Have you worked hard on a project that seemed to be going flawlessly, only to hit a bump in the road and suddenly find you can’t seem to get anything done at all? Trust me, you’re not alone. Creative blocks are normal for people in any artistic field, so much that they’re practically a rite of passage. If you find yourself unable to move on with a project but can’t seem to figure out why, don’t stress out too much — sometimes it just takes a little creative problem solving and the reminder that you’re not in this alone.
But why do we get these creative blocks? There’s nearly always an underlying issue that has nothing to do with your art itself, from your mental or physical state to forces outside of your control. Instead of lamenting over your lack of productivity, use your time to get to the root of the problem and work on moving past it.
Here are 10 creative blocks that every artist experiences at least once — and here’s what you can do to overcome them.
1. Mental Blocks
This is a fairly common type of block for creatives. It’s when, to put it simply, your brain just doesn’t want to work. You’ve become trapped by your own thinking and are so stressed about it that you can’t seem to come up with a solution. When you do try to address the problem, you tend to get caught up in all the same issues and can’t seem to move forward.
The best way to deal with mental blocks is to change the question you’re trying to answer. Taking a new approach to an old project and looking at it from different perspectives will get the juices flowing and will, hopefully, leave that mental block behind. Talk to friends about the problem, work in new environments, and try not to overthink it — and, when you feel less overwhelmed, push through it.
2. Emotional Barriers
Sometimes your creative block won’t come from your thoughts, but from your feelings. Maybe you’re afraid of what comes after you finish the project; maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll reveal about yourself through your work. Maybe the subject matter is just too real — too painful, too relatable, too embarrassing, too personal. Emotional barriers more often than not stem from fear and anxiety.
My advice? Instead of shuffling into the project uncertainly, dive right in. Be upfront with yourself about about your issues, then barrel right past them. Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith once said that to write, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Creative pursuits are often emotional and intense — embrace it.
3. Personal Problems
Honestly, sometimes where you are in life does effect your work. If you’re in school and haven’t been doing well in your classes, you might not feel as inspired to work on your creative pursuits. If you’re going through a divorce or a particularly hard break up, you might have trouble focusing. Sometimes even positive things, like falling in love or starting a new adventure, will occupy your mind and become a creativity block.
This particular block is harder to work through than mental or emotional blocks because you don’t fully control the circumstances. Some might feel better putting off the project until the problem has sufficiently been dealt with, but if you feel you’re unable to take the time away, it’s best to learn to cope with your feelings surrounding the personal problem, whether that be with therapy or meditation.
4. Feeling Overwhelmed
Maybe you have a lot going on in your life, including work and family obligations. Maybe you just have so many projects you want to work on at once that you can’t seem to focus on any particular one. When the brain feels overwhelmed, it’s difficult to concentrate on any specific task, especially creative pursuits.
The best thing you can do for both your projects and your own mental health is to cut back on commitments. Take more time for yourself and start saying “no.” Try working on one project at a time instead of juggling multiple, and don’t start another till you’ve finished with the first. Work on time management — you won’t regret it.
5. Unproductive Work Habits
There’s not a wrong way to work, per se, but there are definitely schedules and methods that are less effective. Maybe you like to work from your bed. Maybe you prefer working late into the night. Maybe you like the TV on in the background — and then inevitably get caught up in the show. Experts will say there are millions of way to foster bad work environments, but at the end of the day, it really comes back to what’s good for you.
Figure out the times and places you work best. Make yourself a more structured schedule. Create a specific work space separate from where you spend your leisure time. This may take some experimentation, but it’s better than sticking with your original way of life and continuing to struggle with creative blocks. Everyone needs different things to thrive — figure out what yours are.
6. Mental or Physical Health
Sometimes creative blocks have nothing to do with your own creativity and everything to do with your physical and mental health. Maybe you’re struggling with depression or anxiety; maybe you’ve got back problems that make it difficult to sit in one place for too long. Maybe it’s as simple as not getting enough sleep — mental or physical exhaustion are powerful deterrents when it comes to creative pursuits.
While these may not always be the easiest to remedy, it’s worth trying. Pinpoint your afflictions and try to come up with possible solutions, whether it be a doctor or a therapist or even just home remedies. Make sure you’re eating good foods and getting enough sleep and exercise — if you feel good, you’re more likely to be productive.
This goes hand-in-hand with mental blocks. This happens when we go into a project 100% certain of the outcome, without any room for deviation from the original concept. While this kind of decisiveness might be good when making a plan, it rarely works well when actually implementing it creatively. If you find yourself backed into a corner but unwilling to compromise, you’ll waste a lot of time fretting over how to force something to work.
As a creative, you shouldn’t just be open to change — you should welcome it. Some of the best ideas come later in the game, and an unwillingness to consider them might ultimately hurt your project. Sometimes the solution will mean backtracking and revising past work, and that’s okay. Before you turn down alternative ideas, consider them seriously — they may be exactly what your project needs.
8. Impostor Syndrome
When you’re a creative, it’s pretty easy to feel like a fake. That comes as no surprise, considering we often find inspiration from other artists’ work — sometimes it’s impossible not to feel like your work is merely an imitation. Maybe you simply just don’t feel good enough, and any success you’ve found feels like a fluke. You feel like a fraud.
With this kind of creative block, your biggest enemy is truly yourself. You have to learn to put behind your own self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy and just focus on the project at hand. You’re always going to be ultra-critical of your own work — you’re blinded by your closeness to your projects. It’s hard to feel original or for your work to feel uncontrived when you’ve been there for every step of the process.
Let’s face it: we all want our work to be perfect. As an artist, it’s easy to get caught up in imitating the exact image we see in our heads that we may have problems moving on with the project. If it gets bad enough, you may spend days or weeks working on one small aspect.
The fact of the matter is this: it’s better to have an imperfect finished product than a perfect unfinished piece. Just work on finishing the project, polish it as well as you can, and move on — chances are you’ll be the only one who notices, and you’ll have saved yourself a lot of precious time.
10. Outside Circumstances
Sometimes creative blocks don’t stem from somewhere deep inside — sometimes they’re 100% due to the things going on around you. Maybe you don’t have the money to put toward the resources you need. Maybe you don’t have the network to help you succeed. More commonly, you simply don’t have access to the knowledge or the experience your project requires.
This particular block will probably take some creative problem solving. Is there someone you can ask for help? Is there somewhere you can go to access these resources? Is there a way to work around them completely? At the end of the day, it might mean putting in the work to acquire the resources first — saving up money, attending a seminar, researching your topic, building your network.