“Creative block” is not insurmountable. Understanding what drives creativity will allow you to continually push your creative work to its bounds without being knocked out of commission for weeks on end.
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Let’s look at your creativity pool. What makes it grow, what consumes it, and what refills it?
Two ways to expand your creative pool:
Learning. One of the best ways to expand your creative pool is through learning. When you learn more in-depth about a subject or topic, imagine your creative pool increasing in depth. This increases the volume of your pool and what your mind can draw from.
One type of learning is what you’re doing right now, reading. You’re feeding your mind with new or additional knowledge. Most of the work is happening inside your mind. This could be done through listening as well, and includes activities like reading sheet music, studying chess theory, listening to a podcast, etc.
The other type of learning is practice. Practice could be playing the guitar, playing games of chess, or recording audio over and over for a project. Basically, you put in the hours to acquire or improve the skill.
Exploration. It may seem similar to learning, but exploration is about acquiring knowledge in unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable areas. Find a podcast or book on horse riding, wine tasting, traveling on a budget or anything unrelated to your current focus.
If you are struggling to solve a problem and do not feel creative, find a subject you know almost nothing about and explore it. The problem is you may be too narrowly focused inside your specific problem. Exploring new areas can expand your breadth, leading to new ideas. When you explore novel areas, imagine your creative pool expanding its width.
Also, exploration of a new topic gives your mind a rest from the current problem, so you can be fresh when you come back to it later.
If you’re feeding your mind well, how else do you exploit creative ideas or solutions?
Sit down (or stand up) and start putting in the work. If your problem is defined, start fleshing out ideas towards solving that problem. This could be on paper, a whiteboard, out loud with a colleague or even to yourself. Imagine the water in your pool draining as you use your creativity.
These initial thoughts may not solve the problem entirely but they will lay a good foundation. No person has perfect, great ideas every time. They slog through the shitty ones, or even just basic ones which lay a foundation for better ideas to come. Sometimes you will be on, sometimes you’ll be off.
That’s fine and normal. It’s important to develop a habit of pushing through those initial ideas. Do not paralyze yourself with a dumb expectation that you will not share a thought or write out an idea until its completely right. It takes work to build great ideas and you should expect work.
Once in a while, you may be hit with a charge of inspiration. You may not know where it came from, but it’s here, you’re letting it take you over and suddenly several hours has passed. Where did the time go?
You reflect back on the work you produced and it’s fantastic! That’s awesome. Don’t crush inspiration when it comes, but see inspiration as a random treat to be exploited instead of a daily expectation.
If you read the book Daily Rituals, it follows hundreds of creatives from sculptors to scientists. Almost all of the greats have daily habits they follow that deal with putting in the work several hours a day (slogging through shitty ideas) over waiting for inspiration.
Refilling your pool. Rest is vital!
You know how to keep your creative pool growing and how to exploit your pool. However, even with growth turned to the max, you can still drain your pool. No person can output creative solutions 24/7, 365 days a year. Rest refills your pool and is necessary for long term, consistent output.
Rest is an unrelated activity to the creative goal that shifts your mind from thinking about the problem and lets your conscious mind wander or take a break. Rest comes in a variety forms.
Sleep, meditation, reading a book, taking a shower, nap, walk or going for a drive can all be excellent ways to rest your mind.
Sleep lets your mind rejuvenate the body. Your mind is able to sift through collected information from the day and form new connections or weaken less relevant information. The next day you can awaken fresh with new ideas relevant to your creative endeavors.
Meditation brings focus to your breath or your body. The change of focus allows your mind to pull away from its previous focus and re-calibrate back towards baseline. Depending on how long you’ve spent using your creativity will affect the length of time you need to spend meditating. The situation may require 5 minutes, a half hour, or longer. Usually 20 minutes works well for me.
A nap is similar to meditation but involves you falling asleep for a brief period. Sometimes my mediation melds into a nap. Before meditating I’ll set a timer to wake me in the event that I fall asleep.
Showers are refreshing. A hot or cold shower can help change your state of mind.
Walking or exercise is a great tool for forcing your mind to take a break. If your intensity level is high enough in either cardio or during lifting, it’s almost impossible to have complex thoughts. Walking may not be high intensity, but going outside and seeing nature is helpful too.
A peaceful drive can be useful but is not always strong enough for pulling your mind away from the previous task. Similarly, reading is sometimes useful and sometimes not.
Reading requires some brain power and may be too much if your focus is tapped. If you have enough focus to read, the new topic will help your mind switch from the old one.
The above examples are not the only ways to rest your mind. Try different rest activities and find out which are most useful towards your goals.
Creative block is complained about often as something real and a true struggle. Understanding how to increase your creative capacity through learning and exploration will help chip away at that obstacle.
Taking adequate rest following a creative period will help you later return to your work refreshed and ready to tackle it again.
It is important to balance the growth, draining and refilling of your pool. If one piece is out of whack, you may get the feeling of creative block. However, it is easily remedied by identifying what is off and correcting course.