Creative block (the evil sister of writer’s block and the unwanted daughter of unmotivation) hits us all at some point in our lives, and often in our daily routine. As designers, creative block can be a cancer to our work, spreading and spreading until our mind produces absolutely nothing at all, leaving us to bang our heads aimlessly at the keyboard or stare at the ceiling for several hours on end.
For a designer who is put under a time limit by a client, this time waster can be lethal, and doesn’t just mean lack of inspiration and ideas, but also lack of money. So how then, can we get out of the dreaded creative block and stimulate our minds into fifth gear? Well different things work well for different people, and it is all about finding what is right for you and the way your mind works, but I am going to discuss a variety of tips and techniques that I find work well for me, so that you guys can try out their levels of success on yourselves.
Firstly, Stay Positive
To overcome a mental block we must understand what causes it. Mind blocks occur when we know that we have a task to do but there are external factors that are subconsciously ‘blocking’ us from focusing on these tasks. How many times have you sat there at the desk thinking ‘come on think, think!’ when all you can really think about is the fact that you can’t actually think! Well the first step to overcome this is to stay positive, and tell yourself ‘I can do this’. This helps you subconsciously to believe that your goal is possible, and the following steps will help you clear your mind of any distracting external factors once this is achieved.
Additionally, surround yourself with positivity. Depending on where we work; at home, in the office or somewhere completely different; we are surrounded by different types of people. Try as much as you can to stay away from negativity around the workplace. If you know those around you often moan or complain, try and shut yourself off for a bit so you can wholly concentrate on yourself. On the other hand, if you know people who are usually positive, or know how to motivate you, then stop for small chats with these people to take a break from your work; once you come back to your screen you will be fresh-minded and positive.
1. Drink lots of water and eat lots of fruit. I know ‘eat healthily’ seems to be the answer to everything these days, but it honestly does help to keep a fresh, creative mind. GQ says that ‘A University of Alabama trial fed rats 200mg of vitamin C twice a day and found that it almost stopped the secretion of stress hormones in the toothy little blighters. An OJ a day might just keep the worries at bay.’ They also suggest that coffee, although providing a quick boost in our energy levels can ‘raise the pulse and blood pressure, and studies show it may also increase blood cholesterol’, therefore increasing stress levels.
2. Eat plenty of carbs. GQ says ‘Complex carbohydrates help boost the body’s production of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical. According to wellscotland.info, “the carbs present in one baked potato are enough to relieve the anxiety of a stressful day”. Alternative feel-good carbs include bread, pasta and rice.’
3. Be realistic and honest with your clients. ‘Conflict between what we want to say, and what we actually feel we can say, causes great stress. The solution is to do what most people are reluctant to do – be honest’. If you feel as if you have set an unrealistic deadline for yourself, be honest with the client rather than stressing and doing a poor job.
4. Have sex. Obviously not right in the middle of a project, but GQ says that ‘An orgasm releases beta-endorphins in the brain, leading to feelings of relaxation and well-being. Alternatively, just have a cuddle, or even hold hands. A study from the University of North Carolina showed that any form of loving contact significantly lowered blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations.’ For those stressful nights before a big deadline then, sex can be the solution to calm yourself down for a peaceful night’s sleep.
5. Get a dog. For those who work at home, they find it can get a bit lonely at times. GQ says that owning a pet and interacting with animals ‘shows improvement in a number of areas, including lowering levels of anxiety. Dogs also provide unconditional love and stave off loneliness.’
6. Finally, get financial advice. For those working freelance there are often stressful periods where little work is coming in and money is an issue. GQ says ‘Stress is often linked to financial worries, which are almost always solvable. Get a financial planner to help you through any minefields – it’s what they do.’
