What Is Creative Block, and Do I Have It?

by | Aug 16, 2021 | Art, Content Marketing, writing

Creative block is a phenomenon that occurs when someone is trying to create something, and for some reason, the brain stops working. Oftentimes it’s called “writer’s block,” but it happens to all kinds of creative processes. This block is not exclusive to the art of writing. It can affect all forms of creativity. So how do you know if you have caught it, the dreaded creative block? Writing is the easiest form of art to illustrate the block. You are staring at a blank page, and you have no idea what to do next. That is a creative block. Most of us have experienced this in one form or another, so what can we do about it?

Keep Moving

Much like Dory in Disney’s Finding Nemo, you have to “just keep swimming.” Keep moving. If you are stuck in a certain position artistically, just keep painting, or writing, or sculpting. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but oftentimes when you are continuing to move, it will push your brain passed the block.

Take a Break

Walking away to clear your head is often the perfect remedy for creative block. Do something to reset your brain. These breaks don’t have to be any length of time, although you should not be away so long that you lose motivation for finishing the project. You will learn in time what type of break your brain may need, but they may include: relaxation, meditation, a nap, or an episode of your favorite television program.

Exercise. Or Not…

Calm down; I’m not talking about a marathon but go for a walk. Get the blood flowing somehow. Whether you enjoy biking, hiking, or walking, it can’t hurt. Often, when your blood is flowing, it gets the creative juices flowing, too. Even just changing your location and the scenery around you can be enough to get those same juices flowing. Find a location that is inspiring for you. Various locations may be inspiring in different ways, but just removing yourself from your space can be enough to jolt the brain.

Start a New Hobby

It seems odd, but beginning a new hobby may help your brain get past any block. Sorry, I lost track for a second because I flashed back to when I was eight years old, and my mom just came in and said, “if you’re done with your Legos, put them away before you start a new game.” NO! Don’t put the Legos away; you just need help with a creative block. Keep them close by. It doesn’t have to be an intense new hobby, but something different to flex the brain muscles.

Doing Something Mindless

Taking time to think about nothing is very freeing. Watching a favorite movie for the thirtieth time certainly doesn’t flex the brain muscles, but the mindless activity allows the brain to be open to other thoughts that sneak through. Gardening is another activity that can oftentimes be mindless. These types of hobbies allow the brain to relax, and when the brain is relaxed, sometimes it is the perfect reboot we need to get restarted.

Anxiety Helping Activities

After you’ve hit a roadblock in your creativity, you are often also whacked with the added stress and anxiety of a looming deadline. Deadlines are an anxious person’s nightmare. Help reduce that anxiety by knowing your deadline and knowing your wiggle room.

In one of my favorite television programs, a Professor Gilmore tells students that he is fine with extensions of the due date for the final papers. The students were to put the date in a week earlier than when it is due to give themselves a week extension built-in. The students groaned in the episode of Gilmore Girls, but Professor G may have been on to something. Start early on your project to build in some wiggle room with the deadline. Give yourself internal deadlines.  

When you are having an anxiety-producing creative block, it’s important to do activities that reduce that anxiety, as well as activities that can also help overcome the block. Meditation is oftentimes a great way to restart the brain and help reduce anxiety. Writing in a journal is also an activity that may help with anxiety as well as writer’s block.

Laugh (even if it’s laughing at yourself)

Laughing can really help get the brain warmed up out of a block. Call a funny friend on the phone or watch a favorite comedian. Laughing can oftentimes distract from the creativity block and allow your brain to restart.

Talk to a Friend

Talking to a friend is never a bad idea in my book. Whether you want to talk about the creative block you are experiencing or talk about something completely unrelated, both can be helpful to overcome the block that you are experiencing. Some friends may be better than others at helping you overcome a creative block.

Doing Something Enjoyable

The list is literally endless. Whatever you enjoy, do that. Reward yourself for the work you have done thus far. A list of possible activities includes:

  • Fishing
  • Knitting
  • Reading
  • Exercising
  • Playing with a pet
  • Shopping
  • Meditating
  • Photography
  • And anything else that makes you happy

Play a Game

Game playing can be extremely effective at overcoming a creative block. Games are great at getting the mind off of troubles. There are unlimited games that may be helpful, whether you prefer card games, or computer games, golf, or basketball. Get your brain thinking about something, anything else.

What to Do When It Is Getting Serious

You have to plan for the worst-case scenario when the block isn’t going away. That is a time for some serious questions: should you ask for an extension? And should you talk to a professional?

Most people are willing to work with you on extensions if you are honest about issues that are arising. Don’t wait until the last moment. If you have had a block for six months and a 2,000-page manuscript is due in two days, you’re on page 4 – prepare yourself – it’s not going to happen. Don’t wait until it is due in two days.

When to Talk to a Professional

Psychiatric or psychotherapy can both be helpful for certain types of blocks. If blocks are hindering your ability to perform your job or complete your degree, medications and talking therapy may be needed to help you get through it. It is okay to not be okay. Mental health is health. The stigma surrounding mental health is lessening, and there is nothing wrong with seeking help.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, everyone has experienced a block at one time or another. The important thing is to “just keep swimming.” Whatever you do, don’t give up!


Jennifer Smith