The following is a list, in no particular order of some things you can do to overcome creative resistance and build some creative momentum. It’s not an exhaustive list, but touches on some of the things I’ve found helpful or that I’ve come across when reading about creativity.
1. Give yourself a break
First of all, give yourself a break! We all have not so great, bad or even terrible days. When you accept that’s the case, you can go from a place where you are your worst critic, to a place of self-care. That’s realism. We all have things that might upset up, distract us or knock or creative world and priorities off kilter.
When you learn to understand that’s actually okay, it’s normal then you can come from a place of forgiveness and it’s easier to move on from a creative block that might be instigated by a mood swing, a personal interaction or a circumstance out with your control. Be kind to yourself in a realistic way and think about what you need to do to take care of yourself so that the next day or week is better both creatively and personally.
2. Go for a walk
There is so much to be said for allowing your subconscious time to mull things over. It’s the same kind of thing as where you gain insight in the shower, when you go for a cycle or exercise, tidying up or when doing the dishes. Sometimes stepping away from creativity is actually what gives your subconscious the chance to make connections.
Going for a walk allows you to slow life down and live in the moment for a short while. Physiologically, exercise and fresh air can be refreshing and energising. Stepping away from a piece of work or an idea, to think either consciously or subconsciously, can make a huge difference in the insights, aha moments and to the creative momentum. Walking also allows you to change your perspective. Go to the beach, up a hill or somewhere that lets you switch your depth of field to seeing things up close and really far away.
3. Read a creative book
Reading fiction can be a really good way to escape and switch off, but I find that I can sometimes hide in a good fiction book and depending on the plot it may have positive or negative impact on my mood and creativity. Having a reading list of creative, factual or self-help books can be really helpful and can fit well into s routine.
For example, my Summer reading list this year so far includes ‘Wired to Create’, ‘Real Artist’s Don’t Starve’, ‘The Artist’s Journey’, ‘Creativity’, ‘Flow’ and ‘Women who run with wolves’. On top of that I’ll probably get through two to three urban fantasy fiction books. So for creative or factual reading, 30-60 minutes here or there and for reading fiction either when I go to bed or more at other times if I feel I need to unwind and disengage.
4. Schedule time to create
I find this really important. It seems like a no brainer, but it’s about making sure you have a comfortable schedule that means you will get so many hours painting, drawing or writing a week and that your priorities don’t fall to the wayside. It is very easy to get caught up in other things and not to prioritise your work and ideas. It is equally easy to spread yourself too thinly over multiple areas, so that you don’t really see much progress.
By scheduling time to create and sticking to it, you make sure that you have dedicated time and space for particular create tasks and aims. You can take that one step further and project manage your time a little more tightly, so that you have a better idea of what you want to achieve in a specific timeframe.
I should emphasise that I’m a fairly organised person. I like to use google calendar to organise my week and to schedule tasks in chunks of 1-4 hours. You may prefer to work on a more ad-hoc basis. The good thing about having a routine is that you can break the rules, move things about, ignore the routine or change it as you see fit. Three times in the last 5 days I’ve scratches things out to go for a nap, because I haven’t been sleeping as well as usual and I needed to do that to balance myself out.
5. Be consistent
Consistency relates to finding time to create and that’s in ensuring that time spent is consistent and becomes habit. It is very easy to fall out of the habit or to become the artist who doesn’t find time to draw or paint, or to be the writer who isn’t writing. Consistency is vital to creativity or to creative output. Sometimes you don’t feel so creative and that’s actually when routines and structures that you put into place can help. If I know that if I spend specific portions of my time writing, reading, drawing or painting, then those routines become habits, those habits become consistencies and that is what makes the difference.
You might have times where you feel really switched on creatively and are in creative flow, which is the most amazing thing to take advantage of and to perhaps alter routines to work around. However, we are not in a creatively optimal place all the time, we need down time and that is when routines can really help maintain momentum and also provide an environment, creative practice and scenarios where we get newly inspired and can more easily reach creative flow again.
