5 Ways to Unlock Creative Block

My design buddy Jason Sturgill recently suggested I do a post on creative block. Little did he know, it was something I was already thinking about, having had a little bit of trouble with it myself recently.

1. Change Your Medium

I recently moved to Columbus, OH and I realized that the way you discover new things in a city is by getting lost.

Eventually though, you quit getting lost, you sink into habit, you get efficient and you stop discovering new things (whether the city has more new things to offer or not).

When you develop a craft, say drawing for instance, it becomes that efficient, go to habit for creativity. The problem is, in creativity, efficiency is not your only goal. Usually, you're trying to find something new.

I draw for a living, but when I get stuck with drawing it helps me to turn to words and writing. When I finally get somewhere I go back to my comfort zone, my craft.

2. Drop preconceived notions

I am unashamed to say I have been devouring the back catalog of Sam Weber's illustration podcast "Your Dreams My Nightmares". Honestly? In my opinion? It's one of the best podcasts out there, and if you're an illustrator, you've got no excuse, you need to be listening to it.

I recently listened to his conversation with Lisa Hanawalt and something she said struck a chord with me: sometimes she stresses out when someone hires her for an editorial job. The reason is that she has all these preconceived notions on what editorial work looks like...then she remembers that they are probably hiring her to do something funny, like she always does.

Often it's pressure of some kind that is hampering our creativity, and for me it often comes from preconceived notions.

When you unlock and open the door wide open, and you quit thinking of what should be, you can start focusing on what something could be.

3. Establish clear definition of the problem.

My wife and I are TERRIBLE at choosing where we want to eat. I used to want to just jump in the car and decide on the way. She hated that process...and for good reason.

It is much more efficient if we sat, took the time and determined where we wanted to go, before we set off.

It's my temptation to jump in the car and get going because it feels more productive.

But what happens is I'm now trying to do two things, drive and brainstorm all at the same time, and neither am I doing very well.

When you have a creative task it's easy to want to jump in the car and getting moving.

It feels productive.

However, more often than not, if you don't know what you're tying to achieve or where you want to go, it's nearly impossible to get there!

I find when I'm feeling really stifled and confused about a project it's because I didn't take the time to understand the problem before hand.

Sitting down at the beginning and clearly defining the parameters is key to feeling confident and successful in creative endeavors.

Without understanding the problem, you can't recognize the solution.

4. Dismantle your fear.

Why are you more likely to win games when you have the home court advantage

I think part of it is confidence.

When I think I'm good at something, my head is clear.

When I try to do something that I'm not sure I'm good at, or I suspect I might even be bad at it, in the back of my mind there is this distracting chatter. It's the other team's fans yelling "you suck!"

There's actually science that proves that this negative back chatter hurts your performance.

One thing that always helps me as a general rule: talent is sort of a myth, really there's just hard work.

5. Make sure you're in the open mode

Recently I listened to a talk about creativity by John Cleese on YouTube.

His main point was that at any given time, you are either in the open or closed mode and that creativity happens when you're are in the open mode.

He says it better than I can, but I took away this: often, when I'm hitting a creative wall, it's because I'm working and not playing.

It is in play, or the open mode, where we find creativity. Like in point 2 of this article, dismantling pressure of any kind is essential to getting into this play zone.