It seems most artists and writers go through times when they feel blocked, or worse, burnt out. These are trying times, when nothing flows and inspiration seems absent. It feels as if, inside, there’s a vacuum where artistry used to be. A blank space. A black hole. Or a huge, unscalable wall. And the longer it’s there, the bigger it seems to get. I know something of this, having spent the last four months feeling ‘blocked’ and unable to really produce anything much at all. I have tinkered at the edges of things. I have worried that I might have lost my way, my touch, my ability. I’ve considered other avenues. I’ve questioned my approach. I’ve questioned my ability. I’ve even questioned writing this blog post. Let’s face it, it would be so much easier to write about less personal things like exhibitions I’ve been to etc., but this is important. I know I am not alone in how I have been feeling. This is probably an occupational hazard, after all. I still find myself longing to create and feel massively frustrated that I haven’t been able to. Now though, I feel that enough time has passed and been lost, and I need to reclaim and rekindle my creative side. I’ll share ‘how’ I’m doing this with you, by analysing the block and working out a strategy to fix it.
CAUSES OF CREATIVE BLOCK
In asking myself the question, ‘What has caused me to feel blocked?’, I find the answer buried in two things. Firstly, life events – sometimes, the things that happen in everyday life can hit you hard and knock you back. I think the sudden death of my dear, beloved dog last year upset me more than I had realised. I think grief goes deeper than we sometimes think, and it’s not always easy to brush it off and be brave. I’ve also had a busy year with family and lots of changes on the horizon. My attention has been ‘elsewhere’, which is just what happens sometimes. It’s just ‘Life’… The trouble with attention being ‘elsewhere’ is that production effectively stops. This is dangerous in the sense that ‘practice’ stops, and this has led to the second cause of my creative block which is that other old enemy, Self Doubt. Yes. You probably know it!
I am a firm believer that practice really is the most important work. I wanted to say ‘Practice makes perfect’, but focusing on making things ‘perfect’ is another route to creative block – more on this later. I find, without daily practice, that my creative muscles stiffen and seize up, which in turn, prevents any sort of flow. Things that were easy become alien. Doubt slithers in and starts to consume any semblance of confidence, and it’s all downhill from there. Self doubt breeds fear. Fear hits confidence harder again, and then, my friends, you are stuck fast. That’s pretty much where I have been since February this year, and thank goodness for the frogspawn that graced my wildlife pond around that time, as I have at least had their development to post on my Instagram feed!
HOW I’M TACKLING CREATIVE BLOCK
1. Accountability – Every two weeks, my accountability buddy Andy and I meet online to discuss progress against goals we’ve set ourselves, and to update those goals to help us move forward. Andy has been very helpful, patient and understanding these last few months, and I am very grateful to him. Being accountable to someone else is a great way to focus on what you really need to be doing, and to not let yourself or that someone down. Thank you, Andy…
2. Being accountable to myself – Part of the problem with creative block and self doubt is that it leaves you wondering if you are ‘good enough’. It’s important to recognise that you are, and I think I am getting there on this one. I’ve spent some time recently looking back at my work from the last couple of years, and I can honestly say now that I am pleased with and surprised by some of it. I didn’t know I could produce some of the pieces, which gets me thinking, ‘What else can I produce?’ The truth is I don’t know, but the crux is, if I don’t get back to my art practice, I’ll never know. So, how do I hold myself accountable? By organising my priorities and writing a list every morning with at least three achievable goals for the day – no drifting. This list is reviewed every evening before bedtime so I can see exactly what I have or haven’t achieved, how and why. Making goals achievable is important, and any goal not achieved is jotted down on the list for the next day. It is in my interest to achieve these goals, so they don’t pile up and become overwhelming.
3. Timer – I have found setting a timer for some tasks really helps me to get them done. For example, I recently drew up designs for some brooches. This was something I’d had in mind for two months, but couldn’t seem to find the time to do it. I kept ‘letting’ life get in the way. That is no one else’s fault but mine. So, I set the timer for half an hour to see how far I could get with a design in that time. The result was much further than I had assumed, so I did it again, and again, and before long, I had made definite progress with 8 designs, which I have now started to stitch. Those first stitches… Well, I can honestly say they terrified me. What an admission to make, but that is how it felt. I continued, then ripped it all out, dissatisfied with how it looked. Crucially, though, I started again, with a timer, and trying to banish any sense of looking for perfection from my mind, I kept stitching. So far, so good. The timer allows me to do just one thing for a certain amount of time and I find I can get so much more done in that time with the timer going than without it.
4. Perfection – Set all ideas of this aside. Just do the practice, and keep ‘doing’. This is where I failed earlier this year – I let life events get in the way of my practice, and it felt impossible to get going again. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ and produce what feels good and right to you at the time. What you produce may not be exactly what you had in mind, but keeping those creative muscles going builds familiarity with your materials and retains your confidence in yourself and your ability. It takes time to learn and become proficient at anything. The key is practice. It really does produce results…
5. Simplify – Reduce the burden on your creative brain and don’t try to do too much or too many things – this is a huge problem of mine!
WHAT I REALLY BELIEVE
Putting it simply, I believe I can find my way past this period of creative block by easing myself back into the practice of what I love and long to do. Using the timer has helped me massively, by restricting and defining blocks of time for certain things. It has allowed me to focus in, to concentrate on one thing, by blocking out everything else I might feel I should be doing. Half an hour or an hour is not a lot of time, but it’s enough to allow that focus to grow. As that focus grows sharper, my confidence will grow and my practice will extend and, I hope, begin to bloom again. I will share the results with you here as new pieces of work emerge.