6. Create associations
I find music is a really good creative association, whereas television is an awful association. If I’m by myself, more often that not I’ll listen to music. If I’m writing or reading it’s instrumental. If I’m painting or drawing, lyrics can be helpful to let me mind wander. Television in our house tends to be instigated either by my children or my husband. There can be multiple screens on, with multiple audio and that’s far too much stimulus for me to cope with. I find it stressful and distracting. Headphones can be a god send, either on my ears or on my children’s. I find they can be a good way to tune out and to really focus with instrumental music. Other times I need quiet.
Other associations can be helpful too. Coffee is another one of mine that I find useful at some times (first thing in the morning) and not at others (after mid-afternoon). Associations tie into consistency, routines and habits. It can be as simple as putting a specific outfit on because you know you are going to paint or exercise.
7. Switch off social media (and email)
This is another thing you can fit into your routine. By limiting time spent on social media you can prioritise your creative time more constructively. We all use social media in different ways and it can be a really useful tool for creating relationships. However, it’s possible to work with social media on a much more push based way, where as a creative we are the people pushing out, creating and sharing content for others, rather than spending (often in inordinate amount of) our time absorbing others’ social media outputs and really have limited control over what we are experiencing and are exposed to.
I use a few different things to help me manage social media. I have extensions for my browsers which block social media. For Chrome I use ‘StayFocusd’ and for Firefox ‘Simple URL Blocker’. You get similar for your phone. Now I can always go and switch these off manually, but I can also give myself a limit of social media time within a period. The other thing I use is RescueTime, which records in the background anything I’m doing on my computer and I can assign a productivity level. I can add time in manually as well if I am doing something like teaching, painting or cycling. Writing I tend to do on the computer anyway so it’s automatically tracked. I can go into RescueTime and see just how productive or unproductive I’m being. My productivity around the 2017 general election was terrible as I was really distracted. RescueTime also lets me look back by week or month and see general trends in my productivity or to see where I might be spending time disproportionately.
Email is another thing I try to be quite strict about checking. So I have specific times of the day that I check my email, rather than constantly being bombarded with notifications or email distractions that aren’t on my terms.
8. Notebooks & sketchbooks
I find using a notebook and sketchbooks really useful partly to record my train of thought over a particular time, but it’s also a good creative study skill. A lot of my netbooks will tend to be more narrative than drawn, whereas with sketchbooks I’d be more likely to stick specific samples of work together. The thing with having a physical notebook compared to using and electronic notebook (I do use both), is it can be easier to flip back through a paper notebook and see things sequentially, compared to working with multiple notes in something like Evernote.
Having a notebook you can write ideas of interest or insights that come along, gives you a reservoir you can dip into later. I have notebooks from a few years ago that I still go back to. They’re not for anyone else to read particularly, so the level of scrawly handwriting is for my own reference. They are a way of consolidating ideas or insights that can be easily referenced. Think of them like a creative brain dump that allows you to both archive ideas (that may not even seem relevant yet), while freeing up your present creative consciousness.
9. Encourage yourself
I cannot emphasise this enough. Encourage and reward yourself. This goes full circle back to giving yourself a break, but we can be our own worst critics. The critic in ourself is the fear of failure, of not being good enough or of thinking people won’t like what we make, that there is little value in our work. Why would we discourage or self-sabotage ourselves so?
Creative mantras can help with this. I use these on my website intentionally. For example some of my current mantras are:
– I am willing (to learn) to let myself create.
– I am willing to be of service through my creativity.
– I am the author of my own creative journey.
– I am allowed to nurture my creative self.
These may seem woo woo or out there, but conceptually, these are the kinds of things we need to be telling ourselves – to trust in ourselves, to be kind to ourself and the artist within. Creative mantras can be a good way to work through creative blocks, because you can turn those creative blocks around, flip them on their heads and contest them.
