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Creativity / Motivation / Philosophy

How to Break Through a Creative Block – The Cure for Writer’s and Artist’s Block

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“I only write when I am inspired.  Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” – William Faulkner

We’ve all heard of writer’s block.  It’s when a writer just can’t write; they have a block to new ideas and therefore cannot even begin writing their next book, blog post or article.  It’s as though they are waiting for inspiration, but the inspiration never comes.

Recently an artist wrote me complaining of having “Artist’s Block.”  

He was incredibly frustrated, as he got a deal he’s been wanting to get for over a decade, and yet he couldn’t create the art he needed for this dream client.  He was totally blocked.

I started to think about  how I broke through writer’s block recently.  I had been working on my new book, ART, MONEY & SUCCESS.   I had the last third of the book to write, but then had to take a break as my family and I went to Sayulita, Mexico, for a week.  I planned on finishing the book as soon as I returned.  But, I just couldn’t pick it up back.  I was totally blocked.

The book was my “Most Important Thing” and yet I couldn’t get it done.  I knew if I didn’t get the book written, I would feel like a failure.

I remembered reading how Stephen King would begin each day by sitting down at the typewriter at the same time each morning and wouldn’t get up until noon.  He was committed to writing, even when he didn’t feel like it, even when he felt no inspiration.

Inspired by this, I decided to put myself on a writing schedule.  I committed to writing from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day until the book was complete.  At 10 a.m. I was free to do my other work, which includes selling Drew’s art, bookkeeping, consulting calls and other duties.

I prepared my work space to get my mind into a creative place.  I placed my laptop on my kitchen table, and to the left of it I placed an 8″x 10″ visionary color pencil drawing of a girl standing in the center of a rock circle, surrounded by nature and the tree of life.  (The drawing was done for me by artist Heather Mulvenna).  I then placed a candle in front of the drawing along with some of my favorite crystals.

On the first day of this new commitment I sat down at 7 a.m. at my new, inspiring work space.  I stared at the keys, feeling a complete lack of motivation and inspiration.  The urge to get up and wash dishes, play around on Facebook, do anything other then write this book, was overpowering.  But I resisted and sat at the computer.

Eventually I started writing, line by line, one at a time.  The words came out wrong, the paragraphs unreadable.  But I sat in that chair until 10 a.m.   The next day, I sat at the computer at 7 a.m. again and picked up where I left off the day before.   Day two was easier, but still clunky.  By the third day, I was on a roll, the words were flowing and I had broken through the block!

 

Now, back to the artist who wrote me about artist’s block:  He wanted to set up a consultation with me to help him overcome his block.  I would have felt guilty taking his money for a consultation when the answer is so simple, so I decided to write the solution for him instead.   Below is the advice I gave him.

This advice is for someone who has to get their work done for a client.  Client’s can’t wait for inspiration to hit.  The method for Artist’s Block below is one that is borrowed from my wise husband, Drew, who paints every day whether he feels like it or not.

CURE FOR ARTIST’S BLOCK

1 – Set up your work space; gather all of your materials and supplies, set up your table and get your chair in place.  Have your space completely ready to go to work, right down to the pencils and pens and paints you’ll need.  If it helps you get into a good mental state, set up music and anything else that inspires you.

2 – Sit in your work chair promptly at 9 a.m.*   Turn off all phones and electronics.  Get rid of all distractions (children, dogs, spouses!)

(*9 a.m. is an example, choose a time that works for you and make it consistent)

3 – Set a timer for 2 hours, begin working and don’t stop until the timer goes off.    Ignore any urge to get up and leave your workspace for coffee, to have a smoke or take a pee.  These are just distractions that your mind makes up to pull you away from your work.

4 – If, after your timer goes off, you still aren’t feeling motivated or inspired to continue, then take a break.  Go for a walk, take a drive, call an old friend.  Change your scenery.

5 – The next day, repeat.  And continue to repeat each day until you have broken through your Artist’s Block!

If you follow this advice to the letter and it doesn’t work, then…..

Consider Charles Bukowski’s advice:

“If it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it.”

What Charles is saying is this – if you aren’t feeling it, then maybe you should quit.  Don’t bother with it.

BUT, if this is your profession, or if you are not ready to quit, but you’re still feeling stuck, then hire a coach to help you release your inner demons and fears.

Often, the lack of motivation to do something that we really want to do is just our inner FEAR.

To break through the kind of block that is caused by fear (rather then laziness), you’ll need professional help from a coach.  That’s not the kind of coaching I do, as I focus on the nuts and bolts of business when I coach.

But there are many coaches out there that can help you break through harmful patterns and fears and other things that you don’t even know are holding you back.  Get a referral for a good coach that can help you.

A great coach that comes to mind for me is one of my new favorites, “the Monk for Entrepreneurs” named Martin Stellar.  I had an amazing session with him last month and he’s my favorite monk in the world.  Tell him I said that; he will be surprised that I wrote about him.

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HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED A CREATIVE BLOCK?  And if so, how did you overcome it?  Please share in the comments.  I’d love to learn a few new tricks!
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Happy New Year,
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Maria xxoo
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14 Comments How to Break Through a Creative Block – The Cure for Writer’s and Artist’s Block

  1. Clarissa

    Thanks, Maria

    I know that’s true but I tend to procrastinate. It helps to have someone remind me to ‘just paint’!!

    Reply
  2. Christine Marsh

    Maria is the best.

    I could write a LOT about this.
    But, I am creating a creativity course for that.

