The Real Reason You’re Not As Creative As You Want To Be, How to Beat Creative Block For Good

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Once upon a time, not that long ago, you were on fire. Ideas were pouring out of your brain faster than you could write them all down, and you felt like you were growing, changing, evolving as an artist. And then…it all stopped. Frustrated, you sat staring at the blank page in front of you, and scrolled through thousands of inspiration boards looking for that one holy-grail of a board that would change it all and bring your creative mojo back. Don’t worry, all artists run into a creative block (or two) at some point in their evolution. The only way to get over this hurdle is to figure out what’s stunting your creativity in the first place. Below are the likeliest culprits.

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1. Instead of trial and error, you’ve opted for copying

When the well of creativity runs dry, most artists will instantly run to Pinterest or their favorite fashion photography blog and start a pinning storm of “inspiration boards.” But can this really be called inspiration, or is it copying? Austin Kleaon’s book “Steal Like An Artist” is all about how copying is the life-blood of creative genius, quoting Picasso’s words, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” But what Austin is really talking about in his book isn’t stealing or copying, but a more complex mental collage of creative references. Taking “inspiration” from another artist is one thing, and tweaking that inspiration over and over again to make it your own is another. Creativity is essentially a process of tweaking and trial and error, and not about reproducing your favorite artist’s work almost exactly. By relying too closely on the way your favorite artist staged her lighting, or styled a shoot, you are blocking yourself from making your own creative epiphanies.

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2. You’re overthinking it

Creativity is like driving a car, the more you think about how to do it, the harder it becomes. On the other hand, if you trust your instincts, and just go through the motions without putting added pressure to do everything perfectly, it all becomes easy. In 2008, a University of Chicago study found that the more a person thought about their task before actually preforming it, the harder that task became and the more likely they were to preform poorly. This basically means that, the more you ruminate, second-guess and brainstorm about a creative task, the more likely you’re going to choke creatively. In this sense, going with the flow becomes absolutely fundamental for creativity. So if you’re finding yourself less creative than you used to be, consider the possibility that with the stakes rising higher you’ve began to put more pressure on yourself, resulting in worse performance.

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3. Someone is always looking over your shoulder

If you work in a large open space with other artists, or have a manager/partner who is always checking in on you and looking over your shoulder, don’t be surprised to see your creativity (and productivity for that matter) plummet. There’s really no way around this, creativity happens in private. A multitude of recent studies reveals that even mild self-consciousness kills any potential to be spontaneously creative. So find a quiet room, or corner where you won’t be disturbed or have to worry about anyone judging your work over your shoulder.

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4. You’ve been doing the same thing over and over again

You’re on a tight deadline, you only have a small window of opportunity, time is of the essence here! So natural you dip into your trusty bag of creative tricks to get the job done. This works perfectly for the first six months, so perfectly in fact that you lose sight of the fact that you’re using the same old creative approach to every new task. Stop. Take a step back. Forget everything you’ve ever done up to this point. Creativity is not a magical process, but an act of connecting seemingly unconnected things. By sticking to a creative routine, you are effectively turning a blind eye to possible exciting connections in the making. Which brings us to the next point.

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5. You stopped taking risks and having adventures

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When you talk to enough highly creative, prolific people about some of their greatest ideas, you’ll often find they did not fall in a lightning bolt of inspiration from the sky, but were the result of careful observation. Highly creative people are able to keep their eyes open and absorb and synthesize new experiences. The more new experiences they have, the more observations, ideas and new concepts flood the brain. As an artist, you are effectively a maker of constellations: Every new experience is single sparkling spot of light on an endless sky, and the more you have, the more interesting the constellations you draw. The point is, creativity is not linear. You have to put yourself in front of a vast variety of strange new experiences in order to build a diverse set of references for your creativity to flourish.

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6. You’ve forgotten the “why” and replaced it with the “who”

What’s the reason you got into this line of work in the first place? Remember that fire that used to consume you? Somewhere along the way you started to forget about why you got into this, and started to get distracted by “who” you could become. The idea of getting famous, having a fancy title, maybe you’ve become enamored with the kind of people you’re suddenly rubbing shoulders with, perhaps you started obsessing about getting more followers on Instagram and becoming a “somebody” online. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these ambitions, unless they become more important than the art itself.

