Creative blocks, and what to do when you feel stuck

I’ve always compared creative projects to relationships, especially when your projects are long-term commitments, as many often are.

You have days where you’re totally in love. It all feels right. It feels like it’s “the one.”

And then the next day, out of nowhere, hard questions creep up: is it just a phase? Hormonal? Naive? Wrong?

I’ve been working on the same first draft for the past two years. Some days, I feel like everything in my novel is going just the way I want it to.

And other days have me questioning why I even bother. Usually, those are the days when I can’t bring myself to think of what I need to write next. I just stare at the screen and feel nothing.

But over time, I’ve learned that, like everything in life, blocks are temporary. Creativity, like any relationship, comes with its ups and downs, but if we take responsibility for what we can control and try to meet our creative selves halfway, then those obstacles can actually be turned into inspiration.

1. Trust that it will pass.

The doubt and insecurity will go away. The trick is to not encourage them to linger. Convince yourself that your project sucks and eventually you will start to believe it. Convince yourself that your project still rocks, as much as you believed it did when you first started, and it will.

One thing that can help is to create your own roadmap to remind yourself why you started your project in the first place.

2. Get it back on track

Sometimes, doubt comes up because there’s a flaw or snag in your work that you don’t like. Don’t continue to build on a weak foundation. Go back, fix it up, and then move on. You’ll feel better when you aren’t distracted by something that you know could be better, and you will also feel more confident knowing that any other imperfections that come along the way (and they certainly will show up) aren’t anything you can’t handle.

3. Go back to the beginning

Before you started your project, you probably made some notes or sketches with early ideas. Use these notes as a guide to keep you motivated and inspired. They will remind you of how excited you were when you first came up with your idea, and when you first decided to commit yourself to it.

You might also find a hidden gem of an idea that you’d forgotten about along the way.

Sometimes, after you’ve looked at something for an extended period of time, it’s hard to remember how it all started. These early notes will also remind you of your initial vision and help get you back on track.

4. Spend time with your influences

Where do you draw your influences from? Did the project you’re working on now spring from any specific insipirations?

Re-read a novel or listen to an album or a lecture that moves you. Don’t do anything else while you delve back into earlier inspirations, like watch TV. Just let yourself focus on that one book or movie or whatever it is and refamiliarize yourself with everything about it that once gave you a spark.

What about that piece of work, or its creator, made you want to push yourself in the first place?

You might find it hard to give yourself permission to take the time out to re-read or re-watch or re-listen to something you’ve already digested. Ignore that feeling. That’s just the sound of a society that has confused consumerism for efficiency, making us feel like we always have to move on to something new.

This is studying. It is reflecting.

5. Don’t worry

Okay, easier said than done, I know. Remember at the beginning of this post how I talked about projects being like relationships?

Every relationship has its blah moments, even the strongest ones.

Still, no matter how many times you’ve been there, it can be hard not to worry. Instead of forcing progress, look back at a different project, something you completed in the past that you are proud of. It’s good to remind yourself that you are capable of pulling off a nice piece of work.

And if you don’t have anything that makes you feel that way, look back again to the beginnings of your current project. Take a look at how far you’ve come, and then, just for a day or two, leave it alone.

It will come back to you. Sometimes all you need is a little time apart.

Still feeling stuck? Why don’t you work with me to help get things flowing.

 

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