Rebecca Megson-Smith shares her thoughts, inspiration and guidance on creative block. She is an author and writing coach and has coached many people through this difficult time and watched her clients glide out of the process full of ideas and creativity to carry on with their projects. Over to Rebecca.
Overcoming your creative block
Are you feeling creatively blocked at the moment? Or that ‘creativity’ is outside of your grasp, a word only applicable to other people?
What is creativity?
Let me start by stating my position as clearly as possible. You ARE creative. Even if you feel blocked I can guarantee that you are and have been doing some really creative things this week. Any of the following, in fact, count as acts of creativity on your part:
- Baking a cake
- Analysing data
- Writing an email that influenced your boss/colleagues/sister etc
- Figuring out how to help your son with his maths homework
- Watching Netflix/Disney/HBO/etc
- Solving the problem of (complete as appropriate…)
- Organising your workload/wardrobe/tools
- Having a conversation with someone new
- Growing your own (fruit/veg/flowers/garden etc)
I could go on but my point here is that many of us have a very narrow definition of creativity. Often creativity is limited to making music, art, acting, dancing, or creative writing.
But creativity is so much bigger. It’s how we solve all the problems of living in fact, including overcoming boredom and entertaining ourselves.
We live in a capitalist patriarchal society that is focused on planning and delivering: Design a product, manufacture the product (& make money from it). Repeat.
Nature on the other hand has a couple more beats to how she creates. There’s the planning and preparation in the spring and then the delivery and fruiting in the summer. Then there’s the reflection and letting go in the autumn and the ‘fertile void’ of the winter. To the unobservant eye everything looks dead in winter. No growth, no creativity.
We know that isn’t true though. Beneath the surface of the earth life exists and is preparing for its next phase.
The same is true of our creativity. It cannot be an endless loop of ‘plan and produce’ for any of us. We all need periods of rest and reflection. So if you’re feeling blocked and as though nothing is coming through the chances are you need some rest from it. So take it. Do nothing. How terrifying? But look at what nature is able to achieve after she has wintered…
Productivity vs Process
Have you ever watched kids at play? They are hugely creative and, judging by the growing mountain of paper on the side in my kitchen, hugely prolific.
Watching my daughter sitting down to draw is a lesson in creativity that we could all learn from. She is entirely consumed by the process and will often draw six, seven or eight pictures one after the other. And thrusts the completed works into my hand satisfied, eyes glowing, a girl in the full glory of achievement, and then, wonders off to do the next thing.
She likes me to see and to comment. She likes it when I put her pictures up on the wall. But her desire to create is led far less by the end result and what I do with it (thankfully, because some of it really does have to be recycled…) and far more by the process of the doing itself. The act of creativity fills an important function of her experience of existence.
Steps to overcoming your block
Thinking about who you were as a kid is a great first step to overcoming your block. What really interested you? What would you spend your time doing? Write a list. Let yourself play. Don’t focus on the outcome. Just the process.
I’m an advocate of keeping a creativity journal too. Get yourself a gorgeous notebook and some pens/pencils/crayons that make your heart sing. Every day write down a few simple things – how you are feeling (about your creativity), then write down what you’ve done in the day that is creative – keeping that nice broad definition of creativity we talked about earlier in your mind.
Track it against the lunar cycle for fun, or your own personal cycle, or just month, day and date. Check back over it every couple of weeks. You’ll find your creativity changes over time. Maybe Wednesdays are the day you most enjoy cooking from scratch. Maybe you enjoy drawing for 10 days at a time then feel a natural need for a break. The journal is a good way of tracking what works for you.
My final tip, is remember we need to imitate before we can innovate. Is there a particular writer or singer, or painter or dancer, or mathematician or cook that you especially admire? Find a piece of their work that you really love and copy it, over and over again.
Great books to help with creativity
There are so many books and TED talks and YouTube clips out there on the subject of creativity and creative blocks, but here are a handful I regularly return to and would totally recommend to help you out of your creativity doldrums….
- The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Jack Hammer and the Hummingbird by Liz Gilbert
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Do schools kill creativity? By Sir Ken Robinson
- The Element by Sir Ken Robinson