Understanding Creative Block - and How to Defeat It!

Regardless of the industry you work in, you’ve probably faced creative block. Have you had days where putting together a presentation feels like pulling teeth? Or days when writing a simple blog or article takes 4 times as long as it usually does? That’s creative block. It can make your brain feel sluggish and uninspired, and can cause a lot of frustration.

In this piece we’re gonna work out what creative block is, what causes it and how best to overcome it. Hopefully after reading this you’ll be equipped with a few tools to rid yourself of this creative pest once and for all.

What is creative block?

Good Therapy describes creative block as: ‘The inability to access one’s internal creativity. Those in creative professions—writers, musicians, performers, artists—are often more likely to be affected by creative blocks, which can last for days, weeks, months, or even years.’ The reason it’s referred to as a ‘block’ is because it literally feels like a wall or a barrier between your brain and it’s usual creative resources.

You know the feeling of knowing a word but you just cannot think of it? You literally scan your entire brain and you just cannot come up with the right word. It’s not because you don’t know the word or the meaning of it, it’s just that momentarily, it feels like that information has been hidden from your brain. That’s how creative block feels. You know the information and the skills are there but you just cannot access them.

What causes creative block and how you can solve them

Obviously these points won’t all resonate with everyone. Creative block comes from the brain, and your brain is a very personal thing. Just because your creative block is caused by something specific like tiredness, doesn’t mean that’s the trigger for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all cause or solution I’m afraid. But this list should cover the biggies, and hopefully at least one of these items will feel familiar to you.


Cause 1: You’re too busy

Are you one of those people who is always ‘on’? Do you constantly have a to-do list as long as your arm with no end in sight? Do you spend hours and hours each day on menial tasks that you find a bit dull but are necessary? Cue creative block. Your brain needs some downtime. Is it any wonder that you’re struggling to use your imagination or come up with new ideas - you’re totally brain-fried from emails and calendars and other little jobs you actively dislike doing.

How to solve it

This may sound trite, but you need to carve out some ‘me-time’. You’re not giving your brain the space and time it needs to get whirring away and creating new ideas. Have a little think about your priorities; can those emails wait until the morning? Can you batch cook one night a week to save you some time? Can you schedule your social media posts so you don’t have to lend so much headspace to them day to day?

Once you’ve carved out a little hour or two of calm, it’s your choice what to do with it. Great ways to relax your tired brain include yoga, a long shower or bath, a fun craft like knitting or cross stitching - anything that brings you a little bit of peace. Spend a few days really making an effort to relax, I’m sure your creative juices will be flowing in no time!


Cause 2: Fear of failure

Ahh self-sabotage, that old chestnut. I think if you asked anyone around you if they’d ever experienced this, they’d scoff in your face and tell you of course not. But they’d be wrong. All of us are guilty of this in one way or another, but barely any of us recognise that we’re doing it. Do you have nagging doubts about your abilities? Do you constantly compare yourself to others in your field? It could be that your creative block is a manifestation of those feelings about your own abilities. If you don’t believe you can succeed, how are you going to? It’s time to drop that self doubt and get your confidence and creativity brimming!

How to solve it

You have to learn to recognise these niggling feelings of self-doubt as they arise so you can nip them in the bud. Take a good long look at all the things you have accomplished. Write a list if you need to - who doesn’t love a list?! Talented people so rarely believe they are talented, but understanding your own strengths isn’t the same thing as bragging. It’s crucial that you own your strengths and work on your weaknesses and stop doubting your abilities. Put the work in and write some affirmations if that’s what you need to do. Your creative block will be gone in no time!


Cause 3: Perfectionism

This one may seem a bit out of place, because surely it’s a good thing to strive for perfection? Nope. Perfectionism is nothing but a pain in the arse and a dream killer. You know why? Because perfect doesn’t exist. At least never in the eyes of the creator. Do you find yourself endlessly tweaking and examining your projects? Picking them apart pixel by pixel or stroke by stroke? Have you ever scrapped a project that was 99% for a reason that only you could see? You’re suffering from perfectionism my friend, and it’s holding you back. Can you understand why your brain won’t create beautiful and perfect ideas when you can’t ever let them be fulfilled to fruition? Or when you fixate on a project for so long that all joy and inspiration you may get from it is lost? These are not healthy conditions for a thriving creative mind.

How to solve it

Just take a step back, man! Perfection does not exist. It’s an unattainable target that you’re never going to reach. All you’re doing is massively slowing down the creative process, bogging your mind down in the tiny details for WAY too long, and causing yourself creative dissatisfaction. If you’re creating work for a client, who are you to decide it isn’t good enough? Let your creative babies fly the nest, allow the clients to make their own decisions. I should say - I’m not advocating sending any old shite out to clients, but if you’re at the stage where you’ve been tweaking and untweaking the same curve angle for the best part of a day, you’re in too deep and you need to let it go.


Cause 4: Procrastination

This one hits home for me, as there’s nothing I enjoy more when a deadline’s looming than my 7000th scroll through Facebook of the day. We’re all guilty of procrastination sometimes, and sometimes it’s not the end of the world to put something off until the last minute. But if you’re making a habit of it, you’re putting yourself under way too much time pressure when the time does come. That sense of impending doom doesn’t work well with the creative process, though no doubt you’ve heard plenty of people say ‘I work best under pressure’. Maybe some people do. But if you’re struggling to engage your creative side under these unnecessarily tight deadlines then you’re clearly not one of them.

How to solve it

Honestly, at risk of sounding harsh, you just need to get on with it. Get organised, buy a planner and book out specific times for project work, make a real effort to get ahead. Allowing yourself plenty of time gives your brain room to think and come up with new ideas and solutions that you simply can’t access with only an hour to do the project. Give it a try, your next project block time out to work on it consistently over the course of a couple of weeks. See how much less stressed you feel, how little pressure there is crushing you. This may be enough to open up your creative brain and get your work back on top form.

Hopefully you’ve recognised some of the habits in this blog which may be causing your creative block. Try the solutions listed above and see what impact they make. Get in touch and let me know how you get on!

Naomi Bowden