Why having a creative block is really a good thing

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If you’re a designer, it’s very likely that at one point or another you were working on a project and felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. It’s almost like all the ideas get sucked out of your head with a giant vacuum and no matter how hard you try to think you just can’t come up with a clear direction to go.

While creative blocks may cause tension headaches and severe irritation, I’d like to offer you a new perspective – a perspective that, believe it or not, might help you start enjoying them, and give you some great tips to get ‘unstuck’ in a pleasant way.

It’s normal

When I first started designing, there always came a point in any project where I felt I had nothing left to give to it. All my creative juices got drained and I’d start panicking and thinking what I was going to do next. I never got an answer right away, but eventually, to my great surprise, something would come to me – a thought, an idea, a color, a shape. When that happened, things didn’t seem so hopeless anymore and I could navigate my way to some pretty powerful design solutions.

I still get stuck at some point… with most of my projects, only now I’m not surprised anymore. When I get the urge to panic I have to remind myself that not knowing is just a part of my process, and that at the other end incredible things are brewing. If you think about it, not knowing is a part of most processes. After all, to know something, you have to not know it first, right? When we don’t know we have time to explore, and learn, and experience. And to me, that’s what life is all about.

So if you’re stuck and giving yourself a hard time, imagining your downfall as a designer, and the tombstone you will select for your creativity, tell yourself that it’s normal to be stuck. It’s a part of life, and it’s inevitable… so we might as well accept it for what it is and try to enjoy it.

To be creative, act creative

While enjoying being stuck can feel as relieving as diving into a cool pool on a steaming summer day, it can also last forever if you don’t navigate through it effectively.

An ongoing thing you can do to make sure you make it out fully alive and energized on the other side is to constantly do all sorts of creative things. I read in a book once that if you want to be more like a specific kind of person, you’re supposed to act like that kind of person, and eventually you’ll become one. So if you want to become more creative, and have more ideas flow faster, do the actions creative people do, and before you know it your “stuck” times will feel like they’re moving forward, instead of standing still.

10 Ways to Un-stick with pleasure

Spend your ‘stuck’ time doing these things and before you know it you’ll have so many ideas you’ll have to give some away:

  1. Take a break
    It’s important to know how to relax. When you think about something all the time without stepping away from it for a while, it’s hard to come up with fresh, exciting ideas, and the energy of a project can get very stagnant. So take a break and clear your mind.
  2. Try a different medium
    Try expressing yourself creatively in a way you haven’t tried before. This could be through photography, music, dan            cing, drawing… the possibilities are practically endless. You can also try picking something you don’t think you’d be good at, like riding a unicycle, for example. It can be quite liberating to be completely new at something and find your way around it.

  3. Work on a different project
    Immersing yourself in a different design project can make you feel ten years younger. A different client, a different industry… even if it’s a personal project it’s new – and when something new there’s a lot of exploring to do. Great exploration leads to great discovery.

  4. Go somewhere
    Go to the park, the museum, or even the grocery store. I can spend a very long time at the tea and bath isles, melting over the packaging. Surrounding yourself with things that inspire you will undoubtedly create some shiny sparks in your mind.

  5. Sketch
    I recently wrote an article for GDB on the importance of sketching in the design process. Not only does sketching improve the quality of your ideas and designs, it’s also a great way to let the creativity start flowing again. Start with a dot, start with a doodle. It doesn’t matter how you start as long as you do it. When you sketch, magic happens.

  6. Get feedback
    Getting feedback about your work while it’s in the work-in-progress phase is invaluable. Find a fellow designer, one or a few, whose input you trust and show them your work – they may turn you onto something you didn’t even think of and get the train rolling all over again. One thing to keep in mind though, is to always trust your instincts as a designer, so follow your gut – regardless of what anybody ever says.

  7. Invent something
    Another thing I learned from that book I mentioned before is an exercise that can take as little as five minutes. All you do is write down 5 realistic or imaginary inventions. I’ve been doing that for a few days now and found it to be quite fun!. Some of my favorite ideas I’ve come up with are a large steel box that attached to the top of your car magnetically to transport large objects, perfumes that smell of different nature scents like wet earth after the rain, and a device that turns the pages on your book based on your eye position.

  8. Sleep
    When you sleep, your mind rests. That’s exactly what you need after your mind has been jumping through hoops trying to come up with the perfect design. Sleep not only puts all those worries to the side, it also somehow reorganizes information. I’ve often gotten new ideas in my dreams or right after I’ve woken up. In fact, the shape of our firm logo, Unexpected Ways, happened to come to me precisely in that way.
  9. Read Fiction
    Reading an interesting story is great in itself, since you get to dive into an exciting world of fantasy and imagination, and envelop yourself in interesting characters and storylines. Aside from that inherent benefit, reading fiction takes your mind off of things, and can offer you a new creative outlook on whatever project you’re working on.
  10. Get Physical
    Exercise is a great way to let out all the pent up frustration that can come with a creative block. This may sound odd, but when I think about things too much it gets really hot inside my head. Exercise somehow injects that cool, breezy feeling back into it, and that feels good!

Join the Discussion! Add your thoughts

Do you enjoy your creative blocks? Have you ever had a creative block that led you to greatness? Plus, do you have any other tips that make getting unstuck enjoyable? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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About Lou Levit

Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I always get stuck, and I find working in another medium WHILE taking a break from the project is the best for me. Good to know I’m not the only one. :)

    • @Jessica, Hey Jessica, thanks for sharing! What are your favorite mediums to work in when you get stuck?

      • Jessica says:

        @Lou Levit, I love working in paper and vinyl. When I’m stuck I like to do things to decorate my house or office. :) It just gets me in another frame of mind.

        • @Jessica, I totally know what you mean. Sound like a lot of fun. How do you use paper and vinyl? I remember I sculpted a paper elephant once – that was exciting :).

        • @Jessica, LOL David’s info was stored to I accidentally left a comment as him :-)

        • Jessica says:

          @Lou Levit, I love to scrapbook. I do a lot of that with paper, but I’ve been know to craft. With vinyl, I love to work with typography and phrase. I love words and making them beautiful. :)

  2. Phew … I use to hate it when this happens, but now realized every time I get out of one I have deeper understanding of stuff. Creativity is not just limited to designs … it can be anything right from simple ideas of business, game plans or just do something different.

    • @Siddharth Menon, That’s a great point. I think having that time of “not knowing” definitely helps you connect to thing in a deeper and different way. I also completely agree with you that creativity is very broad. Actually, I believe that literally everything is creative since everything is created or creating in some way. Are there creative things you do that aren’t considered to be creative by “normal” standards?

  3. I totally agree with you. I’m stuck most of the time. I’m going try what is said on this article.

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