    One simple thing for all blocks:

    Required:
    1. Notepad/paper/sticky notes
    2. Pen
    3. Put 1 and 2 at a place you go every day.
    Table, bathroom, etc.

    Make SOME thing.
    Start tiny.

    It has to be very fast and easy.

    You have to be able to let go of making something that is ‘something’ for this to work.

    Example:
    Day 1: Make a dot.
    Day 2: Make a line.
    Day 3: Make a squiggly line.
    Day 4: Make two squiggly lines.
    Day 5: Make two squiggly lines and a dot.
    Continue…

    You will flow into more elaborate creations.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Sroka

    Your advice is right on the money. Sometimes, making art is like starting an old car. If the engine doesn’t start on its own, you don’t give up – you just get out and push it until the engine starts to turn over.

    Reply
  4. Sarah Frederking

    Loved this! I think we all run into blocks along the way, or tedium at finishing up the last details of a long project.
    For me, a long walk or bike ride by myself helps me get some ideas flowing, not to mention helps give a boost of energy. I also feel that if you feel this is “your most important project” that could do it to anyone! I would need to remind myself that the customer came to me for a reason as they like my work already, and that helps reduce the fear.

    I also suggest, if you are not on a specific deadline, and just searching for new inspiration, try something completely new and different, even another craft you haven’t tried before. Sometimes that leads to other ideas of fresh things you might bring into your work.

    Reply
    1. Maria Brophy

      Sarah, thanks for the additional tips. Yes, you’re right – if you aren’t on a deadline, taking up another medium or trying something different and new can get the creative mojo going. And it’s fun!

      Reply
  5. ThePleinAireGoddess

    Any artist with artist’s block might try reading the book “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity ” by Julia Cameron. It’s been around for years and it might help. I got the copy I read from the library. Here’s a link to Amazon, in case you want more information: https://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-Spiritual-Higher-Creativity/dp/1585421464/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483892302&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Artist%27s+Way

    Best wishes!

    Reply
    1. Maria Brophy

      Thanks for the suggestion – I agree, The Artist’s Way is a game-changer for many creative people. I loved that book!

      Reply
  6. Joan Chamberlain

    Great advice, Maria. I agree with you and William Faulkner! Personally, nothing cures creative block like a sense of your own mortality. I remind myself daily of the quote attributed to Jack Kornfield “The trouble is, you think you have time”.

    Reply
  7. Karine Gordon-Beaumier

    Thank you so much Maria!!! Exactly what I needed. For me, it didn’t feel to much of a block, but rather like i never have enough time in a day to create art, which is meant to be my main focus during my time away! I love the suggestion to committing to the same time everyday, same desk, ritual-style. Thank you sharing your lovely writing and wisdom always! I have started following your work few years ago, and it has been really helpful in starting my art business, Surfshine Art. Big thanks to Drew as well, his tutorials helped me learn the ropes for painting surfboards and even a very colourful surf mini van!! Well this turned out to be a little bit of a long comment but I was meant to write for a while! Haha Much love to you and your family from Sayulita! 🙂

    Reply
  8. Bonnie Hamlin

    Thanks Maria, yes the same time every day has always worked for me, the only thing I would add is start the day with a very simple, very small painting, as a warm up. Like a musician does scales.
    It takes the pressure off, I don’t have to be perfect, I can experiment, failures are acceptable. And most important it gets me in the zone.

    Reply
  9. BING

    I would like to add one more line to Bukowski’s poem. “You are not finished when you are defeated, you are defeated when you quit”.
    – Zig Ziglar

    Reply
  10. Gar Benedick

    Hi Maria,

    I just started painting in January and it is amazing to think that I have already sold two paintings. I never took classes or instruction except to watch some “how to paint” videos online to learn technique. When I started, I had nothing to loose. No one was going to see my work until I liked it and was ready to show it. (I should add that I have been doing fine art photography for a while.)
    Anyway, what I find blocks me is when I get distracted by what I think others like or dislike. I recently showed a photo of a new painting to my brother and he said he liked it and wanted to see it in his home. I took it there and left it for a few days. I called a couple of days later and he said that the colors were too strong for him and that he likes more muted colors. I retrieved the painting.
    The next time I went to paint, all I could think of was what he said. However, my paintings are about color and those two things stopped me.
    I do a lot of what Christine (above) suggested, lines, dots and squiggles and I reminded my self that this is MY art and I will do it the way I want/like. If someone, even my brother, doesn’t like it (for himself), that is not my concern. So when I realized this, it was much easier to paint again.
    I guess the moral of the story is, it is your art, do it however you wish. Setting a regular time can be important and helpful. People with 8-5 jobs do this. They show up every day at the same time and have to perform in some fashion and often sit at their desk idle till the inspiration hits.
    I have also done corporate media work and similar to commissioned work, a media show has a deadline. I find when I started a project, sometimes idea would come slowly. However, doodling has always been a huge help. Simply sit down and put anything on paper. Then turn it upside down. Then sideways. Sometime just the action of rotating the paper can give me ideas.
    I paint abstracts, so when I get to a certain place in my paintings, I rotate the canvas in all directions to see new and different things. I’ve even taken different color paper and thrown them up in the air and watched how they fly and the patterns they make when they land.
    Inspiration is all around. Change your point of view and you will begin to see new things. Seth Godwin says to go out and do something you’ve never done before. Go buy some magazines you’ve never read. Visit a place you’ve never been. Creatively is everywhere!
    Maria, thank you for your great website and genuine interest in art and inspiring others!
    I just learned of your site!

    Reply

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