Listen to Music
Although I discussed earlier external factors such as the TV being distracting, music can actually help to boost creativity as I’m sure you are aware. Studies on children have shown that when Mozart is played in the classroom, productivity is considerably increased. It is no different for designers, where music can help to stimulate creativity. Mozart may not be to everyone’s taste, but I find that instrumental music or songs with little words such as drum and bass certainly help put me in the creative mood. For those who work in the office this may not be the easiest technique, but some offices are even implementing playing music into their daily routine to create a relaxed atmosphere and boost productivity.
Take a Break
On those occasions where you are just sat in front of your computer screen for hours on end praying for an idea or burst of creativity to come to you, I find there is only one solution: take a break. Get up and go somewhere with a completely different change of scenery. Take the dog for a walk, pick the kids up for school, do the washing, do anything that takes your mind off your work. Studies show that activities that require both mind and body to complete them use up more of the brain, allowing us to take our mind off of the project for a while. I often find that when I later come back to the desk with a fresh mind a new idea hits me, or I even come up with an idea during the activity I am doing to take a break. It may seem time wasting to be away from the desk, but it saves more time than sitting in front of your computer doing nothing and staring aimlessly at the screen.
An experiment led by researchers at National Cheng Kung University showed that by allowing a mouse to run as much as it likes stimulates it’s brain power. By pushing it further and making it run a little more than it usually would, its thinking improved even more. It is the same for us; when we are feeling a little brain dead, a short period at the gym or going for a run can stimulate those brain cells back into action. When you know you have a long period of work or a large project ahead of you, assign yourself breaks for exercise throughout the day.
Be Confident in Yourself
Sometimes designers have so much work on they forget to take a step back and be proud of their work. This can lead us to rush through things and be sloppy with our work, which obviously will lead in one unhappy client. It is important to be confident in ourselves in order to remain positive as I mentioned earlier. After each piece stand back and acknowledge what you have achieved in that project. Look at the feedback in a positive way, taking pride in compliments and seeing negative comments as a challenge to work on in your next project. Remember no-one is perfect and not everyone will always like your work. One of the most important parts of being a designer is realising that there will always be someone that dislikes your work.
Acknowledge the Inspiration Around You
Undoubtedly as a designer and an artist, much of our creativity comes externally from pieces and people that inspire us. Inspiration is all around us, whether it is pieces on the net, people in our daily lives, those we idolize, or even nature itself, everyone is inspired by someone or something. I can’t tell you what you are inspired by as only you can know that, but I can tell you how important it is to constantly surround yourself with this inspiration to keep your creativity and productivity levels high. However, keep in mind my post on maintaining originality when being inspired by other artists!
I find that no matter what I’m doing, whether it’s coming up with an idea for a new project, writing an essay, or even writing this post, I create a mind map to get my ideas down on paper. I find mind mapping is a great way to quickly jot down ideas so I don’t forget them. It also allows us to create the ‘snowball effect’ where one idea leads to another and so forth, creating a constant flow of creative ideas.
Keep a Notepad on You at all Times
On occasion all the above techniques can be tried and there is still no way of getting rid of your creative block because there is simply just far too much on your mind. So how can we help this? Well, make use of the times that we are feeling creative. Take a notepad and pen everywhere you go so if an idea or concept suddenly hits you during your daily routine you can jot it down and use it at a later date when you are feeling less creative. I find that I am most creative just before I go to sleep because I am getting into dream mode and the imagination is running wild. I therefore keep a pad and pen by my bed so I can jot down any crazy late night ideas I have and look at them in the morning. Additionally this helps if you wake up in the middle of the night with a great concept that came to you in a dream – jot it down before you fall back asleep and forget it!
So those are my tips that I find help me get rid of my creative block. I hope some of them can help you release your creativity as they do for me, but at the end of the day only you can truly know what works well for you and the way your mind works. I believe everyone has creativity within them, some just have bigger urges to express it than others, and overcoming creative block is all about finding a way to release it. Take note of these tips and see if any work really well for you, I would be interested to know if any do or if you have any additional tips to share with everyone below!
