To overcome being creatively blocked, we need to overcome the cultural romanticisation of the creative act. We need to stop thinking in terms of genius outliers like Bill Gates, Michelangelo, Jim Hendrix and TS Elliot. We need to start turning on the rational mind to see what binds and unites them, what they have in common, what can be learned from their success as innovative, creative individuals.
It’s too easy to write them off as freaks and genii. That gives YOU too much of a free pass to not even try. So, let’s look at some manifestations of creative blockage.
1) You Were so creative when you were young…
But now you can’t draw a stick man. This is where you need to stop saying this and have a simple and honest look at how you spend your time as an adult. Mostly, a quick assessment of your hours will reveal that all your working hours are spent working, worrying, eating, socialising and watching TV (in one way or another). You’re probably doing well in your career and could have a decent relationship. Because this is where ALL your time goes.
When you were a kid, there was art class, you made things to impress your parents, you got showered with praise for doing things so you did more. To develop your eye-hand coordination, your teachers made time and space available for you to do these things.
To re-kickstart your creative juices, you as the adult in this situation, need to do the same. Make space in the schedule and do creative things in that space… repeatedly!
2) I can’t create/innovate unless I am inspired…
You’re probably drinking too much and doing too much coke in the process as you seek out those mythic highs of creative output. Inspiration exists and it is a joy. But it’s not a passive process. Mostly people who complain of a lack of inspiration suffer from a lack of creative input as well. Their lives have become all about the output and not about being in the presence of great art and ideas. You need to refuel, re-think, absorb, stew, percolate.
Inspiration is a bit like the concept of active rest in sport… you need to be doing something other than creating, that none the less involves creation. Like reading terrific books, going to an art gallery, investigating exciting inventions, brainstorming crazy ideas with friends, contemplating the universe while walking through a forest in autumn.
Again, you need to have space in your life for this refuelling. You need to look after your muse.
3) I’m never happy with what I start so I never finish anything…
Never being happy with something implies that you KNOW how it is supposed to turn out. If you’re being creative, how do you know? There are two things that are commonly going on here.
1, you are just terrified that it’s not good enough and thus endlessly work and rework everything, declaring it never finished to avoid any judgement on its value.
2, you have such strong ideas about WHAT it is that you are doing that you cannot tolerate any deviations or extrapolations. Except that, once you have been going for a while, it all get repetitious and you get stuck.
Both are solved with the same response: let go.
4) I work and work and work on ideas, but they never spark…
Yeah this does happen. However, don’t give up, switch your focus to something else. Very often the hard work you just put in will help create something else new and wonderful. Don’t worry about false starts. One day when you’re stuck with something else, you’ll come back to the false start and finish that with a flash of inspiration.
The point is you must keep working, honing your skills, getting better technically, getting better at channelling your ideas into things. Some days it’ll go great, some days not. But nothing you ever do is wasted. It’ll come back around again one day, it’ll be useful. In a curious way, you must trust yourself.
5) I’m not a creative person, I’m boring I can’t do anything…
Sorry for you, but creativity is the human condition. You might just be more used to calling your creativity problem solving and thinking of it as a purely rational, reductional and analytical process. It is all these things, but it is the solutions that you synthesise from the prior processes that make it creative. Every creative act involves reduction, analysis and synthesis.
You might just be the kind of creative person who prefers within a rigid framework of routine and systems. That’s fine you know, art and innovation can look like that too. Try turning those ferocious problem-solving skills of yours onto the subject of inventing something new, making a painting, a sculpture, writing a book. Follow your logical nose, join the dots then colour in the spaces and… yeah, you just created something.
In business, many companies fail because they fail to keep pace with change. When this happens, they lament that they just couldn’t come up with anything new or great to help them keep up with the competition. An analysis of the way those company works always reveals the same thing: there is no time for innovation built into ANYONE’s schedules. It’s all just doing the work. No-one has an eye on the horizon, is thinking about What if…. They are always the guys who get taken by surprise when someone else says, ‘Hey I wonder what would happen if I….’
This is the fundamental rule of creativity: you must make space for it and practice it. Forget the 10 000 hours of mastery for a moment, that’s not what I am talking about. Look at your life and make space for the act. Show how important it is to you by building it into your life and then DO it. Work on things. If it’s been a while you’ll probably be crap. Don’t worry about that, carry on, you’ll get better.
And don’t forget to stop along the way to smell the flowers and recharge the batteries.