American writer Sylvia Plath journaled about a terrifying experience of creative stagnation. “If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave - in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head,” she accounted before going on to write her semi-autobiographical masterpiece, The Bell Jar.
Creative professionals across different fields, be it fine arts or website design, often face a similar problem. All pumped up on motivation and ready to create something great, they are simultaneously unable to pursue this very same motivation. The artistic gifts, in their capriciousness, can one minute sweep us away with ingenuity, then drain us free of any speck of imagination, the next.
There are many possible reasons for a creative block to surface, apart from the wavering moods of creativity. Those reasons range from the emotional (such as fear, self-doubt, and perfectionism), to personal or financial issues that get in the way of the creative work.
If you’re facing an artistic recession of your own, read on for actionable (and comforting) tips for overcoming a creative block, and for getting back to the task at hand feeling inspired and rejuvenated:
01. Take a step back
Creative block can sometimes serve as a much-needed pause for contemplating the project, before going into the execution phase. Remember that even when you’re not producing any actual work, you might still be moving the project forward.
When a project gets sluggish, you might feel inclined to distance yourself from the drawing board for a bit. This initial gut feeling has its benefits, because while you’re being seemingly inefficient, your mental wheels could still be hard at work, getting it all formulated and ready to go out into the world.
In case you have a deadline breathing down your neck, you might not have the privilege of setting aside some time off. Nevertheless, feeling stuck might be a good reminder to dedicate some time, even as little as a few minutes, to think the project through before diving deep into it.
02. Brave through a digital detox
There are plenty of beautiful social accounts and inspirational online resources to get your ideas flowing. And while the internet does have its ways of filling us with great insights and quality content, it also tends to feel overwhelming during a creative block.
It’s therefore recommended to step away from your laptop, mute your phone and put it away for a set amount of time. A decent dose of digital wellness can help you clear your head and reduce feelings of FOMO. It can also relieve the constant measuring of your work in comparison to other professionals in your field, as we too often do.
To make the most out of your time offline, consider going for a long walk outside, an activity known to boost your mood and get your mind working. Alternatively, you could opt for a mind-numbing chore that uses up very little of your inner creativity - the more repetitive, the better. Doing the dishes or cleaning the house will allow your mind to wander, at the end of which you might find yourself fresh with motivation. A visit to a design museum might also help put the fun back into inspiration for your work.
03. Find new sources of inspiration
Keeping up with works by other creatives in your discipline is a commendable practice and a reliable well of inspiration. Yet during a creative rough-patch, seeing other people’s polished and completed works often results in self-criticism and frustration. Overwhelmed by too many best portfolio examples?
Instead, try opening up to different sources of inspiration. You could leaf through interesting magazines, design blogs, or exquisite graphic design books, and listen to some of the best design podcasts out there. Meet up with your creative community in events and conferences, or visit gallery and museum exhibitions.
Note that it’s worth to look outside of your own creative discipline, too. As a ceramicist, you might look to fine art photography for a breath of fresh air. A typographer or illustrator might turn to film, indulging in the many graphic design movies or explore design magazines.
04. Allow time for self-care
Feeling invested and caring about the things that we do is always beneficial for getting them done right. When it comes to creativity, this truth becomes evermore pressing. The act of making things is inherently linked to our psyche, subconsciousness, sense of self-esteem, and many other things that most people reserve for the psychiatrist's couch. As a result, our artistic endeavors are hard to summon on demand.
This next remedy for creative block is possibly the most fun of all: take care of you. Pamper your body and soul with anything from a soothing spa day to a good workout and nutritious meals, to an especially long beauty sleep. These acts of self-kindness can boost your wellbeing, helping you focus better and be more productive. Your graphic design portfolio and work will be better for the time you take away to care for yourself.
05. Work your way through it
Despite the above mentioned claims, creative work can also be just that - work. And in some cases, you simply have to apply yourself, commit, and grind your way through it. You might also find it helpful to listen to your favorite feel-good productivity music at this point. Make as many bad drafts and dull revisions as it takes and go down endless different routes until finally reaching the one that you kind of, sort of like. Once you have that much - keep working to refine it until it’s gold.
06. Play and experiment
One way to make perseverance easier is by treating your project like less of a chore, and more like a chance to play and experiment. Try to let go of the pressures of creating something amazing, and replace effectiveness for curiosity. Think outside of the box and attempt weird, silly methods of approaching the brief that you’re not accustomed to trying. Have fun and explore your own creativity in ways that would ultimately surprise you.
07. Surround yourself with other creatives
For freelance designers and other creatives who work independently, work can often be an extremely solitary affair. When coping with creative block, meet up with friends whose professional opinion you trust, for advice or a brainstorming session. You could also schedule to meet with a friend to work side-by-side on your separate projects, a practice that can help inspire and motivate you both.
Connecting with your creative community can also contribute greatly to your productivity. Attend events that are frequented by people in your professional circle, not only to mingle and network as you journey towards becoming a freelance graphic designer - but also to reignite the spark and remind yourself of what it is that you love about doing what you do. By then, hopefully, inspiration will be an effortless outcome.
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