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How to get rid of a creative block

Creative blocks are as old as time and every artists have had one at one point or another. They can be pretty annoying when your livelihood relies on your ability to be creative. It comes as no surprise that to attempt to solve the creative rut problem, the ancient greek deployed a battalion of goddesses dedicated to the arts and science : the muses. The muses were the ones you would go pay a tribute to when you struggled to find the words for your next play, the moves for your next dance or the inspiration for your next poem or song. There were 9 of them to cover all performing arts, literature, history and astronomy. Oddly enough none dedicated to rescue a sculptor or painter out of their creative block misery. So if the greek needed 9 muses to inspire artists, it's safe to say that creativity playing hide and seek with people has pretty much existed all throughout history and with all the tech and science we have, we haven't solved that existential problem yet. Probably because it isn't as big a problem as we thought. Science seems to support the idea that creativity comes in wave and that the phases we call "creative block" are simply a phase during which the brain is catching a breather to regenerate and these period of calm are needed to tackle the next big creative wave. I'm sure you all have had one of those creative surge where you want to do all the things at once and you usually get more ideas than you have waking hours at your disposal to execute them. Those periods of high creativity can be energy draining and once your brain says " no more" it will shut down to being receptive to any idea until it got its energy back.

If you are an introvert, you are probably already familiar with that "recharge your batteries" concept. You might enjoy an evening out with friends and be bubbly and talkative, only to want to see absolutely no one for a few days afterwards because being social drained you completely. The same goes with creativity, when it comes it can deplete your energy levels and push you into needing a break.

it becomes a problem only when your livelihood depends on it

In a world obsessed with productivity at the cost of health, suddenly having an urge to crawl under the covers and munch on chips while watching Netflix isn't going to bode well. But, forcing yourself out of a creative rut is probably not the best idea either.

The day I finally made peace with the fact those periods of low creativity were actually healthy was the day I started getting over them quicker. Sounds weird, but you are better off fully embracing the rut than trying to fight it and push through it. Just like the way out of a Chinese finger trap is to push deeper inwards rather than try to yank your fingers free, the way out of a creative rut is to embrace it and give in to the "laziness" to be able to rebound. Once you fully accept that your creativity will wax and wane, you can plan your work life around it and still be productive without creating new work. This is actually the beauty of working as a creative entrepreneur. Chances are that if you are freelancing, you are also a lot more flexible with your time, and have several streams of income, some of them passive, and some requiring a bit more of your time. Here is how I go about having a waning creative phase these days :

  • If I'm feeling like I could use some downtime, I take it. I only keep the tasks I really can't push around like the art classes I teach, but everything else takes a backseat until I feel energised enough to take on new tasks.

  • Usually my creative blocks have one or 2 days of really not wanting to do anything at all, followed by a few days of me not wanting to do new work, but feeling up to the task of uploading work I had sitting on my computer to my shops, I might even have the energy to revisit an older design and tweak it a bit to create a new version

  • I usually bounce back to a creative phase within a week or so, sometimes it can drag for 2-3 weeks, especially in the hot Summer months when the heat becomes debilitating in Mumbai. Every year without a fail, creativity leaves the building around April and doesn't come back until June when the monsoon comes. This period of creative block is the easiest for me to anticipate, so I usually take full advantage of the fact I am super creative in January and February to create a lot of new things that I save for that period.

You can also strongly reduce the amount of time you spend stuck in a rut by reminding yourself to take frequent breaks in your work. We are not machines, and it's important to have a good work/life balance, EVEN if you love what you do. I don't see doodling or painting as work or as something unpleasant, and I could do it for hours on no end not realising that my mind still would need a break, and that is when the risk of getting sucked in a waning phase strikes.

I usually limit the amount of time I work on weekends and make sure I pepper my week with breaks where I go out, meet friends, go for a walk or a swim, or as it is going to be the case later this morning, go get my nails done. Believe it or not, I plan my work period AROUND my needs for break rather than squeeze my breaks into a work schedule, and doing it that way has been a game changer. Right about now, I'm actually in a "rest phase" I spend 3-4 weeks feeling very creative, and now my body and mind is naturally entering a regenerating phase which it really needs in order to start creating more for the upcoming festive season. It pays to know what your personal cycles feel like, mine are fairly predictable at this point so I know how to work with them.

If you have not yet noticed your own pattern, I urge you to just embrace the phase you are on, possibly journal about it, and let the whole cycle run its course a few times to see how long each of your phases last and what factors might play a role. As I said, my longest rest phase comes between April and mid-June when the heat is at its worst in Mumbai and I have the energy for NOTHING leave alone creating things. I also tend to have a creative block phase right around Christmas until New Year because it's time I want to spend reflecting on myself and spending it with family. The rest of the time I tend to fall in a 3-4 weeks creative phase followed by a 7-10 days phase of rest, with at least 2-3 days of really not wanting to do anything.

You don't have to look for inspiration, let inspiration find you

If you are rested and in the right mindset, ideas will keep flowing from the most unlikely sources at time, like it was the case for my Groovy Rickshaw . Chasing an idea rarely work and you might end up feeling quite frustrated doing so. Ideas tend to come to you when you are receptive to them, once you make peace with that fact, you feel more relaxed and being more relaxed allows ideas to come back to you quicker after a creative block phase. One thing I often do is write ideas down when they strike and wait until I feel ready to give them any attention, it might be an option when I am not yet in a high inspiration and creativity phase, but am out of a highly unmotivated rut period. When you are a creative person, it greatly help to see yourself as a medium through which ideas can manifest, and it's hard work. So like everyone, you need your rest between work periods, that's ultimately how you should approach a creative block, which isn't really a block at all.

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