Beating creative block

Cards on the table: First and foremost, I’m a writer. And while I’ve worked with more than my share of design gurus, I’m not one myself. But that doesn’t mean we don’t share some commonality—namely, an affinity for the creative, and an aptitude for having that creativity blocked.

Anyone who taps into the right brain—from artists and musicians to illustrators and designers—can and does experience creative dead ends. Here are some methods for breaking through the madness of mind block.


1. Avoid the thing all together—at least for a while

Forced creativity, by definition, lacks inspiration. So, if nothing’s coming, stop forcing it. Try doing something monotonous like vacuuming, organizing the garage, working in the yard, or washing your hair. When your brain goes on autopilot, sometimes the best brilliance creeps in. Granted, you can’t use this little trick as license to steer clear of your duties for an indefinite amount of time (although you might wind up with a spick-and-span home in the process if you do). But odds are inspiration will strike through the tedium, and you can return to the screen ready and able to produce.


2. Seek random inspiration

If you’re designing a website, you might be tempted to look at other websites—but take the route of the counterintuitive and avoid the urge whenever possible. Instead, look outside of your field. Get inspired by the cinematography and musicality of the newly released Les Mis. Watch “Seinfeld” reruns and revel in the witty repartee about nothing. Pick up a book on virtually any topic and flip through. Who knows what mish mash of great ideas could unravel in your blocked brain from a little unrelated stimulation.


3. Employ a reward system

It worked for Pavlov’s dog, didn’t it? As much as we would like to pride ourselves on being above pedestrian compensation because we “do it all for love of the craft,” the bottom line is that human beings, like the canines, are motivated by the proverbial dangled carrot. So whether it’s a steaming-hot caramel latte, a turn with the Wii, or a piece of the break room cake that could serve as motivation, don’t belittle the power of a well-earned reward.


4. Move your body

As that great philosopher (and champion of the English language) Beyonce observed, “A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody”. Perhaps there’s a better way to say it, but the point is nonetheless the same. Take a walk, go for a jog, play catch, or just stretch—the endorphins released from good old-fashioned exercise are great brain stimulators. So much so, in fact, that you may find yourself bolting back to the computer before your workout is even complete. 


Show up

After you’ve cycled through numbers one through four, get back on the horse. You might not know exactly where you’re heading, but start the process. At best, the inspiration will flow; at the very least, you’ll make a little headway. Musician Jamie Lidell put it this way:

Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days … you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that.

So take heart, all you creatives. Mental blocks are just part of the game—and lucky for us, we get the fun of playing.

Do you suffer from creative block? What do you do to break through it? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, creative block image via Shutterstock.

  • Marc Posch

    Great advice. They say, if you want to be creative, get away from your computer. Always works for me. Walking the dog, going out for a run… anything.

  • tannerc

    Really great advice. Creative block was a problem for me for a while, which is why I created an app to beat it (which incorporates some of the steps you’ve outlined here). Check it out at and let me know what you think.

  • Benny Andrianto

    Agree with this articles. Sometimes I just can’t get my creativity out. Its better take a break to bring out creativity thing.

  • Kate Jackson

    This couldn’t have come at a more opportune time… Your post gave me permission to badger my husband about the lack of organization in my garage and reminded me to catch Les Mis on the big screen. I came home from the film with a clear head, an inspired vision to create, and a clean place to park my car! Props to you, Miss Kole. :)

  • Michael Janik

    I think tiredness is a big thing. It is important to sleep. To take a long walk, a fast absorbing calcium magnesium supplement and internet free time before going to bed can help here tremendously. I observed as well that sometimes it is important to read true the demands of the customer a few times and then start with the most easy bit.

  • SBP Romania

    i find it useful to take a break from my work, and just don’t think about it for a few minutes. then everything gets clearer :)

  • Joe Nicklo

    Love the Beyonce comment — “Champion of the English language”. Thank you for starting my day off with a laugh :)

  • Sarah Bauer

    What a timely article for me, sitting here in a slump of writer’s block, procrastinating on design sites. I know what I have to do to get out of it- your article outlines some awesome go-to’s- but the most effective method I’ve discovered is to shake up my work routine. I’ll try an early morning ( really early, like 5 AM early), for quiet clarity, to beat the traffic and busy energy. I feel confident ( I’ve got all day to figure my stuff out), and fresh. It definitely wakes up creativity, although I still need a coffee for the rest of me!

    Great article, thanks
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • Katie

    What a great article! Definitely gives great tips on how to rid creative block, that I seem to get all too often lately. I find that listening to classical music clears my head, as well as calms me down from the struggle of finding creativity. I also find reading books, even reference books on fine art and history helps me as well. Thanks for the read!

  • Teri Adams

    Having a reward system is a great idea. Who doesn’t want a nice personal reward from time to time? Overall, these tips are great. In addition, I found some useful scientific-based approach that everyone might find helpful as well: