Ask me what I love doing most in the world. I will almost always say: something creative.
Painting, drawing, writing, something creative.
But I also struggle with my creativity, which I feel is a common problem among artistic people. We have the want to create, it’s just that sometimes we have a hard time unlocking the “doing” part of creating.
My main blocks have centered around:
- Not feeling good or talented enough
- Thinking my ideas were silly or amateurish
- Getting to a certain point in a piece of art or writing and not knowing what to do to move forward
- Lacking time
- Going through life situations that sapped my creativity
- Not knowing my style
- Feeling overwhelmed by too many ideas/projects and not knowing what to choose
Creative Issues are Common – You’re Not Alone!
Your creative issues may be different than the ones I’ve experienced, but one thing seems universal and true: every creative deals with creativity issues, whether it be a lack of creativity, too much creativity, or something in between.
Countless books, essays, videos, websites, blogs and more have been devoted to the topic of creativity. Where does our creativity come from? Why do we struggle to explain why we need to be creative? What happens when we have blocks? Why do we have blocks? What does it feel like to be ing the flow of creativity? And much more. The topic of creativity is huge!
Type “creativity” into Google and you get 518,000,000 results! “Creative blocks” gets you 372,000,000 hits. So, clearly creativity is a thing on our minds, and people look for ways to help when they struggle with creativity.
As an artist and a writer, I personally had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t explain why I do creative things. I know many other people who don’t feel the need to create like I do. So why do some of us have a seemingly internal creative drive that won’t leave us alone? Mine comes out in art and writing. Other people do gardening, woodworking, drawing, jewelry making, sewing, knitting, pottery, glass blowing, scrapbooking, digital art, movie making, and a thousand other creative pursuits that that allow them to make things that didn’t exist before their minds and hands got involved.
cre·a·tiv·i·ty noun: the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
Creativity is a Decision – A Series of ‘Em, Actually!
Most agree that creativity is crucial in art, business and life. A million resumes list “creative thinker” as a skill. Most team leaders in corporate settings want creative, outside-the-box people. Art viewers think a pretty painting is nice, but will talk for years about the artwork that literally shredded itself as it went up for auction. (Banksy shreds painting).
Creative. Imagination. Original. New. Different.
The very definition of creativity explains why people love something creative. It’s new, and different. Not the “same old, same old.”
Research has shown creativity to be a series of decisions. No wonder it’s so hard! How many of you struggle to make decisions? There’s the part where you have to make the decision, and then there’s the internal battle after about if the decision was the best one.
The more decisions we as creators are faced with, the more likely we are to get caught up trying to make one of those decisions . . . and all that decision making can drain us of the energy we need to actually do the creative work!
It’s one thing to talk and think about all the creative things we’d love to be doing. But it’s another thing entirely if talking and thinking is all you’re doing. I know how hard it is to get myself going, so I’ve dreamed up this list of 52 ways to unlock your creativity . . . as much for myself as for you!
52 Ways to Unlock YOUR Creativity
- Mess Up the Blank Page. It’s hard to know how to start when you’re faced with a perfect blank page. You don’t want to “mess it up!” It becomes harder and harder to just start. Bypass the curse of the blank page – mess it up before you begin. If you’re an artist, put something on there that you don’t mind removing or covering up later. If you’re a writer, put something on the page that relates to what you’re writing about: a list, a thought, an interesting bit of information you’ve heard. Once you’ve gotten something down, your brain won’t be quite so crippled with the fear of imperfection and will be more willing to generate ideas or start creating.
- Get out some supplies. Sometimes when I am struggling to start, I just take out some supplies. Since I do mixed media art, I am often using glitter, paper, shells, jewelry, and other items. When I don’t know where to start, I just go through my stash and start matching colors together, or pulling out items I’d like to use on this piece of art. Often, the sort of mindless process of sorting through things gets my brain focused on this art piece and the items I want to use this time. For writing, this could be to generate a list of words that relate to what you are writing, or looking over notes, research, or information you’ve already gathered.
- Browse a book. I have a shelf full of art and writing books. When I am really stuck, I will pull one off the shelf and just start browsing through it. Nine times out of ten, this sparks an idea and I get motivated to start on my own things. My favorite art idea starters are mixed media books like Exhibition 36 by Susan Tuttle, and Unfurling by Misty Mawn. For writing, I turn to Fearless Writing by William Kenower and Just Write by James Scott Bell.
- Ask your kids – or any kids. If you have kids in your life (your own or someone else’s) ask them for ideas. Chances are, they will give you some wacky and out-there ones, but they may be just what you need to get going. If my 7 year old had any say, I would just be painting unicorns and her.
- Sit in a new spot. I have an art desk with an armchair beside it, but sometimes I feel like I can’t focus in those spots. When I am having those moments, I move somewhere else, either in my house or yard, or I get in my vehicle and drive somewhere. Sometimes a change in location where my goal is nothing but what I am working on helps me focus without becoming distracted by the dishes that need done or the drawer that “needs” organized.
- Get a chore out of the way. I know, many people giving advice say chores are a way to avoid getting started BUT . . . is there is something that is bugging you or on your mind? It may be better just to do it and get it over with so you are freed up to be creative. It’s hard to get going on a project if you have something weighing on your mind. Sometimes during “mindless” chores, my brain is actually working harder than when I am forcing it to focus. After, I feel less weighed down by “have-to’s.” Plus, my brain has already come up with some ideas while I was scrubbing, organizing, or decluttering.
- Pinterest. Pinterest is my go-to spot when I just need inspiration. Often, there will be great things in my feed and then once I’ve gone through those items, I’ll just type different phrases related to my idea in the search box and come up with all kinds of things I didn’t know I needed to know.
- Find a new or unused product/item. Whether it’s around my house, outside, or in my art stash, I sometimes will try to find something I haven’t used before or in a while and see if that gets me going. For writing, I’ll look up new advice or a technique I haven’t used before to see if it will work for me.
- Make a list. I hate lists, but sometimes even I find that they’re necessary. It’s the act of getting all that junk out of your head and onto paper or into the computer/phone that makes this so necessary at times. I am not a regular list maker but I do always notice that my brain doesn’t feel the need to keep going over things once I have written down a list, which frees it up for other thoughts!
- Close your computer and/or phone. While the phone or computer are often necessary and helpful, sometimes they turn into a time suck that just prolongs procrastination. Once I realize I am using my computer or phone to waste my time, I shut them off or go away from them for a while.
- Get a buddy. It helps to have someone else to create with. Whether it’s the fact that you have to keep an art date and don’t want to miss it, or that you have someone to bounce ideas off and talk through things when a block or problem arises, the assistance of someone else can be really valuable. Even if you don’t have someone IRL (In real life), there are plenty of places online to find people to connect with over your craft or creative pursuit.
- Change your schedule. Maybe you’re trying to be creative at a time that doesn’t work for you. If it’s late at night and you’re tapped out from a whole day spent on the go, your creativity might be exhausted. See if there’s another time during your day where you can work on your stuff. Try out different times and follow up later to see if those times work better for you.
- Do something completely different. Sometimes it’s not a matter of pushing yourself harder. Maybe you just need a break. Do something completely unrelated to your creative work. Play a game with your family, watch a movie, go get coffee with a friend. Come back to your creativity when your cup feels filled up.
- Let it be a draft. Don’t always pressure yourself to create a polished, perfect, post-worthy project. Sometimes it’s just a draft. A drawing for practice. A piece of writing to just get your thoughts out. Take out the need to have everything be ready for public viewing, and then you can spend more time on those pieces. Or, your draft may spark a new idea and you’ll be off and running.
- Go to a class. If there are classes near you on something you’d like to learn or that you’re already working on, sign up and go! Or, you could take an online class (just be careful not to get caught in the rabbit hole of a dozen unfinished online courses).
- Watch a YouTube video. Whenever I want to learn how to do a particular thing, YouTube is my go-to. Watching a video usually gives me the answer I need to keep going, especially when it’s a more technical question that is holding me back, like how to do something with my website, or how to achieve a certain look.
- What would a guru do? Gurus exist for a reason. They have good ideas and are extremely motivating. If you’re feeling stuck, call up your favorite guru and try to guess what they would have you do to work through your creative indecision. Tony Robbins? Marie Forleo? Brene Brown? Confucius? Look them up and see what advice they give to people in your situation.
- Create outside. You don’t even have to take all your stuff outside to work (although you totally could: hello portable laptop and travel art kit, I’m looking at you!), just as long as you take yourself outside. Go for a walk, sit on a swing, go sightseeing. Sometimes while you’re just existing in nature, your brain is doing it’s thing, and when you return inside you’ll be ready to create.
- Get on the floor. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time on the floor. And in the grass. As an adult, I don’t get the urge to lay on the floor like I did when I was 6, but I distinctly remember doing most of my best work on the floor: coloring a perfect coloring book page, writing an epic story, playing Barbie’s on a level most soap operas couldn’t aspire to. So now that I’m adult, I sometimes find myself sitting in my approved chair, with my wrists at the correct ergonomic angle . . . and I have not one idea in sight. So I take my stuff and I go sit on the floor. This is especially useful for when you need to spread out a lot of supplies like notecards, pages, etc. Be like when you were 6 and see what ideas come to the surface!
- Play music. For me, the louder the better. But I get that some of y’all want to keep your hearing. There have been several times I can remember that I’ve been working and wanted to quit, but then a good song, and another, and soon I had been at it for an hour or more! I honestly feel like there’s nothing quite as motivating as a good song. Because I like to let my brain zone out when I am doing art, I listen to a lot of alternative and electronica, house and trap music. But you may be into country, classical, oldies, bluegrass . . . whatever it is that helps the creativity flow!
- Something on your mind? Write down why you don’t feel creative. I guess a lot of people call this journaling, but I’m not a huge fan of journaling, so I just call it “writing stuff down.” Sometimes what’s affecting you is in the way of your ability to be creative, and once you address that particular situation, it can allow your creativity to reappear. If you’re not big on writing stuff down, you could also talk to a friend or someone you trust.
- Go back to the beginning. For a long time I was embarrassed about my early drawings and artworks. I know my perspective was wrong, I didn’t know the right techniques, and my portraits were laughable. However, I also realize that I was a lot more free to experiment and try things. And, if we’re really talking about going back to the beginning, it could help to look at how you did things as a child. Did you have a huge imagination? A love for glitter? Spend hour with Play Doh? Maybe tap into some of that energy and the joy it gave you.
- Go through your “stash.” Do you have a collection of “oh, this is cool, I should use this/do this?” If you don’t, start one. If you do, go through that information to spark ideas. Visit websites you’ve saved, look at ideas from magazines, or pull out items you want to use. Go back to anything you kept to remind you that you liked the idea and wanted to use it in your own work.
- Look back on unfinished projects. Please tell me you have an unfinished collection to rival mine. I’ve abandoned things because they weren’t working, I didn’t know how to finish it, I messed it up too badly, or it was missing something, but I didn’t know what. Going through your unfinished works could inspire you to start working on one again, start a new version, or take part of that idea.
- Create online if you don’t normally/create in real life if you don’t normally. Are you a digital artist? Maybe do some sketching. Are you a painter? Try your luck with using digital tools on your scanned or photographed painting. Write longhand, or vice versa. Whatever you normally do – try to do the opposite and see how it feels, and more importantly, what comes out of it.
- Draw ideas from a hat. Have you ever watched the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? One of my favorite games on the show is “Scenes from a hat.” Do your own scenes from a hat. Write down some suggestions for what you could create, put them in a hat and draw one out. You could even give yourself a time limit or – bonus – combine two or more of your suggestions and see if you can make them work together.
- Time yourself. Sometimes more isn’t better. If you have all day to do something, you may find yourself putting it off all day, until there’s no time left to do it! See if timing yourself helps you complete what you’re working on – it doesn’t have to be the entire piece, maybe just a small or challenging part. See how much you can do in the amount of time you give yourself. You’ll often be surprised at how much you can accomplish!
- Use a stencil (art) or use a template. Starting from scratch all the time is hard. Maybe you need a boost of inspiration. Voila! A template or stencil can give you a good starting point. Once you’ve started something, it’s often easier to keep going and adapting it to suit you. You might just need a helping hand to get yourself going.
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ~Vincent Van Gogh
- Read about how other people motivated themselves to be creative. There’s plenty of information out there about how to be creative, and how to deal with creativity blocks. Hell, Steven Pressfield wrote a whole book about it, The War of Art! Find out how other people jolted their creativity to life, and then see if any of their suggestions work for you.
