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11 Tips On Overcoming The Creative Block

Writer’s block, creative constipation, brain fart, hitting the wall—whatever you call it when your creative juices stop flowing, it’s not a pretty sight nor a fun experience, and it’s usually accompanied by profanity aimed at innocent empty pages. It’s not always possible to wait for divine inspiration to strike, for example if you need to finish a halfway done portfolio to get into your ideal design school before enrollment closes.

If you feel like your mercurial muse has flitted off to inspire someone else, leaving you high, dry and without an idea to your name, don’t panic. There are ways to deal with and get rid of creative block without pounding your head against a desk, keyboard or drawing table—which, let’s be honest, never really works.

What’s a hack?

You won’t need a computer for these hacks. For the purposes of this piece, you should think of a hack as “an intelligent, but rough-handed and expedient behavior aimed at manipulating a complicated reality locally for immediate gain”, as Venkatesh Gao puts it. Being creative is complicated, and getting stuck is definitely a reality. Below, you’ll find a collection of hard-and-fast fixes for when your creativity crashes.

11 ways to hack through creative block

What you’re doing clearly isn’t working, and trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is, well, insane. Check out these workarounds:
  1. Never stare at a blank page. Nothing kills creativity like an empty page. Stop staring at it, and start doing something.

  2. Respect a process. Give yourself time and space to work on an idea—and cut yourself some slack. Just because you aren’t producing doesn’t mean you aren’t working.

  3. Brainstorm wildly. Nothing is stupid, nor is anything sacred when you’re brainstorming. Bad ideas might trigger good ones or at least clear the way for them. White boards are particularly useful for this sort of thing because you’ve got multiple colors, everything is right in front of you and erasing is easy.

  4. Never stop thinking—and take notes. Turning your subject over in your mind, thinking about it when you’re in different situations and mindsets, both bring up new ideas and new angles from which to see old ones. Don’t let these ideas get away. Write them down, collect them and read through them later when you get stuck or need inspiration.

  5. Create/impose structure. Make an outline. Organize your brainstormed ideas. Group them one way, then try another. This works particularly well in creative writing careers and writing generally. Start with broad strokes, adding detail where you can, and gradually fill in all of the gaps. The more you rewrite, transpose and reorganize your ideas, the better acquainted you'll be with them. The better acquainted you are, the easier it'll be to add in more detail.

  6. Skip the parts slowing you down. Hit a snag? Not sure what to put in that spot? Put in a placeholder, and move on. There’s no sense in losing all of your creative steam—and if you can fill in all around something, you’ll have a better idea of what shape that something needs to be. You can always come back to fill in the gap when you get stuck somewhere else.

  7. Work small. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Getting caught up in the immensity of a project can shut your brain down in a second. Instead of sitting down to write the great American novel, try writing several really good sentences in a row and see where that takes you.

  8. Work big. When you’re breaking things down, be sure to keep the big picture in mind. If you get stuck on the minutiae, take a few steps back and see the forest for the trees.

  9. Express your idea in a different form. Writing a story? Try drawing a few a scenes. Designing something? Try writing about what it looks like. When you put your ideas in a different form, you’re forced to think through things differently. Even if your attempts aren’t great, you’ll be engaging different parts of your brain, helping you understand the concepts more completely. You may even find something entirely new.

  10. Combine ideas. If you’ve got one idea that isn’t pulling its weight, mash it together with another one. Figuring out how the two might fit together gives you more insight into both.

  11. Put it down. Sometimes you just get too caught up in things and you get tunnel vision. Don’t hurt yourself trying to force things. If you really love your idea, you’ll be back.

One of the biggest things to remember is summed up beautifully by Voltaire: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Don’t let your insecurities and perfectionism stop you or even slow you down. Just get started—now. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong or bad or ugly—just start working. Think of it as a dry run or a warm up, and build up some creative momentum.

Cover image and top image from Shutterstock.

Karl Fendelander cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. Karl has a degree in creative writing and, when he unplugs, can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

Additional Sources:

CJ Lyons • Art IS Work • Mar 26, 2012 • http://www.norulesjustwrite.comhttp://www.norulesjustwrite.com/art-is-work/ • NoRulesJustWrite.com

Jason Fitzpatrick • The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good • Jul 12, 2010 • http://lifehacker.comhttp://lifehacker.com/5585049/the-perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good • Life Hacker

Venkatesh Gao • Hacking the Non-Disposable Planet • Apr 18, 2012 • http://www.ribbonfarm.com/http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/04/18/hacking-the-non-disposable-planet/ • Ribbon Farm

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