Creative Paralysis – How To See & Break Your Creative Block

We hate to harp on this quarantine period during the current global pandemic, but this point is worth noting. There are many individuals who have made significant creative strides while being unwillingly shut into their homes. But there are others of us who have been stuck in a creative drought that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. More unfortunate, however, is the fact that this drought was present in the lives of many long before COVID even started.

Often, as creative professionals, when hit with a creative dry spell we tend to find it difficult to get back in the game of creating those things we love so much. At this point it’s hard to come up with ideas for the expression of our feelings and thoughts, even though this expression should come naturally to us.

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We find it difficult to start… again.

This standstill that we experience is a creative block, a creative paralysis. It’s not that we can’t create, but more so that we’re a bit stuck or rusty.

So how, then, do we become more deeply aware of our “stuck” state and realize that we’re paralyzed? Even more important, once we make this realization, how do we break free from that state and open the floodgates of creative expression that we’ve been waiting to burst through.

Understand That Having Too Many Outlets Can Cripple You

Having too many options for the expression of our ideas, more often than not, leads us to leaving most of them unutilized. It’s as if the more ways we have to express ourselves, the more daunting the act of expressing becomes. This underutilization can bring with it a lack of fulfilment and a feeling that we’re being unproductive.

Generally, when we’re creating, we tend to put limits on ourselves to guide our creation. A blank page or a canvas still has a set size and bounds that we work within to produce our masterpieces. We set those limits because they help to strictly direct our actions toward the final piece we want to create.

However, when we have a buffet of items to create, the average free flowing creative mind tends to want to tackle everything on the menu all at once, stacking all of these food options on our plate. Our plates are then cluttered with everything we want to eat and we now have to decide what to absorb first.

Even worse are those instances where the creative work you need to do is your job, and you have an obligation to clear that plate by the deadline you’re given. How can they expect you to move when you’re stuck? Come on.

Clutter comes in many forms, and is often the cause of our inability to perform creatively. Having too many things to produce at any given moment is a form of clutter that we tend not to view negatively, simply because, as humans, we like to have options.

The greatest problem that this kind of “positive” clutter brings is that of the number of decisions you need to make to clear it up. Thus, having too many creative options on your plate presents you with too many decisions to make when, in fact, we can only realistically expect to make one decision at a time.

So how then do we get through all the positive clutter and make the decision to start creating again? Simple: just choose one. Any… one...

By forcing ourselves to wholeheartedly pursue one, and only one, creative endeavour at any given moment we create the guides we need to direct our actions towards our final creation. This action needs to be forced because positive clutter brings with it a comfort that is very difficult to break through.

Beware of Thinking You Have Nothing to Create

Another problem we face as creatives is when we have nothing to create. But this is more of a false perception than anything else. We’re always presented with a myriad of options to express our thoughts and feelings at any given moment.

Whether it’s penning a story, singing a song, filming a video, dancing to a beat or some other means of creation, our very nature leads us to want to bring things forth from our imaginations,

The fix to this line of thinking is simply to know, and understand, that there is always at least one option to release ones frustrations or ruminations. Then, after acknowledging this fact, listing all the possible means of expression and choosing one so that you can focus, as per my earlier point.

Try Making Something Easy

One of the best ways to eliminate the creative block experienced by so many of us is to take advantage of some low hanging fruit you have close by.

You see, the problem here is that when something comes too easily for us we tend not to gravitate towards it. We crave challenges. But as we’ve acknowledged, just by reading this article, one of the greatest challenges we have is now the challenge of creating something… anything.

If you’re a graphic designer, making a simple quote image to put on Instagram surely does the trick. And if you’re a writer, writing a tweet or a short article to post online so that you can start building momentum does wonders.

What doing these small tasks does is start you on the path to building momentum for your bigger creative works. This momentum is exactly what you need to break through your creative block and get on the path to creating again.

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You Won’t Create When You’re Comfortable

We don’t move when we’re comfortable. Actually, when we’re comfortable we hate the very thought of moving. One of the reasons for an inability to make something new could very well be that you’re not bothered enough to do it. You’re comfortable right where you are.

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With that being said, did you know that the real motivation for moving towards any of your goals is the pain that you “experience” when you think about never being able to achieve it? The more painful and frustrating that thought is, the more inclined you’ll be towards making your goal a reality.

Think about the average man working at a 9-to-5 job. He goes to work and pushes hard for one of usually two reasons: 1) he either doesn’t want to lose his job because of the security it provides; or 2) he wants to get that paycheque every month so that he doesn’t have to experience a life of struggle without money; or both.

You see, we operate more out of the pain, or perceived pain, we feel than we do out of the pleasure we experience when we get to our goal. We should use this to our advantage.

Think, for a moment, about the creative works you want to make and the goals you want to accomplish. As you imagine having those things come to life, focus on how good it feels to think about having those things you want. Now switch your focus to thinking about never having the opportunity to create a single piece you want, even though you have the ability to make those pieces and achieve those goals. How sad or angry or frustrated does that make you feel?

When we get frustrated, we build up a lot of potential energy to do a lot of good work. It’s that energy that we really need to channel into making the things we want. And the way to do that is to really experience the discomfort of not being able to make the things you imagine into a reality. That discomfort tends to be enough to drive you towards creating those things you can’t imagine living without.

Last Words

Being paralyzed creatively is never a good thing. But understand that it’s very temporary, and very easy to break through. As a creative, you enjoy challenges. And this, your creative block, is yet another challenge.

Whenever faced by a roadblock that stops you from being able to create the pieces you want, just take a moment to take in the frustration. Take a moment to acknowledge the fact that this block is stopping you from reaching your goal. Allow yourself to get frustrated. Then use that frustration to fuel your desire to create a way through the block and towards your creative goal.

As a creative, you enjoy challenges. And this, your creative block, is yet another challenge.

~ Brian Lawrence