10 Tips For Overcoming Creative Block
25.10.20Reading Time 6 MINUTES
Creative block. The dreadful, infuriating tediousness of a brain that won’t switch on.
It’s sh*t. We know. And we know you know.
But as a team of creatives who feel your pain, we’ve gathered our most turned to tips and tricks that help us through the head fog.
Most of these tips you’ll already know – they’re nothing groundbreaking – but when you’re stuck in the depths of creative block, you’ll most certainly need reminding of them. So when you need a little pick-me-up, you can always refer back to this blog.
1. Leave it
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott
Step. Away. From. Your Desk.
It might seem like the most counterproductive thing to do when you’re already feeling behind, but sometimes you just need to switch yourself off and on again.
Giving your brain a break, even for 15 minutes, allows you to alleviate the mental fatigue of a creative block and re-tackle your work with a fresh mindset.
So this is your gentle reminder to drink a glass of water, grab a coffee and have a chat with someone who eases your mind or makes you laugh – the simple things that make great energy boosters.
2. Focus on another task
“Instead of focusing on the circumstances that you cannot change – focus strongly and powerfully on the circumstances that you can.” – Joy Page
When you’re struggling with creative block, it might be a good time to take a look at that list of ‘little stuff’ that you keep putting off. We all have one – it includes stuff like: organise emails, plan week ahead, tidy desk, check-in on a client.
They’re the tasks that require zero creativity and little brain power, but keep you organised and connected. When you’re stuck in a rut they can be great things to focus on, because there’s nothing quite like ticking off a task to make you feel like you’ve got yourself together. Even if the tasks are small, a tick is a tick my friend.
The motivation you get from small wins can really get those creative juices flowing.
3. Re-read the brief
“When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” – Clifton Fadiman
The answer to your creative block could be staring you straight in the face, in the form of your initial brief.
When you reread something, your understanding deepens, new words might jump out at you, a new story might unfold, and small nuances you didn’t catch the first time around might take you in a completely different direction.
Did you hear that? It’s your brain reactivating!
4. Get some fresh air
“Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder
When stepping away from your desk isn’t cutting it, it’s time to step away from the entire premises and slam the door shut in the face of creative block.
We all know that the benefits of fresh air are plentiful – but how often do we practice what we know to be a surefire way of recharging our batteries and keeping us sane?
Taking a break from work can sometimes leave us feeling guilty, especially when there’s a looming deadline. But what good is it to sit at your computer feeling increasingly frustrated with yourself? Time outdoors will benefit you and the work you produce – so if you need to step outside, consider it as part of the process.
So take a deep breath in, let the oxygen fill your lungs and enjoy your well-deserved buzz of serotonin.
When you’re back at your desk, you’ll be back to yourself.
5. Revisit your research
“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and think what nobody has thought.” – Albert Szent-Györgyi
To our designers, research is everything. It’s what fuels their ideas and allows them to shape different design directions in which to focus their creative energy.
It’s one of the first and most crucial steps in their process before they get stuck into the actual design of any project.
But let’s get one thing straight, taking a step backwards in your process ISN’T taking a step backwards in your progress.
If you’re stuck on a particular design, it might be that you’ve taken the wrong direction.
Go back to your research.
Yes, it essentially means starting from scratch – but if you aren’t inspired by your idea, it’s no wonder you have creative block.
Seek out research that excites you, and your imagination will run wild.
6. Ask for help
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” – Maya Angelou
Far too often do we suffer alone in the fear that asking for help will mean we’re admitting defeat. But seeking the advice of people around you, whether that’s friends, family, or colleagues, is one of the most effective ways of overcoming creative block.
Their fresh take on things might spark a lightbulb moment in your mind, or they might have a brilliant idea of their own that you can execute in your unique way.
Make no mistake, when you’re working together on something, their brilliant ideas are YOUR brilliant ideas. And if that’s not the mentality, you’re in the wrong place. There’s no i in team and all that!
Sometimes, we simply just can’t do it alone, and that’s perfectly fine. Why have people around you if not to help one another? Besides, you’ll almost certainly return the favour one day.
7. Utilise your Notes app
“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult
You know that hopeless feeling you get when you’re staring at a blank page, willing your brain to kick in but… nothing.
It leads to an entire day of frustration and an entire commute home (or commute from the spare room to the living room – thanks, Covid) of feeling completely deflated in your lack of creative oomph all day.
Then all of a sudden it’s 9pm, you’ve just settled down on the sofa having left your slow day at work behind you and BOOM! Flowing through your brain are beautiful sentences, concept ideas, taglines, colourways, you name it, you’ve got it.
“Ah, I’ll remember these in the morning when I’m back at my desk!” you tell yourself in pure relief that you haven’t completely lost your mojo.
But seldom does your brain allow you that luxury.
This tip might sound simple but please, no matter what time an idea comes to you, take full advantage of that little device you carry everywhere and write it down for goodness sake! You’ll thank yourself later.
8. Get organised
“Organising is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A. A. Milne
Without wanting to sound like a teacher, keep your work tidy! And we don’t mean your desk (although granted, your physical surroundings do also impact on the way you work). We mean your workload.
It’s hard enough to concentrate, let alone be creative when there are a million things flying around in your head.
We use Asana, an online work management tool, to organise our projects and tasks. It’s like feng shui for your brain and honestly – it’s a lifesaver.
Designating specific days for specific tasks and planning timescales out correctly allows you to focus on one thing at a time. If you have five different projects floating around in your head at the same time, it’s impossible to give your full creative attention to one.
9. Take a trip down memory lane
“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela
Our Studio Manager, Abi, added this one in, and it’s just, *sob*, lovely.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with creative block, set aside some time to remind yourself of what you’re capable of.
All those past projects you smashed, the clients who are thrilled to bits with the work you’ve produced, the impact you’ve made on others, that other thing you were stuck on but turned out stunning…
Truth is, you can do it! Give yourself a pat on the back and allow your past achievements to lift your spirits. You’ll soon be back in the driving seat of creativity.
10. Don’t panic
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain
‘Don’t panic!’ – it’s like telling someone to calm down (it rarely makes them calm down and if anything, exacerbates the situation).
But seriously, don’t panic. You are certainly not alone! Creative block is not the end of the world and it will pass. If it’s taking longer to pass than you’d like, then please refer to the above, but specifically the part about speaking up about it.
Being vocal about the hurdles we’re facing has always proven to be the best remedy for us at designdough; when there are people around you willing you on to succeed, the anguish of creative block slowly dissipates, giving you brain space to do your thing.
Besides, creative block is basically a rite of passage to being a true creative! So if nothing else, welcome to the team.