Writers have been aware of this phenomenon for some time and even coined a term for it – Writer’s Block – although such dry spells are certainly not unique to writers, which is why I prefer the term creative block.
Experienced artists generally are not as perturbed by such periods, recognizing their cyclical nature and having learned to persevere through them, trusting that inspiration will return in due time. Still, even the most savvy of artists and authors may find themselves spiralling into depression when such blocks persist for prolonged periods of time.
Creativity is a complex subject and one that is not yet fully understood, making the causes of creative blocks a matter of both speculation and experience. Any number of factors may contribute to them; ranging from external demands and distractions to internal states of mind. Whatever the cause, creative blocks are very real, very common, and may even be unavoidable. They may last for days, months or years. Many remedies for creative blocks were proposed over the years, indicating two truisms about them: that there is no known guaranteed solution, and that different situations and different personalities call for different approaches.
While an absolute solution to creative blocks is not known, one thing can be stated with certainty: the worst thing you can do when experiencing them is to exacerbate the situation. As many thinkers noted, we may not be in control of what happens to us, but we are in control of how we respond to it. In any such situation, the things worth consciously avoiding are anxiety and panic. To do so, remind yourself that creative blocks happen to everyone, and they are always temporary in nature. Rather than trying to force yourself to be creative (an endeavor almost guaranteed to fail), consider using this “down time” in more positive ways, and have faith that the muses will again find you when the time is right. Avoid spiralling into depression and making things worse.
I certainly don’t know of a failsafe solution, but here are a couple of methods that worked for me. They will not prevent creative blocks, but I can say with confidence that mine have become shorter and more manageable as a result. I’ll start with an observation from Philosopher John Stuart Mill who said, “No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.” Indeed, given that creative blocks originate in the mind, it is safe to say that their solution is to be found there, too.
My observation is that creativity begets creativity, and productivity begets productivity. The more you do something, especially something novel and complex, the easier it will be to do it again. By this, I don’t mean rehashing work already done before, but rather the process of making such work. Shifting focus to the process (rather than the products) of art-making is not an intuitive one, yet it comes with many advantages. For starters, if you find the process rewarding, you are guaranteed to enjoy what you do no matter how good or bad the outcome is. More to the point, though, with constant repetition of the process, regardless of whether the outcome is successful, you are exercising your ‘creative muscles.’ In time, creative work becomes intuitive – you are literally reconfiguring your brain to follow desirable creative patterns (this is known as neuroplasticity).
In other words, much like the body, a creative mind that is exercised regularly will perform better and more consistently. When training the body, sometimes you run on a treadmill, going nowhere, and sometimes you hike a trail to get to a magnificent view, but in both cases you are keeping yourself in shape, physically and creatively.
Read this and many more articles in High Definition inside Issue 42 of Landscape Photography Magazine.