- Feelings (use the one you’ve got to help you). Maybe you feel like you can only work when you’re in a calm, relaxed, peaceful state. But that’s not real life. Sometimes you’re tired, anxious, frustrated, bored, or any of the dozens of other feelings you could be feeling – but that doesn’t mean you have to stop being creative. Maybe you can even use what you’re feeling to fuel you. Who knows, it might help you create something totally new!
- Just sit. Many times when I’m not motivated to work, I tell myself to just go sit in my chair for a while. At first, I don’t make any progress, but after I sit there for a little bit, I feel like I should be doing something. More often than not, this leads to me accomplishing something, even though I originally had no motivation or ideas!
- Take it with you. I carry at least some of my stuff with me when I leave the house. At the very least I travel with a notebook at all times, and often I have a book, a small bit of travel art items, and a small sketchbook. I never know where an idea will strike, or what I’ll want to do when I’m waiting at the dentist or when I’m somewhere else with time on my hands. Once I actually get back to my studio, I have a lot of ideas to get started on.
- Talk about it. This one depends on how your creativity works. Most of the time I find that talking about my ideas and projects with others ruins them a bit in my mind. However, you may be the opposite – talking about your ideas to other people may help you feel more motivated to complete them because now others know and are waiting for those ideas to get out into the world. I sometimes like to talk about my creative ideas, and I find that it helps me focus them more once I’ve explained them out loud.
- Conversely, keep it secret. I know, it’s the exact opposite of what I just said, but both can be true. Some ideas you talk about, and others you keep secret, selfishly, all to yourself. Having a secret project may help you feel more motivated to do it because it’s a secret. Just make sure it’s not a secret forever!
- Go look at supplies. Walking through Hobby Lobby is bad for my wallet but great for my creativity. If nothing else, I realize that I could make most décor items myself if I really wanted to without spending a bunch of money. But usually seeing all the materials and supplies gets me fired up to get back to work on my own projects . . . even if I don’t actually end up buying anything. Who says shopping is a bad habit?
- Use a technique you’ve been dying to try. I used to see art with these beautiful drips and splatters in them. I wanted to do that too, but didn’t know how it was done. YouTube tutorials and Pinterest images helped me learn before I decided to try it out in my own work. Now it’s one of my favorite art techniques. Have a favorite thing you’ve wanted to try? Find out how it’s done and go for it.
- Copy a style of a master/favorite, then add your own twist. I have been assigned to paint a copy of several old master paintings. But you can do this with any artist’s work. It helps understand how they worked, what materials they used and how they composed their artworks. In fact, according to the article Master Class on Smithsonian.com, artists from all over the world travel to the Louvre to copy famous paintings, and have been for years. It’s also been said that copying passages from your favorite authors can help you get a feel for their writing and voice . . . and let’s not forget about covering another artist’s song. Once you’ve got the original down, then you can change and adapt it to you, and you will have learned some valuable skills in the process!
- Create only your favorite part. We all have one part of the creative process that’s our favorite. When we’re feeling tapped out, what would be wrong with only working on that favorite part? For me, it’s creating the background of my paintings. It’s the most fun part of the whole process. Think about your favorite part of your process and just do that!
- Go watch someone else be creative. On video or in person, it doesn’t matter as long as you are able to see how they are creative. It’s hard to watch someone else do something fun and creative and NOT want to follow suit.
- Seek out a group. Maybe it’s a Facebook group, maybe it’s a local author meet, maybe it’s a local group of creatives who meet to talk or work. Art and creativity can be lonely sometimes, so having a group of people to get you out and wearing pants is very valuable.
- Go to: insert place where the stuff that interests you lives (bookstore, art museum, pottery store, quilting or sewing studio, farm, etc.).
- Make a list from the future of things you’ve made/created. Think about where you’d like to be in a year, or 5 years. What have you created? Write down you answers and then work on those things, letting your vision become reality.
- Make your space. Where do you create? Your kitchen table, an office, spare room, living room, couch, garage? Is there a way you can dream up a dedicated spot if you don’t already have one – or make your existing spot more inviting (or more creative)?
- Investigate: what did you do or feel when you weren’t blocked? If you’ve been creative for more than a minute, you know what it felt like to NOT feel unmotivated or blocked. In your mind, try to travel back to one of the times when everything was working like it should. What was different? What were you actually working on? Was there music, a certain setting, or another external piece that helped you? What about your mindset? What was your headspace like and how can you get there again?
