Creative blocks are not just for writers
Writers aren’t the only people whose creativity gets blocked. It can (and does) happen to everyone who does creative work — including artists, chefs, designers, and coders.
Being creative requires that some foundational needs are met first. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these are physiological needs (food, water, warm, rest) and safety needs (personal, emotional and financial well-being). These needs have been challenged by rising prices, gun violence, a pandemic, and a shortage of baby formula that’s left families scrambling to feed their children.
When I talk to people about creativity, I often joke that our cavemen ancestors did not run from a tiger and then write a poem about their experience! The fact is that, when our brain is in survival mode, it is physiologically impossible to be creative.
Regardless of the cause, if you earn your living through creative output, feeling blocked is frustrating and scary.
15 ways to regain your creativity
If your physiological and safety needs are not being met, accept that creativity may not be possible at this moment. Instead, focus your energy on meeting these basic needs. If your basic needs are being met, I hope that these suggestions will help you regain your creativity.
1. Skip the self-hatred. Nobody is creative 100 percent of the time. There is no need to beat yourself up. Everyone faces creative roadblocks! View your lack of creativity as a warning sign — similar to the “check engine” light in your car — that you need to make some changes.
2. Take some guilt-free time off. At a minimum, take a day or two where you completely unplug from your work. Give yourself permission to relax. If possible, schedule a weekend away from the office and ditch the devices. If you can’t take a vacation, enjoy a hobby, a fun outing, or a few hours of Netflix. Whatever you choose, your goal is to intentionally disengage your brain from work mode.
3. Shake up your routine. Let your brain know that changes are happening. Take a different route to the gym. Shop at a new grocery store. Walk around the block in the other direction. Work at an outdoor cafe instead of your home office. Compose your weekly newsletter using a pen and paper, instead of your laptop. Write with your non-dominant hand.
4. Complete a personal project. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment by cleaning out your bedroom closet, painting your front door, or planting flowers in your front garden. A couple of years ago, I was recovering from knee replacement surgery and had zero creativity. What I did have was a stack of Kodak slide carousels from the 1950s and 1960s, containing our family photographs. I spent a couple of weeks digitizing the slides. It gave me a sense of achievement and gave me a glimpse of my former, creative self.
5. Try something new. This is another way to let your brain know that changes are happening. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Take a cooking class. Learn to play the guitar. Go country line dancing. Your creativity will percolate as your brain’s kept busy with new activities.
6. Deal with personal issues. Life is messy. It’s hard to be creative when feel overwhelmed by medical, relationship, work, or financial challenges. It’s important to accept that you may not feel creative when you’re going through a divorce, undergoing chemotherapy, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or selling your house. Accept that you have different priorities and focus on getting those in order.
7. Expect things to take longer. Would you expect your car to drive well with a flat tire? It’s the same deal when you’re in a creative slump — things take longer than they would normally. At one point I spent four days trying to add a newsletter opt-in to my website, a project that I thought would take 30 minutes. In hindsight, I should have outsourced the project, however I had no idea that I was too emotionally exhausted to make this happen.
8. Have a creative toolkit. Plan what you can should do when your creativity is low. Do you have a friend who is uplifting? A favorite TED Talk? A hobby that lights your soul? A book, movie, YouTube video, soundtrack, magazine, newsletter, website or podcast that inspires you? Keep the list handy when you need a creative boost.
9. Move your body. It’s hard to feel creative when you’re staring at a computer screen. Get your blood pumping to your brain and connect with your body. Do some pushups or gentle stretching. Dance to some energizing music. Take a short walk.
10. Make a gratitude list. Focus on what’s going well in your life. Write down everything that you are grateful for.
11. Create without expectation. Allow yourself to create in a judgement-free zone, where your goals are to complete the project and (ideally) enjoy the process. For instance, writing a book is difficult. If your expectation is to write a book that’s a New York Times Bestseller, you are setting the bar high enough that it can kill your creativity.
12. Find a supportive community. Your support system does not have to be business-related. This might be people at your place of worship, Chamber of Commerce, or yoga studio. If you don’t have a local group, you’ll have many choices online. I have found Facebook groups to be extremely helpful. And, of course, I invite you to join the Solopreneur Academy.
13. Separate work and hobbies. It is very demoralizing when you feel stuck and your business is your hobby. This is something I deal with as a writer. I spend much of my day writing and know that I don’t have enough energy to write a novel. So how can I separate my work and my hobby? I can choose actions that are adjacent to novel writing — listening to an audio book, going to a book signing, or wandering around a library. These are rejuvenating activities that nourish my love of writing, even when I feel blocked.
14. Stick to a schedule. Creativity is much like a muscle that can atrophy without use. I find regular work hours to be extremely helpful. My brain is trained that, when I sit down at my desk at 9:00 AM, my creativity will flow.
15. Seek help, if needed. According to WebMD, symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, restlessness, fatigue, and hopelessness. (Source) If you’re not regaining your creativity, seek medical help. I have seen many coaching clients regain their creativity after being treated for low Vitamin D levels, thyroid issues, and depression. If you can’t find a physical cause, visit a mental health professional to make sure you’re not depressed or dealing with any other mental health issues.