Seven Things to Try When You’re Having a Creative Block
By Jess Powers
As creatives, we all have times when a design concept doesn’t quite come together or the words just don’t flow. In the workplace, you often have to push through those creative blocks at a quicker pace than you do on a personal project. Try out a few new methods to replenish those creative reserves.
Get Some Space
Once you’re staring at a blank screen for too long or going down a rabbit hole seeking elusive perfection before submission, know when to walk away. If you have the luxury of getting feedback from a colleague, this is the time to ask.
Some people try to slog through, but as frustration and stress mount, you’re less likely to solve the challenge or to get unstuck. Try to switch gears and return to the work with fresh eyes. Having a small win by finishing another task, like checking in with another team or sending that invoice, can shift your mindset.
A day off a project, if possible, will generally provide an opportunity for copywriters to catch a few lingering typos or the awkward phrases missed when reading the same piece over and over again.
It’s tempting to use this pause to check your phone or watch some cute cat videos. But a break in screen time can help you more effectively reset (and give your eyes a needed break). You could read a magazine, stretch, get a cup of coffee, chat with a colleague, tidy up your desk, or even fold laundry if you’re working remotely.
Work in Spurts
Better yet, learn to work with your brain’s natural productivity cycles. Our ultradian cycles alternate between 90 to 120 minutes of high frequency brain activity and 20 minute periods of less intensity when we’re awake. If you time your periods of deep concentration accordingly, you’ll find that it’s far easier to work through creative blocks.
Moving around or going for a walk is great, but the trick is to get out of your head and to feel more centered in your body. More intense physical exercise, like going for a run or hitting the gym on your lunch hour, could provide that shift. Releasing endorphins in the body reduces the stress of a creative block, and it’s not just exercise that does that — eating foods like chocolate and having a good belly laugh works too.
Ironically, another way to release those endorphins is by sitting still and getting centered. Meditation has a host of benefits for your health and well-being, but by learning to focus on the present moment, it is often possible to work through a creative block. Being in the moment clears your mind of other distractions, enabling you to address the task at hand.
In the longer term, a dedicated meditation practice can profoundly increase concentration. If you’re just getting started, the free app Insight Timer has an enormous library of guided meditations of varying lengths, tracks the amount of time that you meditate, and offers paid course content if you want to work on specific subjects.
Opt for a Change of Scenery
For many copywriters, writing is thinking, and much of that process doesn’t come naturally in front of the screen. If you have the opportunity to walk around, or to visit a gallery or city park, you can often work out the structure of a piece or resolve a lingering challenge by passively thinking about it as you wander.
The health benefits of walking in nature are vast, and creative types have long relied on nature to reset or inspire creativity. Composer John Cage famously taught mycology (mushroom identification) to his music composition students as a means of getting them to look at the world differently. If you can, getting out in nature is an effective way to get through a creative block for a design or concept.
Copywriters might find it helpful to use an adult coloring book when faced with writer’s block, while some visual creatives enjoy reading, socializing, or dancing. “Live music usually inspires me, though I am a 2D artist,” says Mandy Fraser, a painter, illustrator, and graphic designer living in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Other creatives use prompts to work through a slump. The Surrealists used games like the exquisite corpse and exercises such as automatic writing, which many artists and writers still employ. Joie Rey Cohen, a visual artist based in San Francisco, relies on online prompts to drive creativity and get unstuck. Some excellent suggestions include:
- 20 Artistic Prompts to Get You Through a Creative Slump
- 50 Visual Journal Prompts to Promote Drawing and Creative Thinking Skills
- 60+ Drawing Prompts for Daily Creativity
- 42 Art Prompts for Discovering New Creative Ideas
- 365 One Word Art Journal Prompts for Journaling & Creativity
Similarly, writing something lighthearted and fun might provide a needed break when you’re writing a lot of heavy pharmaceutical or financial content.
Jess Powers writes about marketing, food, and wellness. She has experience in nonprofit communications and emergency management. Follow her @foodandfury.