Overcoming Creative Blockades

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You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

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Creativity is that elusive gift which all humans struggle to conquer at some point in their life. Some jobs or hobbies require it more than others, but all of us know the anxiety that a perceived lack of creativity produces. The unhelpful nerves born from the feeling of being “stuck” can build on themselves until we are left paralyzed in procrastination and perfectionism. Whichever camp you find yourself in, the onslaught of blockades that cease your ability to move forward can take a frustrating tole on your creative process.

Whether it be boredom, fear, exhaustion or simply distraction, there are ways to shatter the walls that threaten to keep your ideas from developing. Here are a few exercises that can help in overcoming creative blockades, no matter what type of project you find yourself working on.

Map Your Mind

A “mind map” is designed to be a free-fall of thoughts and imagery. As an art student, I found that this exercise saved me from failing to meet creative deadlines over and over again. Start with a core word…and write it down in the middle of your paper. Draw “branches” or “bubbles” that jet out from this core word…connected to new words. These words can be accompanied by related sketches, sub words, or notes. There is no right or wrong word as the idea is to let your thoughts and visual inspirations flow and spur on new direction in your mind. For extra fun, put some craft into your mind map and make it something you can pin on the wall as a reminder of your brainstorm.

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Word Lists

While this concept isn’t complex, a word list can be a way to loosen the tightly wound knots creative frustration can weave in your brain. Take out a sheet of notebook paper or journal and simply write down a core word associated with your project. Next, write down every word that comes to your mind until you can think no more. Force yourself to write a LOT of words down and don’t skip over any. After you are finished you can leave your words as are, or you can circle the top 5 words that intrigue you…see where if these words lead to new ideas.

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Timed Sketching

Set a timer for 30 secs and sketch anything and everything that comes to your mind. This can be helpful even if your project is not “art” related. Do this over and over for as long as you need. What did you sketch? Did any ideas surprise you? The mental work it takes to really let go and sketch without worry of the outcome will often release new creativity and thought processes.

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Eliminate Distraction

If you find yourself easily distracted by excess noise, other people or electronic devices, turn them off. Make sure you can’t hear notifications from social networking sites, emails, apps or text messages. Turn on some peaceful music and create an environment where you can concentrate.

Know The Difference Between Inspiration and Comparison

Looking at other people’s work can be inspiring. However, if you start to compare your work (or lack there of in the moment) to others, it can quickly turn toxic. Remember that everyone struggles with their craft and has been stuck at one point or another. Know yourself, and therefore know when it’s time to stop looking at inspiration on Pinterest, blogs, etc. for the sake of your own peace of mind.

A Good Ol’ Fashioned Walk

Put all your notebooks, computers, tools or art supplies aside and go for a nice long walk. Allow yourself to experience the world around you. Use your cell phone or camera to record anything that spurs on your curiosity or creativity. When you return to your work space, you may just feel better and more clear minded.

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The thing to remember about creativity is that it’s a fickle and fair weathered companion, so be patient with yourself. While it’s easy to assume that you simply aren’t good enough, know that the craft of learning to work through creative blockades will produce great depth to your work process. With every pencil smudge during the wee hours of the morning, you will find your way back to your own unique ideas eventually, even if it takes some time to get there.

Images via Jenni Kupelian


Jenni is a photographer + blogger in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys tinkering in her art drawer and hanging out with her Corgi named Walter Matthau.

5 COMMENTS
  • Megan of Tried-and-True Blog February 20, 2014

    Bookmarking this article!

  • Stephanie Fisher February 9, 2014

    Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂 I love the “list” idea. Totally something I could pin onto the cork board above my desk.

  • Joanna February 8, 2014

    Wow. I’ve been looking for an article like this for a long time. As a dancer and choreographer, I’ve experienced many creative blocks. This encouraged me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Rachel February 7, 2014

    All good tips. I’ve really been struggling with this lately. I feel like I’m losing my mojo.

  • Christina Kwan February 7, 2014

    Great article, Jenni! I know from experience that all these things are crucial. 🙂

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