- Find your personal flow triggers. In following number 44 above, what were some of the things that helped you when you were flowing with creativity . . . music, nature, a particular “getting started routine?” What works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa, so try to pick the things that actually got you in your creative zone. Writing your thoughts down before getting started? Doing an inspiration tour online? Make sure you have a record of your personal triggers so you can refer to it again later when you’re in a slump.
- Look outside your lane. Get inspired by other creative pursuits. Sometimes when you’re hyper focused on your particular style of creativity, it’s hard to look around and see that every other type of style or genre or movement has something to offer you if you’re feeling stuck or out of ideas. If you paint landscapes, look at what possible ways abstract painting or graphic design could inspire you. If you only write a particular kind of fiction, read another genre and notice how that genre handles structure, dialogue, character development.
- Seek the opposite emotion. You don’t have to only depict positive emotions. Are you sad, angry or frustrated? Use that! Sometimes negative emotions have a particular kind of power that people connect to.
- Take care of the basics: are you hungry, tired, emotional, etc? Make sure to address your “Maslow” needs before attempting anything else. If you’re unfamiliar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, here is a simple explanation from Simply Psychology : Maslow’s Hierarchy. Basically, Maslow mapped out a human’s needs in pyramid form, starting with our most basic needs for life at the bottom (base) of the pyramid – food, shelter – and then moving up through psychological needs (love, accomplishment) and self-fulfillment needs (achieving potential). You would have a very difficult time taking care of your full creative potential if you don’t have food or safety, according to Maslow. Makes sense. So if you are in a situation that is less than ideal, give yourself a break. Maybe you can’t access all your creative powers yet, and that’s okay.
- Have a “getting started” routine. Many athletes have a particular set of actions they do to prepare for competition. Successful athletes often do each action in the same order every time. Why not borrow this concept? To cue your writing, get yourself tea or coffee and then do one page of free writing. For art, get your palette set up and your brushes laid out. Whatever it is that gets you ready for working, do that!
- Pay attention to your thoughts and ideas at other times & have a way to capture them. Sometimes when you’re not working on your creative ideas, they won’t leave you alone – like when you’re in the shower or about to fall asleep. If this happens frequently, find a way to capture those thoughts so you can refer to them later. Use an Aqua pad or voice recorder in the shower, or leave a notebook, pen and flashlight by your bed. Then you won’t be in jeopardy of losing good ideas, and you can still go to sleep or take a normal shower.
- Let your “subconscious” work for you. Your brain works on solutions even when you are not actively thinking. While you are sleeping, doing routine activities, or going for a walk, your brain processes problems and questions. Have you ever gone to sleep while thinking about a situation and woke up with a possible solution? This is your subconscious working in the background. Stumped for an idea or a solution? Actively tell yourself to take a break. Go work on other things. Come back later to try again. The solution might come to you because you aren’t pressuring yourself to come up with something good.
- Keep going. Sometimes, it’s best to walk away, distract yourself, get inspiration, etc. But sometimes, those things really are just you avoiding “doing the thing.” In 2018, when I was learning to oil paint, it was really hard for me. I was constantly learning new things and having to practice them. Sometimes the outcome honestly wasn’t that great. In fact, I literally started an entire painting over from scratch because it wasn’t fixable. I remember feeling frustrated a lot. Then, I made a deal with myself. When I was working on a part of a painting that scared me or felt hard, I told myself to just keep going. Do what I could do with what I had right now. Maybe it wouldn’t be perfect. Maybe it was a part that was hard for me, like the contours of the nose or getting the skin color right. Whatever the hard part was, I just kept working the best I could. Sometimes my inner critic screamed in agony! Still, I just tried my best to ignore her and turn my music up a little louder to drown her out! Looking back, I’m glad I kept going. Every time I tell myself to keep going when my lazy, scared part wants to stop, I finish what I’m working on.
I hope you found some inspiration in these 52 ideas for your own creative pursuits. Please let me know if you try one (or more) out and how it works for you. Also, is there anything not on this list that is your tried and true method for getting yourself out of a creative rut or roadblock? Please share in the comments! Thanks for reading and have a great day!
- Video: My Thoughts on Coronavirus as an Artist - March 19, 2020
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