How to Overcome a Creative Block
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Get Unstuck1 of 9
By Katherine Berg
There's nothing quite like the feeling of getting in a creative flow—when the ideas come, one epiphany after another, and you just can't wait to get to work. But then, of course, there are days when the muse is nowhere to be found. Eight artists share their tips for climbing out of a rut and getting your creative groove back.
Take a Walk2 of 9
Maira Kalman—illustrator of dozens of New Yorker covers, author of 30 (and counting) celebrated books for adults and children, and all-around creative genius—believes that sometimes the best way to get out of a creative rut is to simply start walking. In her own process, stepping out into the world can set in motion a helpful little journey that distracts from too much overthinking. As you walk, Kalman says in this THNKR interview, you may find that "all of a sudden, your brain is clear and empty. And wonderful things happen when your brain is empty."
Make a List3 of 9
In Zen in the Art of Writing, acclaimed author Ray Bradbury suggests that making lists can be a way to harness the genius of the subconscious mind. But he's not talking about the list that begins with "pick up the dry-cleaning." When a creative block stands in the way of imagination, Bradbury believes that first we need to practice tuning in to the deepest parts of our minds. Free-writing a list of images that surface from it can reveal useful patterns, helping us uncover new inspiration and our very best ideas.
Be Bad4 of 9
Sometimes the best way to get around a creative block is to just claw your way over it—even if it's not pretty. Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goon Squad, says you just have to be OK with making bad stuff in order to ultimately create something worthwhile. "For me," she says in an interview on the blog The Days of Yore, "the bad stuff is just something to build on. It's no big deal." Egan assures us that if you just sit around waiting for moments of brilliant creativity, you're more than likely to get stuck in a perpetual state of creative blockage.
Get in the Zone5 of 9
In The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, celebrated choreographer Twyla Tharp says that "in order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative." Tharp points out that athletes often prepare with a "triggering ritual," like dribbling a basketball twice or touching both socks and the brim of a baseball hat. "In this repeated action, the athlete automatically replaces doubt and fear with comfort and routine." Whether it's striking a warrior pose or kissing your laptop, do something that will help you get out of your head and into the zone.
Space Out6 of 9
Joyce Carol Oates, author of over 40 novels in addition to short story collections, novellas, plays, poetry, and essays, is nothing if not prolific. Which makes her advice for finding inspiration surprising: "I spend most of my time looking out the window (I recommend it)," Oates says in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, and Art. "Entire mornings can slip by in a blissful daze of preoccupation." Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best way around a creative block. So go ahead and space out. Let the mind wander its way into fresh thinking.
Meditate On It7 of 9
In his book, Catching the Big Fish, David Lynch describes how meditation has helped him access his most profound creative visions. Lynch writes about the importance of trusting intuition. Unfortunately when we're blocked, we lose that ability to feel our way toward new ideas and creative problem solving. For Lynch, meditation is a way to stay in touch with our instincts and sharpen our intuition. By "diving into the Self," he says, we locate "an ocean of consciousness … an ocean of solutions."
Take Action8 of 9
Actor Rainn Wilson has advice for cases of prolonged, seemingly insurmountable creative block—the kind that a walk, a drink, an afternoon spent staring out the window just won't budge. Sometimes, Wilson says in an interview for Big Think, "you have to change up your life completely … go on a trip, spend a year being of service. Be willing to take some major drastic action to get you out of your comfort zone."
Be Patient9 of 9
Sometimes getting through a block just takes time. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird (required reading for any aspiring writer), believes that patience is key to unlocking that creative genius. "Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train," she says. "You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper."
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