Creative blocks can blur your purpose, so sometimes it’s good to focus on a bigger picture.e
We’ve all read about artists who have faced dark days, unable to crawl from bed and plunging into alcohol- or drug-fueled downward spirals, despite being adored by the masses. Some write these episodes off as weakness or character flaws, but the truth is that it’s not easy being a creative person, and everyone experiences the occasional fallow period along the creative path. Sometimes it lasts a few hours or days, and passes harmlessly without explanation. At its worst, creative block can cripple and debilitate to the point of ruining a career.
Most of us will never know the deepest depths of despair, but it can be frustrating to come up against creative block. Usually it appears as an aversion to doing the work itself—a kind of distracted boredom. You might not want to pick up the guitar, or when you do, nothing new comes to mind—so you pick up your phone instead. I don’t have a prescription for imaginative epiphanies, but I do have methods of dealing with distraction.
The first line of defense is to recognize that your thoughts and efforts are being deflected away from the creative process. As stupid-simple as it sounds, this is a crucial tool in your mental arsenal. When you acknowledge that you’re straying off course, you’re taking the first step back to the creative way. Allow yourself the freedom to explore a more comfortable yet inspiring level of distraction. If you’re working on something with a looming deadline, you can switch up the part of the process you’re working on and go to a more instinctive or pleasant part of the work—something that comes easy. A lot of times, the satisfaction of doing a task that’s comfortable will be just the break you need to move on to the tougher stuff without derailing your progress.
If you’re not working on a deadline, or you are just experiencing a general malaise, a stimulating micro-vacation might be in order. One of my favorite tricks is to go to an art museum. Even if you don’t particularly like paintings or sculpture, you can find inspiration in the presentation of work by people who acknowledge and cherish creativity. For a guitarist, looking at art and reading the descriptions can recharge your desire to work, without it being confrontational. Sometimes, looking at amazing jewelry or beautiful ancient artifacts can provide inspiration and connect you to your own craft, and purpose, in a way that listening to another musician’s music—or, in my case, another builder’s instrument—would not. Museums are the temple of the creative tribe to which musicians and craftspeople belong. When you get back to work, you might be amazed when a new idea hits you.
Another great way to invigorate your mind is to walk in nature. Shut off your phone and focus on breathing in the natural world around you. If you live in a city, a park will do. I even have friends who take a picnic lunch to a cemetery, because it’s the most convenient green space in an urban setting. Looking at blue sky, clouds, flowers, and lush-green vegetation is the antidote to the closeness of the studio, office, or workshop. I do a lot of close work that requires focusing my eyes inches from my face, so going outside and looking at trees and sky in the furthest distance is like yoga for my vision and mind. Twenty minutes of uninterrupted relaxing in nature can be the massage your brain needs to get back on track. It’s a cliché, because it’s true.
If you’re anxious about starting a project, or have just been putting it off, there’s a simple way to approach it: Just start. Easier said than done? Not if you tell yourself that you don’t have to do it all at once. Give yourself the authority to just stick your toe into the water and not feel like you have to finish right away. Removing the pressure of having to work to completion greases the wheels.
The idea of having to constantly push yourself to perform is a myth in business that doesn’t always work when the endeavor is creative. These tips for jump-starting your projects when block sets in are simple yet effective ways to pull yourself across the finish line. And always remember: The work is the reward.