Creative block – how to overcome seven types

Break your creative block

• Break your creative block •

It happens to us all…

Everyone gets a creative block now and then. Photographers often find themselves in a down period, apparently unable to pick up the camera, somehow stuck. I have identified below seven common ways your creativity can be blocked and how to get past them.

Creative block 1: Mental stagnation

Symptoms: No matter what, new ideas do not come out. You feel lacking in energy and you cannot see past your last piece of work. Your thinking goes round and round and does not seem to embrace anything new.
Solution: This form of creative block is largely about lack of energy and too much inward looking. Here are some things that will help…

  • Get some sleep. Lots of sleep.
  • Go and meet some new people, listen to them. Forget your situation.
  • Renew your past projects – associate them with other photographers similar projects.
  • Do some exercise, regular, challenging and rigorous exercise.
  • Do something creative that is not photography – drawing, painting, sculpture, writing…
  • Get lots more sleep.
Creative block 2: The knowledge block

Symptoms: Procrastination, slow to start your photography, reluctance to try something new, constantly distracted by low priorities.
Solutions: Allocate short periods of your time to doing research into the area you are lacking in knowledge. If you do too much you will make things worse. At the other times work on something that is different to take your mind off the problem area. You will get past this creative block by tackling it directly.

Creative block 3: Emotional blockage

Symptoms: Fear, embarrassment, emotional confusion, lack of focus, lack of commitment, self doubt. These all lead to crippling procrastination.
Solution: Facing emotional blockages is never easy. The very thing that motivates your creativity, your passion, is overcome. There is always pain in confronting your emotional blocks, but you have to face them head on. Any attempt to side-step will leave you with a lasting impact. Write down all the things that are affecting your emotional situation. Then actively look for solutions and tackle them. You will only be able to create again once you have cleared this creative block.

Creative block 4: Overwhelmed

Symptoms: This is when everything is on top of you, you are over-committed, over stretched and pushed to the limit. There is so much that appears to suck out your energy that creativity is the last thing on your mind. We all have this type of block at some time. There is just too much that demands our attention and it stops everything else dead. Attempting to forge ahead despite the overwhelming issues will just mean more distraction.
Solution: Prioritise. If your time for creativity is limited then you must clear the things that are demanding your attention. Deal with them in a methodical way, one thing at a time. Take one step at a time and sort them out. You will be overwhelmed for a while. If you keep in mind where you want to be you will eventually get passed the issue. You will get past this creative block by working through the issues.

Creative block 5: Your methods

Symptoms: We often find that what we once did is very different to what needs to be done now. I have often found that my students become unproductive because they find that their methods early methods are no longer right for them.
Solution: Examine what you are currently doing. See if you can find a better way to do it. Photographers often get to point where they know they can produce sharper images, but are not doing it. Try writing down your process, what you do when taking photos. You will probably find it is a bit chaotic. Lack of discipline is a classic issue for sharpness. Working out a new approach and an appropriate procedure to ensure quality shots will help. This new approach takes time and practice, but it will help you get past your existing poor methods. It will allow you to get back to your creativity.

Creative block 6: Personal issues

Symptoms: If you are a creative person your personal life can often get in your way. The exact problem or reason may not be clear. You need to think about what prevents you thinking creatively.
Solution: Once you have the issue clearly fixed you have also defined your solution. Write a plan for overcoming your problems. Some things are not going to go away easily. Divorce, poverty, ill-health and many other persistent problems need to coped with. So try to give yourself space to be creative and space to be able to work on your plan. If things that are problems for you are going to be there for a long time having some creative space will also help you come to terms with the problem itself. Your personal life is a part of your creative life. You cannot separate them. But you can try to deal with them separately. Your creativity can then be a refuge from the problems. Get passed this creative block by putting parts of your life into their own compartments.

Creative block 7: Lack of creativity options or stimulus

Symptoms: Sometimes what you have been doing to stimulate your creative thinking no longer works. There are many things you can do to change that. Quite simple ideas often help. But, they may take a bit of work. Our creativity is a complex thing. To change our creative approach can be complex too.
Solution: Here are some ideas to help you get new creative angles…

  • Research a completely new area of interest. Start taking photos in that interest.
  • Read a book that’s a new interest. Think about taking photos as scenes from the book.
  • Start to learn a new language.
  • Research jobs you have never done. Try to understand the perspectives or drives.
  • Do something you have always wanted to do but never had time for in the past.
  • Turn some of your pictures on display upside down. Look at them frequently.
  • Review past photographic projects – consider doing them differently now.
  • Take some unrelated ideas and try to combine them – thought experiments.
  • Pick 30 random words from a dictionary. Spend 30 days expressing them photographically.
  • Buy a magazine on a subject you want to know about. Look at the photos. Can you do any?
  • How would a pilot, doctor, or fireman take your previous pictures? What would they see?
  • Sleep a lot. Creativity is very taxing for your mind and sleep helps a great deal.

Each of these ideas are a guide for you to think in new ways. Aim to change your approach. To pick up new creative ideas. Think differently about your photography. Let in new concepts. Try new perspectives. What you are doing here is renewing your photographic interests. Open up your mind to get past this creative block.

The creative block is…

Learning to recognise you are stuck in a rut is not easy. It may be just a case of tiredness. It may be something deeper. One of these creative blocks above, or another type of block may come at any time. These ideas are a tool to open up the issue for you. They can help you to find a way out the next time a creative block strikes.