your culture, your society. If there is dissonance between your subconscious and your conscious direction, this can lead to all manner of self-sabotage, and what better to sabotage an artist than creative block?
The second step is working through the issues you identify. To truly address creative block is a process rather than an event and may take time. Additionally, each episode of creative block may have different triggers, so be prepared to wash, rinse, repeat.
Here are some less commonly-cited methods for tackling your issues—although if you really WANT to take a nap, tear up something you have deemed important, or spend the afternoon drawing with your nondominant hand, please feel free to go ahead!
Meditation and mindfulness
I have had a meditation practice for a very long time and have found both scripted guided meditations and simple brief mindfulness exercises in attention are great ways to relax the mind and jumpstart creativity.
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”)
I don’t know why EFT works. It seems like this pattern of tapping on your face and upper body and repeating statements that end with you reaffirming your love and acceptance of yourself wouldn’t have any effect on anything, but something does happen when you tap regularly. Some suggest that it serves as a pattern interrupter, drawing our “toddler brain” away from repetitive programming and setting a new focus in its place.
In the words of life coach Cheryl Richardson, “there is amazing power in a strong intention.” If you haven’t given thought to what your intention is in making art, now might be a good time. Writing down what you hope to achieve with your work and setting an intention for it, whether for the individual piece on which you feel blocked or for your artistic practice overall if you are more generally blocked, can give you something to grab onto whenever inspiration escapes you.
Committing to Consistence
Woody Allen famously said that 80 percent of life is showing up, and that’s particularly true for artists who feel blocked or stymied in their practices, according to Prague-based visual artist Jessica Serran. “I’m all about magic and miracles, but not when it comes to having a consistent studio practice,” explains Serran, who is also leader at Source and Sanctuary where she helps artists explore their own callings. “Consistent creative flow comes from showing up for yourself – not from waiting for divine inspiration to strike. Inspiration is not a limited resource. Like solar power, that shit is renewable. The trick is knowing that you have the power to usher inspiration in.”
Source and Sanctuary—A Field Guide to Uncharted Creative Callings
Emotional Freedom Technique: Basic Steps to Your Emotional Freedom
Why EFT Could Very Well Be Just the Right Thing for You
How Mindfulness Can Help Your Creativity
What Daily Meditation Can Do For Your Creativity
99U by Behance
Exploring Intention: Setting an Intention for Creativity
5 Steps to Setting Powerful Intentions
Deepak Chopra, MD
The Chopra Center
E. Marie Robertson is an artist, writer and flair facilitator living in Anderson, SC. Her studio, Art-in-Progress, specializes in photo, video, mixed reality and encaustic painting, and provides mini-retreats and workshops for artists interested in expanding their creativity and tapping more deeply into their authentic voices. Her blog, ArtLifeNow, offers practical and tactical advice for artists.