Here you are again. Staring at a blank page. A brand new empty canvas. Audition pages; challenging you to come up with a take that can’t be resisted. You’re stuck. It’s frustrating. You don’t like this one bit. So, what do you do? If you’re stuck in a creative block, how do you get out? Could there possibly be 5 steps? Or do you need more.?
There isn’t one creative person that doesn’t have these moments. Here are some tips; some steps; some words of wisdom from other artists; to help you get through what sometimes seems a Sisyphean task. Creative blocks are challenging, for sure.
But, no, you aren’t condemned to these blocks forever. Trust me. Give these ideas a try.
#1. Shitty 1st Drafts
Don’t fool yourself. Shitty first drafts are just fine. Or shitty first starts on whatever your creative task is. In fact; they’re normal and necessary. No one gets it right on the first try (unless you’ve been lucky enough to be blessed once or twice with some extraordinary inspiration).
That’s certainly not the norm. And, if you put yourself in that demanding box, well … it’s a difficult one to climb out of. And, you’re stuck in a creative block if you put those kinds of demands on yourself.
Take writer Anne Lamott’s advice: “Get it all down. Let it pour out of you and onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Yes, just get something on the page. Anything. Don’t even think for a moment it has to come out without a fault. In fact, the idea of perfection is a curse. To create, you have to free yourself from the idea of anything being perfect.
The idea of divine inspiration and an aha moment is largely a fantasy. Anything of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication. If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working.” — Sydney Pink
Yes. Do not give up. Just keep working.
#2. Revise, Revise, Revise.
No, don’t think it has to come out perfect right away. That’s fuel for being stuck in a creative block, for sure. Try to remember that revising is the number one important part of creativity. Nothing you create will (or needs to) come out of you fully formed. Or, I guess we could say, sprung from your head like Athena from Zeus’. In fact, that’s not normal. It only happens to the Gods. Or as Chuck Close says (in an opposite sentiment):
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” — Chuck Close
Anyway, the fun is in the editing. As many writers say: Revise. Revise. Revise. Just try not to get caught up in that self-critical perfectionistic loop. Smoothing out that shitty 1st draft; making it into something you can be proud of – well, that’s where the real creative work begins.
Play with the words; or the ideas; or the paint on the canvas (I’m not a painter so if you are, you probably have a better way to put it.) The idea is to play. To enjoy. Not to take it all too seriously. Let it flow.
And, if you get stuck again … there is nothing wrong with taking a little break.
#3. Give Yourself A Reprieve
You’ve been working hard all day. Focused on coming up with the right hook; the best transition; a new angle for an article you are writing. You’re stuck, but you keep racking your brain. Trying new things; drawing this or that out; nothing seems to work.
But, you’re afraid if you stop; you won’t get it done; you’ll never get back to it. And, you just can’t give yourself a rest.
Do. You’ll be better off for it. Take a walk. Take a bath. Do something else. Go have fun. Hang out with a friend. Do your hair. Go dancing. Play with your dogs. Watch a movie with your kids. Take a moment. Stop obsessing and trying too hard to figure it out. Let go. The creative answer will be there.
“All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate.” — Julio Cortázar
He’s right. During your distraction (or whatever fun you’re having), the answer might just show up. It will pop into your head when you least expect it. Isabel Allende said: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.”
It’s true. If you keep trying to make the muse come; she might not want to; especially if that critical voice in your mind leaves no room for imagination. And, that critical voice (or bully, we could call it) is one sure way to get stuck in a creative block.
#4. Tell That Bully To Leave You Alone
That Bully in your head, I mean. He gets you every time. Every creative person has one: a harsh critic; an internal saboteur that goes at you constantly. Do these sound familiar?
“This is no good. Don’t even bother to start because it won’t be what anyone wants anyway. Who is going to like this idea? There are other better ones out there. Much more talented people. You clearly don’t have what it takes. Why don’t you just give up on this whole thing?”
On and on he goes. He thinks you should be perfect. Certainly doesn’t believe in shitty 1st drafts or anything of the like. Gets you in his grips and he won’t let go. Some of the greatest artists of all time knew it well. And, their advice? Don’t listen. At least if you can help it.
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent Van Gogh
Remember this: there is nothing wrong with shitty 1st drafts. Or imperfect 2nd drafts either. And, if it’s just too hard, you can get some help.
#5 You Don’t Have To Go It Alone
Tell yourself this: if the Bully in your mind is winning the battle and you can’t do it alone; there isn’t any shame in getting some help. There’s no reason to keep fighting that stuck and demoralizing place you find yourself in way too often.
You might not realize, or maybe you do, but sometimes the root of these creative blocks go back to childhood experiences. To a lack of encouragement; negative beliefs about what you can do; are “supposed” to do; or “shouldn’t do.”
Blocks are also rooted in old difficulties with self-esteem, and feeling others are better than you are. All of these old struggles can definitely provide fuel for the fires that block your creativity.
“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda
Still Stuck? Discover More In Psychotherapy
Self-discovery isn’t only true in creativity. It’s true of psychotherapy too. If you’re having a difficult time digging your way out, psychotherapy might just give you a guiding light to get you to the end of that tunnel.
You don’t have to go it alone. Look for a therapist who understands what it means to be a creative person. But, also how much old childhood fantasies about who you are or aren’t can get in the way.
You may be surprised. Being in a deep (and creative) therapeutic process can release you to be freer – not to only create, but to be more fully who you are. And, that is the real foundation for finding your own voice.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Los Angeles based psychologist and psychoanalyst. I work with creative people of all ages struggling with creative blocks, self-doubt, and a bullying voice that sabotages creativity. If these 5 steps don’t work, you don’t have to live this way. Give psychotherapy a try.