Does Creativity Have an On/Off Switch?

A boy dressed as a construction worker and busting through an old wall.
Reading 5 minutes
Every creative person has been there at some point, staring at a blank screen or canvas contemplating what it is that they’re attempting to create. In a deadline-driven world, it can feel like a make it or break it situation. It’s nerve-racking and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I’ll touch on why we experience “creative block” and methods that I’ve learned over the years to overcome it as a professional creative.

What is Creative Block?

Creative block can also happen at any point in a project, not just the beginning.

According to Wikipedia, creative block or more commonly known as “writer’s block” is a condition in which the artist/author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slow down. This, however, is not the result of a lack of commitment or skill. Creative block can also happen at any point in a project, not just the beginning. Experiencing a block and not having the ability to overcome it can even exacerbate the problem, triggering a “fight or flight” response. The stress of not being able to create causes frustration and anxiety which ultimately blocks you even further.

Sometimes Life Gets in the Way

I’ve noticed that the amount of sleep I get the night before affects my ability to create immensely.

Sometimes you can’t always blame it on “having a bad creative day.” Life can throw curveballs at you that are subconsciously draining to your creativity. Dealing with events outside of your work-life can be incredibly distracting. Going through a divorce, dealing with the death of a loved one, or stress and depression will put a huge damper on the creative juices. It doesn’t have to be these extreme examples either. I’ve noticed that the amount of sleep I get the night before affects my ability to create immensely. Getting enough sleep and staying hydrated is not only great for your overall health, it typically means you’ll have the ability to be more creative.

Sparking Creativity When it's Not Present

I’ve been a professional graphic designer for over a decade and I can tell you that creative block never goes away. You just become more skilled at combating it when it arrives. Here are some methods that I and others have found to help bring you out of a creative slump:

Use inspiration

Inspiration can come from a multitude of sources. If you’re a visual artist, an example of inspiration could be a folder filled with screenshots of other work that catches your eye. When you don’t know where to start, looking at other artists’ creations can take you from zero to inspired within the blink of an eye. A few online inspiration resources you can try are Abduzeedo, Logopond, and MyModernMet.

Writing down ideas

There’s something special about the relationship between pen and paper. If you work primarily with a computer and create digital art like me, it’s possible to spend an entire day without using analog tools. The mere act of writing or sketching can kick the right brain into gear. The trick is to not hold yourself back. Write down anything that comes to mind about your subject matter. It can be buzzwords and phrases, thumbnail sketches, or even a description of the ideal final outcome of your project. The more you write or sketch, the easier it becomes and the greater the chance of stumbling upon something awesome.

Place yourself in a different environment

An easy hack to help turn on the idea faucet is to remove yourself from your typical working environment and place yourself in a new one. If you work from home, going to a coffee shop to grab a cup of joe and work can be a great way to shake things up. If you’re limited to the office but you have different work zones throughout, try getting away from your desk for a bit. If you’re unable to move from your desk, take a walk around the building. A simple 5-minute walk through a different environment or even outside can be all that it takes to help you bust through the creative cinder blocks. See what I did there?

Limit disruptions when trying to focus

This may go without saying, but distractions are the death of creativity. Turning off notifications, switching your phone to silent, and staying off social media will not only help you get started on your project but it will also keep you in the zone. Staying focused on the task at hand is key to tapping into your creative potential.

Music

Music is a big one for most creatives. It stimulates the right brain (the creative side of the brain) and helps you stay on task. I use different types of music as a tool for various types of creative projects. When I’m creating a layout design that requires strict attention to detail and focus I listen to upbeat, energetic music without lyrics. It’s important to note that lyrics can be distracting. “Working music” is meant to be in the background and more subconscious than listening for enjoyment. If I’m working on something more artistic where I can allow my creativity to run rampant I usually pick music that’s slower and more melodic. If I’m working with numbers or doing any kind of calculation I don’t listen to music at all. Silence is the key for me in these areas. I need absolute focus on my thoughts. I did go to art school after all…

Still Can't Find Your Flow?

Sometimes, the switch just can’t be flipped and postponing work on the project until the next day is more beneficial than trying to grind through

In my experience, there are some days where no matter what I do, I can’t get past the block. When these times occur I just have to walk away from the project. Luckily, I’m more than likely working on multiple projects at one time and I can juggle back and forth, working on a task that doesn’t require as much creative brain power. Sometimes, the switch just can’t be flipped and postponing work on the project until the next day is more beneficial than trying to grind through. I’ve spent hours spinning my wheels on a project just to set it aside and knock it out in a quarter of the time the next day.

Conclusion

The next time you find yourself staring at a blank page I hope these tips that I’ve learned over the years help you break through your own barriers. If you’re still stuck, you are more than welcome to reach out to us for a quick brainstorm. We love meeting new creatives and will never turn down an opportunity to help where we can. What is your experience with creative block and do you believe that creativity can be switched on and off without hesitation?

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