How to smash through a Creative Block

The term Creative Block suggests an obstacle like a roadblock but anyone who’s suffered from it knows that it’s not a roadblock, it’s a Maze, and as a creative professional you’re probably under pressure with a deadline or a brief to meet but trying to come up with a creative solution to solve the brief, just sends you around in circles.

Some common symptoms that arise with creative block are:

  • Your brain is filled with a million possible ideas
  • All ideas feel like great ideas but quickly become wrong ideas
  • These ideas work well on paper but are rubbish in reality
  • You’ll feel like nothing is working
  • You may feel like quitting
  • At the same time you may also feel like working harder to find a solution (starting the cycle again)
  • Your brain is probably thinking at 100mph

A creative block can happen to anyone and can also be known as a thinking block or writers block, but it’s a particular problem for people in a creative industry. I use to experience creative blocks now and again in my early days as a designer but from experience as a professional designer I’ve learnt why you may get a creative block and in doing so, I know how to solve it.  Check out my top tips to solve creative blocks.

A crappy creative brief leads to a creative block

In the past, my brain has gone round and around trying to create a logo design to meet a design brief but no solution felt completely right and lead to a creative block. 

The problem was not with me but with the design brief.  Sometimes creative briefs and even clients can be whimsical with their desires because they themselves don’t know what the end result for a creative project should be, so they just leave that objective out.

On the flipside, the design brief may contain too many objectives, with too many ideas contradicting one another.  This is usually common place if the brief is filled out by more than one person like a board of directors, partners or a team.  The issue here is that everyone has their own ideas for a final ouctome and none are in sync with another.

This means that the end product whether it be a logo design, piece of literature or piece of art doesn’t have an objective and if there’s no objective then there’s no right or wrong answer and no real way of moving forward because there’s no direction. 

Every idea you produce could be the right idea but it could also be the wrong idea and there’s no way of telling.  This leads to a creative block and to solve it you need to do one of five things:

1. Re-address the brief

Whether it’s a personal project or paid project for a client, you need a brief to stipulate the goal of the project and set initial direction. If it’s a personal project then you might be able to explore ideas without a brief but if you find yourself in a creative block then you need to create a brief to clarify the end goal.

If you already have a brief and a creative block then the problem may lie in the brief. Re-addressing the client and brief can help to clarify the creative objective but there’s no guarantee that the brief will become any clearer after a discussion, especially when it wasn’t clear in the beginning. If so, then it’s likely that the client doesn’t know what the detailed objective should be either.

The only answer is to take charge of the project, take responsibility and exercise your own expertise to produce a brief and work towards it.

2. A lack of research leads to a creative block

More often than not, creative block is created from a lack of research and the lack of a brief plays a big part in that problem.  If there’s not a lot of information to begin with then its hard to pinpoint the problem and create a solution.  A lack of research or information is un-inspiring in general!  A good way to avoid creative block is to get back to research and build a concept because there’s no such thing as an original idea that pops into your head like a lightbulb.  All original ideas are based on other ideas, even if they’re unrelated ideas.

Research = Inspiration = Idea = Solution

Research could involve anything and everything from looking at pictures and videos to colours and literature but be very careful when you do so. In a state of desperation, a creative block can coerce you into copying someone else’s work to solve the problem.

Copying someone else’s work won’t solve the problem or the creative block.  It’ll provide a quick fix that will likely break in due time.

However Pablo Picaso once said:

Good artists copy, great artists steal

Use resreach and inspiration as a springboard for your own creative output.

Re-read the original brief with the intention of being inspired and follow up with research to produce a new brief with creative direction and an objective, thus building a bridge over the creative block.

3. Focus creates and solves creative blocks

A creative block is not always down to a lack of data and intelligence. We all work better at certain parts of the day, when in certain moods or maybe when doing certain tasks. This relates to your personal traits and might signify when you’ll get a creative block.

I would say that I work better under pressure but I would also say that I’m a better designer when I’m relaxed.  Whilst both are true, they’re contradictory.  The real truth is that I work better when I’m in a focused state of mind.

I find that creative block happens to me when I’m on edge and it has nothing to do with pressure or stress.  Sometimes, my brain runs at 100mph because I’m trying to accomplish something. In this case, my brain is super focused and superb at working fast, solving technical problems creatively or what I may see as small problems, quickly because I know what the end result should be.  That focus doesn’t work well for me when creating a logo design, which I see as a task that needs time, refinement and creative exploration.

For logo design, I need a different type of focus.  A focus that’s still sharp but slowed down and relaxed, allowing me to make small, accurate and logical steps to find the right solution.

Working with a state of focus that aligns with your momentary strengths, helps to smash creative block.

If your brain is not in the right state of mind to accomplish your creative task then leave the task alone and come back to it later when your creative block will be gone.

4. Food, Drink, Noise & Sleep helps smash through creative blocks

For me, food, drink and sleep are what give me natural focus whether it gets me relaxed and focused or hyped up and focused. On the other hand, noise is a fickle thing.

Too loud noise makes me lose focus immediately and I’ll start getting creative blocks.  Low background noise helps me focus on creative work but ultimately no noise helps me when I’m writing.  Each case can either build a creative block or solve it.

5. Stop trying to be so creative and clever

So far I’ve placed the problem of creative block on anything and everything else, but you as a creative are also to blame for your own creative block because you want to create something that’s a masterpiece. 

When you get the chance to work on a new project you may get excited.  You want to do a great job and you may get carried away trying to create something magnificent as a creative piece of work and in the end you may try too hard and:

  • Put too much premise on the job and client
  • Put too much premise on producing something original
  • Put too much premise on producing something spectacular
  • Put too much premise on creating something that’s as succesful as one that you saw elsewhere.

This leads to creative block because you’re trying to be too clever and you can’t figure out how to make something soo clever and still be relevant.  The problem here lies with you, the creative.  I know this because, in my early days as a designer, I did it myself.

My goal was to outdo myself and wow the client but before showing the mockups, I knew in my heart that the fancy logo design that I created was not the best logo design for their business.  I would end up scrapping the fancy idea and present the right logo design instead.

Don’t suffer from creative block by trying to create a glorified piece of work because the masterpiece doesn’t have to be wildly original or spectacularly creative.  Creative work needs to function first.  It needs to communicate and connect with its audience.

Ultimately, a creative block isn’t a physical block, it’s a mental block. To solve it just free your mind by filling it with more research and a direction to create a focused state of mind.

Today I’m an expert and experienced creative professional and work flows naturally out of me.  Creative blocks are a thing of the past because I know how to deal with them. 

Do you get creative blocks? How do you deal with it?



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