How to Break Creative Block


Staring at the blank canvas with nothing coming out of yourself is one of the artists bigger fears. And by artists I mean people doing any kind of creative activity, from painters to programmers, from musicians to paramedics. We all have seen friends and people we know suffer from this, and of course, ourselves.

Well, creative block is just fear.

Fear of not being up to the task. Fear of judgement from your colleagues. Fear to fail.

Rarely do pens go dry in restaurants.” – Nicholson Baker

We are amazing creatures with overflowing thoughts and synapses, our brain does much more than we perceive. We are amazing, but then we grow up and we become paranoid and start to fail in activities we are designed to do.

The solution is just to create (that’s where creative comes from!). Make more stuff and don’t be afraid, don’t think about releasing it or showing it off to the whole world. Just make stuff, and you’ll get better.

Creating is just this: You have an idea and obviously a way to achieve it (even if it’s watching painting tutorials in youtube because you never painted before). The moment you start doing, the creation speaks to you, telling you what it’s missing. It’s a series of thoughts you will have between your idea and the creation in front of you, in which you have to take the right decisions to end up where you want to go.

Imagine you have a blank canvas and you want to draw a stick figure. What would you do? Let’s start with the head maybe. Ok, just a circle, we can do this. Right now the picture is talking to you, the muses are singing to your ears! Look at the picture, what’s it missing? Oh, the legs, the arms and the chest! Let’s do the chest next, just a line!

Obviously, this is an over simplistic version of how your creative mind works, but in the end you just have an idea you want to achieve and a canvas that is not quite as you want, so you just take decisions over and over to get there.

The problem comes when you want to paint the Mona Lisa in a month, and you want to sell it and be congratulated about it (and you don’t know how to paint!)

If you don’t know how to paint you will take the wrong decisions at some point in the creative process, and this might leave you with unexpected results. Maybe you have to erase a part of it, maybe you even have to start over! And when hard decisions come your way, if you are not strong, you fall and you get paranoid: I am not good enough, I will never be able to achieve it… stuff like this. And HERE is where a lot of people fail enormously, because they stop. They get stuck in a toxic thought and they follow the wrong decision instead of following the creative train of thought that you mind is constantly offering you.

Just make stuff, if the result is not as good as you want, start over and it will be better.

Here are some resources that help with creative block:

  • Big Magic: awesome essay about creative living, with a lot of stories and completely mind opening. Definitely a must if you are interested in the matter. By the amazing Elizabeth Gilbert.
  • The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook: this book just describes a game, and then offers variations and fun stuff to do with it. Basically, you have 10 hours to write (and produce or play) 20 songs. The whole point of this is to make you stop thinking because you have to deliver a lot of work at the end of it, so you don’t get paranoid and end up with 20 songs. They might not be amazing, but definitely you will have some pretty decent ideas in there than you can develop later.
  • Oblique strategies: a card game designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. When you get stuck in your creative flow, you draw a card and interpret what it says in any way you want.

Do you struggle with creative block? Did you find this article useful? Let me know in the comments.

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