How many days have you sat down to draw, but no ideas came?
How many days have you thought of a good idea, but never got around to drawing it?
How many days have you been trying to draw, but for some reason, each day goes by, and you just don’t draw?
Welcome, my friend, to Creative Block.
It’s a time when our inspiration seems to disappear, our creative fuel dries up, the blank page won’t stop glaring at us, and we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to create.
It’s frustrating. It’s debilitating. And it happens to all of us.
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
–Chuck Close, painter and photographer
Yeah, ok. Thanks, Chuck. I often tout the same philosophy in my essays and courses. I shout out: “Come on guys, you only learn by doing, so get up off ya booty and start drawing!”
But sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes we need more than just a kick in the butt. Sometimes the creative block has just gotten too big, too daunting, and too discouraging for willpower to be able to beat it alone.
So let’s take a deeper look and explore the 5 reasons WHY creative block happens, so you can figure out HOW you can overcome the specific type of creative block you’re dealing with.
1. You’re Thinking Too Much
In this type of creative block, your brain is getting in the way of your creativity, and you’re overthinking everything. You think of drawing your dog, but you’ve already done that! You think of drawing the bird you see out the window, but ugh, that’s so boring! You’re stuck in your comfort zone of not doing anything, and talking yourself out of taking a risk and creating something new. Your inner critic is in hyperdrive, finding fault in every idea you have and stopping you from trying any of them.
Fix it: Get out of your head.
To get out of this type of creative block, we gotta get out of our head. Here are some ideas on how to stop overthinking and silence your inner critic:
Go Somewhere New
Take a trip to your local art museum, coffee shop, or public park. Getting out of the house and being in a new environment can do wonders for rewiring our mindset, and bringing new, fresh thoughts into our heads instead of running through our same inner monologue over and over. Give your brain something new to experience.
Read a book
Read a new book, skim a favorite, or go to a bookstore and flip through some books. Each book is full of seeds for ideas and you can absorb and connect ideas to get inspired to create something new again.
Watch an inspiring movie
Watch a visually stimulating movie like Spirited Away, or a documentary on fellow creatives like Chef’s Table. Seeing these celebrations of creativity and originality can be great sources of inspiration.
Go for a walk (or run!) outside
Moving your body, getting your blood pumping, and taking in that fresh air will help clear your mind and reinvigorate your body.
If you feel like you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas to draw, start taking notes during the day of things you think would be fun to draw. You don’t even have to draw yet, just start keeping the notes all together in one place. Next time you’re ready to draw, you’ll already have a list to pull from.
2. You’re Feeling Too Much
In this type of creative block, your emotions and inner world is getting in the way of your creativity. This is where fear comes in. You’re afraid you’ll draw something terrible. You’re afraid what people will think. You’re afraid you’ve already made your best work and it’s all downhill from here. Or you’re afraid you’ll never make anything good. And so, you procrastinate and make excuses and now you’re not making anything at all.
Fix it: Face your fears.
To get out of this type of creative block, you have to face your fear and let go of your insecurities. Here are some ideas on how to get out of this rut:
Remind yourself why you create
Why you make your art is a powerful motivator. Have you forgotten why you started drawing in the first place? It wasn’t for fame or money, was it? And it wasn’t for other people’s approval, was it? Remind yourself of why you started and why you should come back.
“I make art because the process of making art makes me happy.”
— Emily Barletta, fiber artist
Remind yourself what you enjoy
Have you been trying to force yourself to draw so much that you forgot you once enjoyed it? Try to remind yourself of that feeling by going back to something you love. Is there one thing you’re comfortable drawing or enjoy drawing most? Go back to drawing that thing for a while to get back in the groove and remind yourself that you enjoy drawing.
Do a repetitive, non-creative task
Take a break from trying so hard to be creative and do a repetitive task you know you’re good at. Maybe you enjoy gardening, running, or stirring a pot of risotto. Choose something that takes some time, and is repetitive so you can get a little lost in the action and daydream, letting your mind wonder, and your feelings calm down.
Make something bad
Give yourself permission to draw something terrible. Do it fast, with no consideration for technique or “being good”. Just get it out on the page. This helps to break down that initial barrier, and start making marks on the page.
Give yourself an assignment
Sign up for a drawing challenge or course to give yourself some structure and accountability. (#MightCouldDrawToday is my free drawing challenge with a new prompt each week!)
3. Your creative routine isn’t working
In this type of creative block, your daily routine is stopping you from being able to draw. Your art making schedule isn’t working anymore. You don’t have enough energy to create. You don’t have enough time to create. You get sidetracked with other tasks and never get around to making anything.
If you’re anything like me, you want to be alone and focused when you create. But it’s hard to do that if you have co-workers, friends, spouses, or kids constantly around you demanding your attention.
Fix it: Rework how you work.
To get out of this type of creative block, you have to revamp your creative schedule and expectations. Here are some ideas on how to get out of this rut:
Find your best time to be creative
Have you been trying to draw first thing in the morning because that’s what everyone says to do, but it’s just not working? Try out different times in the day to see when you feel most creative, and when it’s easiest for you to jump in. Do what’s best for you.
Set up a routine/schedule and stick with it
Once you find a time you feel creative, make it a part of your schedule and stick with it. Having a routine will help you come back to drawing each day.
