5 Ways to Overcome Creative Blocks

Work creatively for long enough and you'll get creative blocks.

When this happens, pressure builds.  You need a sermon illustration, but have no ideas.  You need an essay topic, but nothing comes to mind.  You need a recipe, but nothing's appealing.

Committed creatives push through these blocks (or try to!).

Here are 5 ideas that can help you overcome creative blocks ...

1) Change your environment

This is my go-to move when I'm writing.  I turn the TV off (or on).  I turn the music on (or off).  I sit on the floor or stand at the table.  Sometimes I change venue (from office to living room or coffee shop).  Sometimes I change clothes.

Our environment has a big impact on our creative capacity.  Distractions and multi-tasking temptations drain energy needed to break through mental blocks.  Small changes in environment can quickly and easily have a big impact.

2) Hunt for the source of the block in the bigger picture ... and remove it!

From the ground level of environment to the 10,000 feet.  Big picture, is there anything keeping you from creating?  Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired?  Are you pressed for time?  Are you afraid?

Often, our creativity blocks have nothing to do with our particular creative task. 

This summer, I was creating a sermon while also carrying on a very emotional e-mail exchange with a relative.  I kept getting frustrated with my writing ... "Why isn't this coming together?  Why am I blocked?"  The answer was simple.  The emotional energy I would normally use to create the sermon was being poured into the e-mail exchange.  Once the source of the block was located, it could be easily removed (ie. compartmentalized).

3) Drop optional side projects (temporarily)

You may notice that my writing here on the blog sometimes slows mysteriously.  I'll have weeks where I only post once or twice.  I know that this is a little weird for those of you who get this in your inbox.  Days with nothing, then weeks with long posts.

When my creativity gets blocked in my work, I'll pause the blog to allow me to focus all of my energy on the project at hand.  Last week, I was preparing for a big evangelistic outreach on campus.  Next week, I'll be writing material for the LaFe Florida Conference.  So, I expect to write here a little less.

You only have so much creative energy.  Sometimes blocks appear when we're working at the edges of our energy.  We can get more energy (see above and below) or work with what we have.  I try to do both at the same time.

4) Repair your rails

The concept of "rails" is a concept I've learned from Todd Henry over at The Accidental Creative. [If you're unfamiliar with Todd's work, check out his podcast (available on iTunes)]

Rails are rhythms, habits and practices that free up creative energy for creating. 

By deciding "I'm going to try to write every day in 2010," I took away the need to make a decision every day on the "Am I going to write question?"  Your rails might be an editorial calendar, a writing ritual, a specific way you organize your equipment.

Creative blocks can emerge when our rails break down.  You find yourself spending all of your creative energy away from your creative arena. 

5) Re-examine your purpose for creating

Why are you doing this hard work?  Forget that and, eventually, you'll have a hard time creating. 

Everyone who works creatively needs to keep returning to the "Why" question.  The answer doesn't have to be profound.  It's okay to answer "For money" or "For fun."  But answer the question.

Clarity on the "Why" frees you to do your thing.  If you're doing this project for fun, have fun with it.  If you're doing it for money, adjust your expectations and focus on specifications and do sufficient work. 

We freeze up when we start treating paycheck work like it HAS to be fun or play work like it HAS to be perfect.  Knowing why you're doing it frees you up to actually do it (whatever "it" is).

What do you do when you hit a creative block?

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