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Images courtesy of Shutterstock, theromb  & jumpingsack [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
Love the post. Great topic and explanation Tom.
Great seeing a post from MM again.
Wow, this is really awesome. A “Creative Block” is my biggest problem trying to make websites for other people. This will sure help me out.
Nice post! Music works very well with me!
When I need an idea, I read something that has no relation with the client needs. In the middle of the lecture you can find words that will inspire you!
sorry about the bad english, greetings from Brazil!
great post, i have read quite a few articles on this same subject but you really nailed it here. And I love the illustrations you provided with each step.
Nice one, Creative Bock is definitely my biggest problem at the moment because I have all of the above stresses and strains ten fold right at the moment. Of course my partner gave me grief when she got to the bit about “sex” saying that I’ll use any excuse. Seriously though, a few adjustments I’m seriously thinking of making so we’ll see how it goes.
Thanks, keep up the good work.
Great post… very complete!
I loved the food part. I can say from my experience that since I became vegetarian my anxiety level is very little. Its helps as well!
And about the dog: be carfull witch dog u choose! My flatmat have a dog that is sooo stressing…
And about music I’m not sure yet if is better a ambient music or every one have its own iPod… Some colleagues have a musical tast very bad…
Wonderful article this has a lot of well written tips with a lot of good points I loved it. ^_^
Awesome post with a variety of tips. Should be something for everyone in here. Great tips and great illustrations to go with it. This is inspirational in and of itself! Kudos!
I am grateful to have stumbled upon this wonderful post. I do hope I get to practice all of the tips here from hereon. 🙂
thanks a lot!it is good post.thank you for your sharing.
great article. thx
thank you for your sharing. helps a lot.
I do sometimes, start writhing – flipping the words on the paper, starting from left to right. helps focus your brain to start thinking immediately . >(
Thanks for sharing. This article was a great read. I came across your site today and this is outstanding. A def bookmark.
A bit earlier I thought it is something wrong with me but now I know the reason – I just need a little rest and pauses in my work.
Thank you very much, Tom!
Great post! I’ll remember to get me some OJ and eat a baked potato when I have a block 🙂
I really loved this post, it’s an instructive and wonderful one. thank you so much for posting it, it really helps.
Great post bro…really helps checkin this out when I’m dealing with creative block!
For some of those I can agree that they are true,
the rest I’ll test. I hope to find more that will work with me..
I took a look at your blog I’ts great .
Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt like the best ideas or solutions come to me whilst I am falling asleep…the mind just wanders freeely, and there it is!
the nightmare of an artist
Nice Article i got a intro i want to give away free how can i give to you to post here
Yes, it is… True, Indeed!
If only we can get rid the complicated *romance* part off it… XD
Nice & very useful article.
Thanx for sharing, Tom!
Most helpful, the best way to help me is all of what was said above plus a fan blowing towards me. If the temperature is to high the tension will rise between me and my creativity.
thanks for the post!
Verry nice articel 🙂
Can I pleas use this on my blog ?
Beautifully written and laid out. I’ll be visiting this many times.
Great Job, i like it.!!!!
This post reminds me about this Artwork…
It says “Don’t look for inspiration.. start working and it will come to you”
Check it http://ge-7.deviantart.com/art/Inspiration-will-NOT-come-164765492
Thanks for reminding to turn on the music! I’m back in the flow : )
Brest article and not just for designers!!!
Meant great article
gud to have your article,thanks sharing ur articles like this if u have someother gud one share with us to improve ourself.it hepl me a lot in my work.
Sorry, i lost the focus after a while… because the illustrations are amazing? Who’s the author of them, please?
This is really true.
Thanks for posting this, good work.
Excellent information. I know that music definitely helps me keep going.
I agree with Daniel, illustrations are awesome!
Thanks for sharing!
very good post 🙂 thank you! ye ye french designer follow you 🙂
That’s all true.
I think taking a shower also helps. Most of my best ideas come when I’m on my bike, on a shower or at bed.