The words aren’t coming. The music feels flat. The canvas stays blank. Panic starts to set in. Every creative person has had the experience of “hitting the wall” on a project. It can feel like torture and it can feel like forever. Here are 10 ways to breakthrough creative blocks.
1.) Check your ego – Leonard Cohen said of his songwriting “the less of ‘me’ there is, the better I am.” When we approach a creative endeavor from a place of “Me”, of want, whether it is praise, applause,or a paycheck, we get in the way of the creative flow and produce strained, self-conscious work. When we work from a pure intention, from a place of giving, we liberate ourselves from our narrow and critical ego. We open ourselves to the exhilarating experience of letting something larger than ourselves move through us.
2) Drop perfectionism like the bad habit it is – Perfectionism imprisons creativity. It makes you a slave to success yet keeps you fixated on failure. If you can recognize your own perfectionism, you can cultivate new self talk that challenges its unrealistic and misguided expectations. Our so-called mistakes often hold a richness our perfectionism could never have planned for. In the words of Joseph Campbell: “Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up.”
3.) Take a break – Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Sometimes the best ideas come when you step away from a project, turn off your mind, and return with new eyes.
4.) Use your body – When we feel blocked we often express feeling “in our heads”. Creativity involves harnessing the intellect to express the passion of the heart. Engaging in a physical practice can drop the heady energy down into our visceral animal body. Go for a run, take up yoga, rock out to your favorite song. Quite literally, shake it up!
5.) Socialize – Many artists require solitude to compose their work and may have an innate leaning towards introversion. When you feel blocked force yourself to engage with others so you don’t fall into yourself. Being with others reduces depression, activates feel good chemicals in the brain, and may spark new ideas that would never occur in the confines of your own company.
6.) Stay Present – Worrying about how your work will be received in the future, or how it was responded to in the past can cripple even the most seasoned professional. Cultivate practices like breath awareness, mindful meditation, or any other discipline that keeps you grounded in the present moment. It is only there that your natural impulses can come through and that work can be crafted.
7.) Find inspiration from others – When your own creativity feels barren drink from the well of those who inspire you. Surround yourself with work that speaks to your soul. Play your favorite record, read a poem that shakes you to your core. Rather than feeling intimidated by the masters who have come before, let their light remind you of your own.
8.) Watch Masking Behaviors – What behaviors do you engage in to numb or “mask” your frustration or anxiety? Common masking behaviors might include alcohol, drugs, Facebook marathons, or other anaesthetizing activities to alleviate the discomfort of feeling stuck. Often the very behaviors we use to soothe our creative blocks end up deepening our rut. Replace destructive habits with self care practices that enhance your energy and clarity. Be honest with yourself if a habit has escalated into an addiction and seek help.
9.) Watch your dreams – Every night your psyche offers you a treasure chest of evocative symbols and stories that may hold the key to your creative quandaries. Tending to your dreams is a way to connect to your unconscious, where inspiration can surface unfettered by the waking ego. If you don’t remember your dreams try keeping a journal next to your bed so you can capture them more easily. Setting the intention to remember your dreams is often enough to begin easily recalling them.
10.) Find a Therapist – If you continually experience creative blocks this may be a symptom of deeper unresolved psychic material that needs to be addressed. Don’t buy into the misguided cultural mythology of the “tortured artist.” As famously tortured artist turned Zen Monk Leonard Cohen put it: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” If your life isn’t burning well, psychotherapy will help re-kindle the flame.
© 2011 Meredith Hines MA