Creative blocks. Everyone runs up against them… even the most prolific artists and creators you know. The filmmaker who somehow produces three films a year? She has creative blocks. The painter you know who seems to have a different masterpiece completed weekly? They have creative blocks, too. What’s the difference between a creator who runs up against a block and keeps going, and a creator who lets a lack of inspiration shut them down? It’s pretty simple: one of them knows how to overcome a creative block.
If that’s not you, don’t beat yourself up. The truth is, no one is born knowing how to overcome a creative block. It’s a skill, that, like other skills, are learned through experience. I wrote recently about a creative block that I ran up against. At the time, it felt impossible to overcome. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t impossible, and the solution was simply taking time away from my creative work. But that’s not the answer 100% of the time for 100% of people. So let’s talk about some tips and tricks for overcoming a creative block and get you back on track to make something beautiful.
Like I just said, sometimes the answer to your problem is as simple as stepping away from your creative life and taking a break. I wrote a whole post about this, but it’s worth reiterating here; rest is an important part of the creative process, even if you don’t know it. Working all the time–even if it’s on something you love–is a surefire way to burn yourself out. Think of the things that make you feel rested, peaceful, and relaxed, and then do those things. This advice is twofold; one, if you hit a creative block, rest can help, but secondly, if you incorporate rest into your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule, you may find that you’re hitting fewer creative blocks in the first place.
A lot of filmmakers I know, and artists in general, feel like they need to be producing all the time in order to make their dreams come true. Have I told you about the multiple years that I spent teaching, working a second job, attending college as a full-time student, and working on my novels… every single day? The result wasn’t just that I hated my life. The work I produced during that time is simply not as good as the work I’m producing now that I prioritize rest as a part of my creative process. I was constantly running up against creative blocks and simply trying to power through them instead of taking the time to, you know, sleep at night. My work now that I have graduated, work 40 hours a week, and actually make time for other hobbies and time with loved ones is ten times better. I know this is easier said than done. We all have bills to pay and goals to achieve. But I promise that taking a break is an excellent way to overcome creative blocks.
Change the format.
Okay, maybe rest isn’t an option, or maybe you already prioritize rest and still don’t know how to overcome a creative block. Take a step back and change the format. If you’re writing a screenplay or a novel or a short story and don’t know how to proceed, what if you switched to handwriting for a while? What if you changed the font to something else, something wild like comic sans? What if you printed out your work and worked on the physical copy? This may seem too simple to work, but I promise it’s effective. Whenever I’m stuck and I know a break isn’t going to cut it, I simply change the format and suddenly I am able to see things from a totally new perspective.
You can take this advice and apply it to whatever format or stage of production you’re in. If you’re working on putting together a short film and the shot list is totally stumping you, what if you took your camera out and played around filming something totally unrelated for a few hours? If you’re working on an oil painting and can’t seem to quite get it right, what if you tried to create a collage that evokes the same emotions? Basically, anything that gets you thinking about your project in a new way is sure to inspire some ideas.
Don’t know how to change up your project? What if you just changed your scenery? This could be as simple as going to a coffee shop to work if you usually create in your home office, or as elaborate as booking a hotel room in a nearby city and having a mini artist’s retreat. You could do things like changing up your setting at home (think sitting on the couch instead of your bed to write, or lighting a new scented candle you’ve never used before.)
Did you know that movement has a connection to focus, performance, and cognitive function? As I write this, I’m walking on my desk treadmill, because I find it helps me stay focused and feel creative. Our CEO, Raven Whisnant, told me that she keeps a notepad on her for her morning runs because that’s when she gets all her best ideas. Are there ways you can create more opportunities for movement throughout your work day? Like rest, this both helps you overcome creative blocks and prevents them from happening in the first place. If you’re feeling stuck, see if you can go for a walk, do some light stretching, or hit the gym for a quick workout. Whatever form of movement you find you enjoy and works for your body is a great way to jumpstart your creativity. If you have time restrictions or physical limitations and can’t just go to a yoga class in the middle of the workday or get your money’s worth out of a gym membership, think of small things you can do throughout your day, like stretching when you first wake up or watching a Youtube video to guide you through some chair yoga.
Make the wrong thing.
Obviously every artist wants to see their creative vision come to life, regardless of if you’re creating a sculpture or producing an independent film. But sometimes, when you’re stuck, you just have to make the wrong thing. For example, you could kill off the main character in your romantic comedy screenplay, or storyboard a scene for your upcoming shoot in a way that 100% will not work. This is similar to changing the format, but in this exercise, I want you to push yourself to do something that absolutely cannot be part of the final product. Seeing the wrong thing, and running with it for as long as you can, may actually inspire you to think differently about what the right thing is.
Have a brainstorming session.
I’ve written before about building a creative community and finding the right creative partner, and honestly, both of those things are so key when you’re thinking about how to overcome a creative block. Remember, having a brainstorming session doesn’t mean you’re going to use all of the ideas that get thrown at you; like I said before, knowing what the wrong thing is may help you pinpoint the right thing. If you don’t have a creative partner or a critique buddy, think of someone in your life who might be willing to have a phone call or coffee date just to throw ideas around.
When I can’t quite figure out how to make a project work, I like to bounce ideas off of my spouse, who is not a writer but knows me well enough to help shape my work. I’ve helped friends create outlines for screenplays when they were stumped, and when I get notes from my agent that I’m not totally sure how to proceed with, I always turn to my writing group chat to see what they think. Write down all the ideas you come up with, and then really sit with them before you discard them, even if they seem totally off-base. You may surprise yourself with what thoughts help you move past your creative block.
Sometimes when I’m not sure how to overcome a creative block I do something that might seem strange; I create boundaries around my work. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, boundaries can force really exciting, creative ideas to take shape. That’s part of why I’m so passionate about micro-budget filmmaking! If you’re feeling totally stumped, throw out some new boundaries around your work and see what happens. You might set time limits for yourself, like writing down everything you can think of in 15 minutes and then stepping away. You might set restrictions on the actual work you’re creating, like trying to write a movie you can produce in your apartment in the span of a weekend. You might give yourself a deadline, like deciding that an art project is going to be complete by 5:00 on Friday, regardless of what it looks like.
Find some inspiration.
When I’m feeling particularly stuck with my writing, I take myself to a bookstore and find a book in my genre that appeals to me. This is both a fun treat and a way to expose myself to what other artists in my niche are working on. If you’re making a horror film, take the time to watch some scary movies. If you’re getting ready for a photoshoot, take some time to scroll through Pinterest and find inspo. Don’t just pay attention to what you like about other’s work; look closely at what you’d do differently as well. This will not only help you become inspired, it will also allow you to grow your craft, which I know we’re all looking to do.
These are my top tips on how to overcome a creative block. Do you have other ideas? Please hit me up and let me know!