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How to be creative when you just can’t

When you work in a creative role, thinking and conceptualising are key to generating ideas and themes, so it’s something you probably do a lot. And while being able to think for a living sounds like an easy ride, there are times when it can be the most difficult thing in the world.

Creative people rely heavily on their minds in much the same way that any other skilled tradesperson relies on their hands or on machinery to achieve results. Coming up with a fantastic new slogan or brand identity can be simple but often isn’t – especially when you feel like you’ve hit a wall and the creative juices just aren’t flowing.

As I writer, I experience this from time to time and it can be difficult to shake off. So, how do you turn things around? How can you be creative when you just can’t? The answer may depend on why you’re struggling in the first place.

What causes writer’s block?

Writer’s block is essentially a slowdown in creativity, and it doesn’t just affect writers – pretty much anyone can suffer a block in creativity from time to time. The cause is often mental fatigue, distraction or a lack of inspiration, resulting in a variety of problems such as being unable to come up with new ideas or add to work that’s already begun.

When I experience writer’s block, I find it’s usually because I don’t fully understand the project I’m working on. Often, I receive jobs from clients abroad and some information gets lost in translation, for example. Other times, clients simply don’t provide enough information for me to construct the website copy or product descriptions they want, and the barrier isn’t broken until I’ve badgered them for all the facts.

Another common time for writer’s block to strike is when I’m having a quiet spell – I use my downtime to focus on my own brand, and it’s here that I struggle most (don’t we all?!). Dealing with clients and understanding their brand and goals is something I enjoy; promoting my own business can be a different matter altogether.

How to overcome writer’s block

Being creative is often crucial to the job, whether you’re a writer, designer or artist. Being unable to come up with concepts or bring those ideas to life can have an enormous effect on your ability to make ends meet, which – when you’re self-employed, especially – can mean the difference between paying the bills – or not.

Here are some tried and tested techniques to lift you out of that lull and help your mind work its magic.

Connect with nature

My own personal favourite cure: taking a walk with my dogs in a natural setting. Nature is a great source of inspiration – you might notice the tiniest things, like a cluster of berries springing up among the weeds, or a single iris in bloom against a backdrop of greenery. Aside from being a source of inspiration, nature is grounding, which might be just what you need if your thoughts are scattered. Taking a walk can be clarifying both mentally and physically, helping to get the oxygen circulating.

Try another creative outlet

It’s sometimes the case that creative types feel stuck in a rut. As with any other jon, performing the same sort of task day in and day out can result in boredom and burnout. To get the cogs turning again, try another creative outlet. If you usually write novels, have a go at poetry, if you design graphics, put pencil to paper. Essentially: experiment. Trying something new can be both freeing and satisfying – you may feel that you’re still being productive rather than twiddling your thumbs.

Sell the pet

This is a great idea I discovered via an Australian writer who came up with a selection of ways to improve your writing skills. Leigh suggests writing an advert marketing a boa constrictor as a family pet. Now, I’m not scared of snakes but still, I’m not sure I’d want one around my neck! This sort of challenge can be a great way to get those creative juices flowing; there are so many different styles to consider and points to focus on. Consider injecting some wry humour and really enjoy yourself – you could find you loosen up in no time.

Get perspective

Not your own, someone else’s. It can be difficult to get past a creative blockage, especially when you focus on it too much. Talking a project through with someone else could be just the trick to help you see things from a new perspective or, at the very least, help you organise your thoughts. Consider the way in which you communicate the project to your friend or colleague and use this as a basis for the structure of your piece.

I hope these ideas help you on your way to creative success! Any other ideas? Join the conversation on social media.