One of the biggest obstacles I face in any endeavor I embark upon is maintaining consistency. Anyone who has ever embarked on a creative pursuit inevitably encounters the debilitating creative block.
The block is a common obstacle ending in one of three results: they find the fuel they need to keep going, they stagnate indefinitely, or they burn out and quit.
I start my goal with passionate momentum and I’ll make sweeping progress. And after covering all this ground, my gas light inevitably comes on signaling that I am low on fuel. If I’m lucky I simply lose time as I pull over to refill my tank.
But it seems I’d more often face the worst-case scenario. I simply can’t find that gas station. I waited too long before reacting to the inevitable and now I am in the middle of nowhere.
And so, I come to a sputtering stop, burnt out and stranded without a drop of fuel in sight.
Creative blocks are common. Efficiently overcoming them is not.
Fortunately, the creative block is so universal that most creative professionals can collectively identify and relate to it. In fact, many appropriate as (insert profession here)’s block. And there is a certain comfort in knowing that when we do run out of gas, that, at least, we are not stranded alone.
This debilitating creative block is common to the creative experience. The avoidance of it is futile. The preparation for it is paramount. The reaction to it is everything.
Some stay where they stalled. They grow content with their circumstance, too incapacitated to go on. Some turn around completely, retreating to the familiar. And then there are some that wander by foot until they find enough fuel to get going again.
Below are a few ways I have found my fuel to keep going.
1 | Prepare for the inevitable
Creative blockages are as guaranteed as death and taxes so preparation is key. When a storm is coming, basic instinct tells us to stock up on the necessities in case of disaster.
So, if one day, you find that you are experiencing a stint of productivity or inspiration, try to capitalize on this constructive vibe. Create as much as you can and place the products in reserve.
This is a ready-to-go arsenal that requires little to no preparation when needed. These are your creative canned goods. So on the days when your brain goes AWOL, you have plenty of fuel to sustain yourself.
A writer may keep a few spare unpublished articles that can quickly be edited or published later. A designer may have some designs on hand as foundation for a project that can easily be tuned up. No matter how long they sit in the back of the shelf collecting dust, they never expire and are always ready at a moment’s notice.
2 | Create a blockage template
The creative profession rarely allows for one to run completely on autopilot. Creatives are expected to constantly churn out new and unique content. The inability to autopilot is a gift and a curse, as any passionate endeavor should usually be done with full mental, physical and spiritual presence. But it can be a bit of drag when you just literally cannot function that day.
Creating a preemptive blueprint for slow brainwave days helps fill in the blanks that creative blocks tend to create. Templates can provide a skeletal outline that briefly allows exhausted brains to switch to autopilot without being unproductive or spurious.
A personal go-to article style, design template or wardrobe choice does half of the work you so that you can switch to cruise control.
3 | Create a realistic routine
If your mind grows used to doing something, like brushing your teeth or taking a vitamin, it becomes a natural habit. A habit makes it less of a hassle to ensure a task’s completion on a regular basis. If you perform the same task at the same time every day, it will become a routine that you will easily gravitate towards regardless of your mood or circumstance. You’re on autopilot. You no longer need willpower or motivation to get it done.
But we should approach the task of training our actions to become habits with a degree of concrete realism. It is a bit too ambitious, and thus rarely habitual, to set out to routinely paint a masterpiece after you get out of the shower or to write a feature-length article because that’s just what you do every day at 10:30 am.
But creating rational, easily repetitive habits that are foundational to these grand efforts. The implementation of rational triggers can increase the chance that these grander results occur with more frequency.
For example, I may endeavor to implement a habit to read each morning followed by an entry in my journal. Or it may be lucrative to allocate 30 minutes to draw in my sketchbook, or to meditate before starting my day.
These kinds of easily-adaptable habits can facilitate the mindset and building blocks to contribute towards our larger, overall goals.
4 | Rest.
Many times, when we hit a productive glitch, it’s just our mind/body/soul telling us it needs a break. Chugging past these signals will turn a stall into a complete blowout. Allow for time to decompress and revitalize. Be gentle with yourself. Rest and renewal are just as important to your journey as momentum and consistency.
It is more effective to refuel before you run out completely.
When you are on a road trip, you know your tank will take you a certain distance before you need to get more gas. But a savvy driver knows to fill up before the car is just burning fumes. It is better for efficiency and for general maintenance of the car. You are no different. You need to take care of yourself so that you can operate at peak performance.
I tend to hate taking breaks because I feel like I am losing too much time. But even though I save time in the short term, it is not sustainable. In the long run, it will take more time to reset from empty.
5 | Have a go-to for inspiration
The most discouraging part of a creative block is the sheer uselessness and demotivation that plagues our entire psyche.
Many times, when we’re blocked, we resort to distraction and entertainment. Netflix becomes your best friend. Your bed has never looked cozier. All aboard the Facebook Express! But pitstops don’t have to be futile.
In this downtime, I try to occupy those idle moments with inspiration and education. I stockpile inspiration just for this occasion. Digital tools like podcasts, Pinterest or Instagram allow me to sort and save gems that I can refer to when I need to. I create mood boards and review old magazines to keep my mind stimulated. And before I know it, I have a renewed energy.
If you can fill this time with inspiration, you’ll be back on the road in no time. Whether it’s a place, a song, a journal, make sure you know where to go when you need an inspiring refuge while you are recharging.
6 | Explore the source
Even though creative blocks are inevitable, rarely should they ever be chronic. If you have a longer lull than usual, there may be some underlying cause. The culprit could be a number of things.
Analyzing your overall stress levels and wellness may reveal an area in your life that may need a change. Once you identify the source, try to moderate, detox or completely uproot its influence in your life.
7 | Keep your goals and objectives clear
Blockages that turn into burnout can turn your entire mindset into such a state of frantic nothingness. This stress can blur our previous clarity.
We forget where we are heading or why we started going there in the first place. Keeping your objectives in front of you is paramount to getting back on the road, completely refueled with motivation. Keep your goals and inspiration in an easily accessible place so you can maintain your sense of clarity and focus.
8 | Imitate to Innovate
A great way to get those creative juices flowing again is to imitate your mentors. It may feel tacky to copy someone else’s work. But along the way, you will likely find your own voice within their context. And the results will be entirely different than the original.
How do you power through a creative block?
Also published on Medium.