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7. You are in a closed network

Birds of a feather stick together, right? It’s an instinctual compulsion to seek out and stick to people that remind us of us – people the work in the same industry, have the same interests and see the world in much the same way we do. But by sticking within the same network of friends and business acquaintances we may be stifling our growth and passing on opportunities to be inspired by something (or someone) unexpected. Think about it this way: Imagine your current social network is like a video game, and it’s the same game you’ve been playing for the last decade or more. It’s still fun, but in a cozy familiar way. In fact, you know it by heart and could probably play it with a blindfold on. You’ve officially gotten all that one can possibly get from a game. It’s neither challenging you, nor teaching you anything new. The best thing to do is try a new game, one that moves outside of what you’re comfortable with. Which brings us to…

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8. You’re too comfortable

This is perhaps one of the most common kinds of creative block. The comfort zone by its very nature is neutral ground. It’s kind of like a void where nothing extreme ever happens, you float on a fluffy cloud of semi-contentedness and semi-boredom wondering why life has gotten so stale. All good things are born from extremes – extreme pain, happiness, work, tears. Studies show that challenging situations will often bring out the best in us. This goes so far that researchers found that something as simple as having a bad phone connection and having to strain to hear the person on the other line will mean we are able to focus better and remember more of the information discussed during the phone conversation than if the sound quality had been perfect. Anything challenging will automatically switch on the part of your brain that has to innovate for survival. This is true of all things, from giving birth to creating your life’s greatest masterpiece. As long as you remain anchored to the safe neutral ground of your comfort zone, your creativity will wither like a flower left to dry between the pages of a forgotten book.

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9. Your basic needs aren’t being met

We know they say adversity breeds creativity, but occasionally adversity breeds depression and a permanent case of creative block. Though most of us are lucky enough to have our very basic needs met, we’d like to expand on this concept because some of our basic needs as artists go beyond food and shelter alone. Whether it’s not having enough money for supplies or equipment, not getting enough emotional support from friends and family, to not having a room of one’s own to create meaningful work in, each individual artist has a special class of basic needs that are fundamental to a healthy creativity. The solution to this problem will depend on what basic need you happen to be lacking in your creative life. But the important thing here is that you change your perspective and become in-tune with what it is you fundamentally need to flourish as an artist and make the necessary adjustments to your life.

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10. You Need a Vacation

When was the last time you had a break? And we’re not talking week-long holidays with the family were you come back more exhausted than when you left. We’re talking blissfully relaxed, tuned out, quiet, wind in your hair, ocean breeze on your lips, not a single care in the world kind of holiday. If you’re feeling creatively burned out, we’ll venture a guess that it has been a while. Why are vacations so important to creativity? Time away from work, and away from a familiar environment (and the possible negative influence of people that don’t necessarily get what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your creative work) acts as a palate cleanser. With enough distance between you and the hustle of daily life, your perspective snaps into sharp focus, shedding a whole new light on old problems.

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*Artwork by Ernest Artillo*

Natalia Borecka

Natalia is the editor in chief and publisher of Lone Wolf Magazine. She founded the publication in 2012.

10 Comments
  1. Great post and great tips, I’m not on a creativity block right now, but it’s great to know what could cause it to prevent it, Thanks 🙂

  2. This is brilliant, it’s given me some real food for thought!
    Hannah
    Hanniemc.co.uk

  3. Truly spot on!
    Thank you for the wisdom .. as its always easy to forget these points.

  4. Hello, I am an architect, I live in Buenos Aires, I found this post and I really think is extraordinary, very inspiring. thank you

  5. I felt like this article was speaking straight to me. I couldn’t have come across it at better time. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for this article as a creative artist I find that i don’t have a balance in a few areas mentioned here- this was helpful as far as the direction to create a few solutions to these blockages- number one – take a vacation.

  7. Great article! I needed that. Love the site too.

    Thanks

    Frank Balthazar

  8. Thank you for expertise!
    Currently experiencing writer’s block for a project and your tips are supes helpful.

    Thanks, xx
    -Alan A.

  9. Natalia thank you for such motivated words! I read some of your articles and they are really inspiring!
    You have great author talent that’s true!
    Thanks!

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