Create a habit
If you’re able to find a schedule and stick with it long enough, drawing will become a habit, and you’ll begin to crave doing it. Your body will remind you when it’s time to draw, just like your stomach reminds you when it’s time to eat. But to get there, you have to put in the initial effort and commit, drawing even when you don’t feel like it. Just one little doodle is all it takes.
Get enough sleep + eat well
If you feel too exhausted to draw at the end of each day, and too groggy to draw at the beginning of the day, you need to reevaluate your energy levels. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and staying healthy. We can’t expect our minds and bodies to be creative if we don’t take care of them.
Set expectations with others for your creative time so you can focus
If you feel like you’re constantly being disrupted by other people—like spouses and kids—you need to make your creative routine more clear to them. Let them know when you’re having “creative time” and you’d like to be left alone to focus for a while. If you make your needs clear and ask for help from others, you’ll be able to carve out a little time each day. You can’t do everything and be everything for everyone always. You need to do things for yourself too. Your friends and family will respect that.
4. A life change/problem disrupts you
In this type of creative block, a big personal issue going on in your life is stopping you from being able to draw. Maybe it’s relationship problems, health problems, a death in the family, or a cross-country move. Major changes can disrupt your schedule and decrease your ability to focus.
Fix it: Try to solve your problem or cope through creativity.
To get out of this type of creative block, you have to analyze your problems to either find a solution, or cope with them. Here are some ideas on how to get out of this rut:
Try to solve the personal problem
Is the issue you’re having able to be solved? If you’re having an argument with a friend that you can’t stop thinking about, would it go away if you both talked it out? Or if you apologized? Try to find a solution so you can stop thinking about it, and get back to making.
Take a short break from creating to cope with an issue
Maybe the life change is a big one, and you need some time off to grieve, deal, or cope. That’s ok. You’re allowed to take time off and give yourself a break. Just don’t let it go on forever.
Use creativity to cope with the issue
One reason not to let your break go on forever, is that creativity and making can be extremely therapeutic in times of emotional distress. It can help to draw what you’re feeling, or write about what you’re experiencing. You can use your emotions and feelings as fuel for your creativity and just let it all out, with no one to judge you or tell you how you should be feeling.
See your work as a refuge from worries
Drawing and making can be an amazing outlet for when we’re feeling overwhelmed with problems and worries. Try to see your creative time as a place to either escape the issues of the outside world, or a way to work through them.
Talk it out
Sometimes you need to do more than coping on your own or drawing it out. If you’re really having a big issue in your life, find someone to talk to, whether it’s a family member, friend, mentor, or therapist. You might need to overcome this issue before you can get back to a creative mindset. Take your time, and work through it.
5. You’re doing too much
In this type of creative block, you have so much on your plate that it’s stopping you from being able to draw. Maybe you said yes too many times, took on too many projects, signed up for too many courses, and now you’re paralyzed with how much you have to do or want to do.
Fix it: Cut back.
To get out of this type of creative block, you need to cut back, and let go of some responsibilities and tasks. Here are some ideas on how to get out of this rut:
Say no for a while
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do, start saying NO more often. You can’t do everything, and you don’t have to. Focus on what you have going on right now for a while before adding anything else.
Make a priority list for what you have signed up for
Make a list of all the things you have to do and try to prioritize them. Which things do you want/need to work on first? Which ones can wait until later? Do they have deadlines or due dates? You’ll feel more relaxed once you have a plan.
Get rid of tasks you don’t want to do anymore
Is there anything on your to-do list that doesn’t really need to be done, or could be done by someone else? Do you have to go to that 4 hour meeting tomorrow afternoon? Do you have to cook a homemade meal from scratch every single night? Don’t pile too much pressure and responsibility on yourself. Ask others for help, so you have more time in your day.
Give yourself relaxation time
Once you have a little more time in your day, don’t automatically fill it with more to-do tasks and busy work. Make sure you invest in self-care, and give yourself time to relax. Find what helps you unwind when you’re stressed best. A hot bath? A cup of tea? Reading time under a blanket? Hopefully drawing time can become a way for you unwind too.
Turn off your computer and phone to disconnect
And finally, give yourself a digital break sometimes. Get off social media, stop checking email, and turn your text messages and phone calls on Do Not Disturb. Unplug from the world every now and then, go off the grid, and let yourself sink into a more free and creative mindset.
But Most of All Remember: Creative Block is Normal
Feeling frustrated with your work, feeling unable to draw, and feeling just generally stuck is completely normal. It happens to all of us, and is part of the creative process.
Remind yourself that feeling blocked isn’t the end of the world. You aren’t any less of an artist, and you won’t be stuck in creative block forever. Often, this period will actually be a precursor to a big breakthrough.
Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days the lead will line the slippers, and you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that. –Jamie Lidell, musician
Looking back at some of the work I’m most proud of, there were huge stretches of struggle and discomfort. There were times where I banged my head on the wall, had no idea where I was going, and considered giving up multiple times, before I had any kind of breakthrough.
We have to remember that these blocks are just part of the creative process. It takes struggle to create something new and original.
Don’t let creative block beat you down. Try some of these ideas, stay scrappy, and keep fighting the creative fight.