Why when you could see the glass is half full, would you think it is instead half empty? This is all about perspective and attitude. Constructive criticism is all very well, but is the poor sibling of positive reinforcement. If we are so critical that it affects our (or others’) ability or confidence to perform, to improve or to produce, then what is the purpose of the critique other than making ourself or others feel bad? It’s also a matter of criticality and understanding which criticism or encouragement is fair, accurate or useful.
Another common theme with criticism is that we and others will often focus on the negative aspects of work or performance, without rewarding, encouraging or acknowledging the positive aspects. Simply put, that is a lost opportunity.
10. Allow downtime
Downtime can be as simple as taking breaks during the day or taking time out for entertainment, exercise or socialising. The thing is we need some degree of respite and inactivity. It’s one of the things we can consider a reward and another way to distance ourselves from creative work to gain perspective. That might mean that you prioritise specific time for relaxing. For example, I do tend to work at the weekends or in the evenings, but I carve out at least part of the day or weekend that is for my family. So during weekdays that’s always between 6pm and 8pm or after, during the weekend it might mean an afternoon on the beach, playing games or reading to my kids. Sometimes I need more downtime and that’s when I adapt schedule to accommodate.
11. Keep things simple
This is another really important lesson I’ve learnt over the past year or so. It can be much easier to overcomplicate than to simplify. I’m prone to this in my own work where I take on so wide a breath of work, that little gets finished. The advantage with that is when I was working on rebuilding my website, I’d already done most of the work previously, but I could have kept things much simpler and by doing so got more done.
I’ve noticed the same when teaching art and design or tutoring; to keep things as simple and coherent as possible. There are ways to tie yourself down to that. So for example, with lesson introductions I created a template that shows at a maximum, four very basic pieces of information. Introduction, learning intentions, task / demonstration and success criteria. This sounds really obvious, but for me I am inclined to overcomplicate and the thing is, that makes your life and workload much more difficult than it actually needs to be. The question I often ask myself now is ‘How can I simplify this?’. Through simplification, your message and communication becomes clearer and it’s easier for others to understand, visualise or connect with your work.
12. Change your perspective
There are drawing exercises you can do such as continuous line or upside down drawing and one of the key strengths of these are that they can allow you to change your normal perspective. Similar exercises with writing would be free writing. exploring writing prompts or alternate scenarios. The advantage of changing perspective is that it allows us to refresh and see the world in a different way.
13. Watch the world go by
By being more mindful we can tap into our creativity in a different way. This ties into changing perspective and being present in the moment. For me this is usually when I go for a walk or cycle, or if I am out with my children. I focus on the here and now. I might people watch, watch the world go by or stop and smell the flowers. We spend so much of our time rushing about or lost in our own thoughts, problems and distractions. Taking time to switch off and to consider the colours, smells and imagery in front of us can be a really good form of creative meditation. I find photography helps me do this, particularly landscape photography. Observation drawing as well, because we have to focus on the details in front of us, and doing scan be really excellent exercises in mindfulness.
14. Have a creative space
You don’t need much to have a creative space. Some they might have a whole studio. I have a desk, drawer and sometimes drawing board that I tend to share with my 9 year old daughter. A sketchbook, notebook, laptop or computer could be your creative space. You don’t need much space to be creative. What you need is for your creative space to be accessible, whether physically or by association. Creative space can equally be reflection of your mind, that you have space prioritised there to be creative.
15. Just create
This last one is very obvious. Procrastination can be a pain to work through and it is very easy to write, to plan or to think about creating, when really what’s needed is just to get on with your creative practice. Sometimes we need to procrastinate or certain tasks are suited better for certain times, but that’s not always a luxury we have or a positive starting point.
It’s only by creating and practicing that you’ll see productivity increase and outcomes produced. Creative practice and process is where the magic happens and where we are able to reflect and understand the creative connections and steps we need to take or to develop towards. What happens when I put the paint on like this, or overpaint in this way? I don’t know until I try and I’m not actually asking and answering those questions unless I physically try out different ideas and techniques. Another point about practicing is, sometimes you didn’t even know there was a question, until you see the answer in front of you and you won’t see either unless you get on with the work.