What causes creative block?

Experiencing creative block is an inevitable part of life and the process for artists and designers. It can come in many different forms and for a variety of reasons. Identifying the source of the blockage is one of the first steps to take in working towards allowing ideas to flow freely again. So, what causes creative block? RMCAD put together four of the most common reasons creative block occurs, and how to push through it below.

Stress or unhappiness

While some thrive and create brilliant work under pressure, others can feel stifled by these stressful circumstances. Being aware of your surroundings and observing them is key. How are these circumstances affecting your thoughts and feelings?

The ability to create can often be linked to our external circumstances, and when these circumstances produce stress or unhappiness, it can put a halt to the creative process. For example, right now there is massive civil unrest accompanied by a global pandemic. Many lives have had to transform and adapt tremendously to survive in this new environment. People are spending more time at home with less face-to-face interaction, doing less of what brings them joy and happiness.

This sort of massive change can cause change to our bodies, minds, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and inevitably creativity. Change doesn’t happen overnight. A global pandemic and a call for radical change and behavior cannot be remedied so easily.

What we can do is create a sanctuary within our homes and our minds. This means creating a space for ourselves to feel comfortable and calm and taking the time to quiet our minds. It could mean taking time to put our phones and computers down, or partaking in activities like meditation, cooking, sewing, sketching, painting, spending time outdoors, listening to music, etc. Separating ourselves from reading news or scrolling through social media and pairing with these activities can help relieve stress on the mind, and create a space for new ideas to grow. 

Ideas are incubating

Creativity can be similar to growing flowers in a garden. There is a cycle to creativity that involves gestation, growing, blooming, observing the object or idea in its physical form, and death. This cycle repeats itself in all observable forms at different rates.

Perhaps the creative block you perceive is not a block, rather a period of time needed to develop the idea further before it can bloom. This philosophy can be liberating and soothing as it reminds us that creativity is its own entity with a life and does not reflect our self-worth as a creator.

When we can allow ideas to grow and bloom, we increase the chance that those ideas will come into the world healthy, full, and multidimensional rather than premature and fragmented. 

Abundance of ideas 

Decision fatigue is quite common when there is an abundance of ideas and uncertainty about which to pursue. While typically having too many ideas is not seen as a hindrance, sometimes the more ideas one has, the more overwhelming it can be to make a decision.

This can complicate the creative process quite a bit. We are limited by our sole human form and can complete one physical or mental task efficiently at a time. The challenge is to carefully choose how to spend your time.

We must choose the creative idea we believe to be most worth exploring. For creatives in this position, it can be beneficial to write or sketch all of your ideas before choosing the one that produces the most excitement and joy.

Remember that you can always pursue other ideas when you are finished with the last. There is also the option to switch between multiple projects over the course of a week, a month, etc. This process can be very fulfilling for some creatives as you may begin to form connections between different projects, providing more meaning and inspiration for your work. Having discipline in the creative process can be challenging, but rewarding. 

Fear of imperfection

One of the most common reasons for creative block is the fear of imperfection, feeling like you are not good enough to see an idea through. Many creatives consider themselves perfectionists, which can prevent the pursuing of ideas or completing projects.

The reality is that nothing and no one is perfect. The only way to truly “perfect” your craft is by actually creating. The theory that everything has to be perfect can be extremely frustrating and stifling to the creative process. Some artists and designers need tough love to push themselves through this slump, others need self-awareness and persistence. Most of all, practice improves your skill. Growth is the closest thing to perfection that will be attained, and it’s not the end of the world to start over when an idea reaches a dead end. 

Remember to give yourself space and time to create as an artist and designer. Recognize what causes creative block, and do your best to push through. Try a digital detox, remember that creativity cannot be forced, look around you for new sources of creativity, allow yourself to fail, and take care of yourself. 

For more information on what causes creative block, check out the Student Learning Center’s tip sheet on Creative Block. This piece was written by Lea Greenwood from the SLC. The SLC welcomes students from all programs both on-campus and online who strive to do better in the classroom while perfecting their craft. Self-schedule an appointment with the SLC here or email the SLC at learning@rmcad.edu