Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

13 Weird Ways to Work Through Creative Blocks

Yesterday, I wrote about how creative blocks are not necessarily a bad thing.

Okay, you may be thinking…

Now what?

I’ve acknowledged that sometimes I need to stop and listen, but what do I do next?

Lego blocks for creative blocks posts

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann (Creative Commons)

Creativity is a funny business.

And it requires funny solutions when you’re experiencing problems. We all need a renewed vigor or passion for the work that we do from time to time.

Why should art be any different?

Now, we’ve all heard the typical answers of “listen to music” or “spend time in nature.”

And that’s all well and good, but even those things can become a bit passe.

That’s the challenge with creativity.

If you’re not always doing something new to reinvigorate your spirit, thing can get rote pretty quickly. When you fall into routines, part of your creative self may begin to wither.

It gets bored and lazy.

And eventually it starts to die.

So how do you keep the “romance” alive in your creative life?

Here are 13 counter-intuitive ways to work through a block and keep that “creative spice” fresh in your spirit (with some links to other helpful articles and resources):

  1. Quit. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is give up.
  2. Leave your desk. Get away for awhile and do something wild like draw with crayons or play with LEGOS.
  3. Assess yourself wholly, not just the creative part. Don’t just treat the symptoms; address the root problem of what’s blocking you.
  4. Stop avoiding. Pull up a chair and listen to what the Block has to say. Have a conversation with it. Don’t reason with it, but hear it out. Listen and learn from it. And then move on.
  5. Face your fears, whatever they may be. Whatever it is you’re afraid of, do that thing. Even if it has nothing to do with creativity.
  6. Do something completely unrelated to your discipline. If you’re a writer, paint. If a photographer, draw. You get the idea.
  7. Move around. Kinesthetic learning has been proven to work.
  8. Laugh out loud. No, I don’t mean writing that meaningless phrase “LOL” on your computer screen. I mean to literally laugh. Loudly. Really cool stuff happens to you physiologically and mentally when you do this. In particular, it relieves stress.
  9. Go for a photo walk. Just take pictures of random things and look at what you find afterwards.
  10. Watch The Matrix. It’s chock full of symbolism. Plus, I just love that movie. Remember: there is no spoon.
  11. Go on a diet. Often, one kind of discipline begets another kind. Plus, all those trips to the fridge or lounge can add up.
  12. Fast from technology for a day. That’s right. Get off the dang Internet.
  13. Dance in front of a mirror. (Why? Um, because it’s weird… and it gets your blood flowing… and it’ll probably cause you to do #8 uncontrollably.)

Weird enough for you?

Seriously, the more I think about this, the more it bothers me: Why do we so often solve our problems with creativity with uncreative solutions?

Why do we solve artistic quandaries with math equations? It doesn’t make sense.

Whatever you do to get unstuck or re-inspired, why not exercise a little imagination, even have a little fun, and risk being a little weird?

What’s the worst thing that could happen? You could get laughed at.

What’s the best thing that could happen? You just might fall in love again.

Further reading: Do You Recognize These 10 Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking?

Not weird enough?

What strange way to work through a creative block do you have? Leave your own in the comments.

*Image credit: Lars Plougmann

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://thisismethinking.com/ Darrell Vesterfelt

    You are a wild man Jeff — do you actually dance in front of a mirror?  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      maybe…

      • Marie Sardalla-Davis

        Come one, come all…I get paid to dance in front of the mirror and persuade people to do the same—people who would never consider themselves wild. We call it the dance studio.

        When I feel a rut coming on I switch to sewing costumes. When that gets old, it’s back to blogging, and when I’m blocked I pick up my camera and do a photo walk like you said.

        Will this Jill of all Trades never become great at any one thing because I can’t focus on just one?

    • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

      Don’t lie, Darrell. Everyone dances in front of their mirror. If not, you haven’t lived yet :)

      • http://thisismethinking.com/ Darrell Vesterfelt

        ok ok ok — you caught me.

  • http://startworkingonline.blogspot.com/ Rory Mullen

    Great ways to help the creative juices flow. Yes , many times a week I have writers block, so I pick my self up and take a quick walk to look around and find new topics to write about.
    Thanks Jeff for some new and interesting ideas to try.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Rory – I’m interested: what does writer’s block look like for you? Do you really have NOTHING you can write, or do you simply not know WHAT to write?

  • http://www.holyvernacular.wordpress.com Cary

    Amen to this… how about running around in the rain, writing with your non-dominant hand, asking someone really different how they would solve the problem, standing on your head?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Love it! Let’s keep the weirdness going…

  • bethanyplanton

    Love these ideas. I know for me I need to be around people. I like to think, ponder, write about things that generally have to do with people. I get most of my ideas when I am out and about doing life and being with my family and friends. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I use coffee shops for their creative energy. It’s the shy introvert in me.

      • bethanyplanton

        I enjoy coffee shops as well. It such a creative atmosphere. 

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          A lot of creatives do, I think.

  • http://thisdreamersjourney-lynne.blogspot.com/ Lynne Holder

    Dancing in front of the mirror–LOL. Oh, sorry. :)

    It really is the best thing to get up and walk away. I’ve sat at my desk, trying to force something out of my head, to find it only makes matters worse. I have to do something unrelated. I enjoy taking pictures and time around horses.

    Control is really the issue and human beings are major control freaks. I grew up with so many rules and constraints that when I read all the
    “things you must do to be a writer or blogger” pieces, I shout,
    “Pharisee!”

    Other people will should all over you if you let them. It won’t help the creative block problem because you are still trying to control the process.

    Yes, I am a rebel.

    Come on, do what works for YOU, but I would bet that if you let go, relax, open up and listen, Creativity will not abandon you. It just has its own schedule.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    Thanks for the link, Jeff. 

    I totally agree with your points, particularly that discipline begets discipline. I find I’m most creative when I’m exercising, eating well, and working well at the same time. The hard thing is the constant maintenance that’s required. But it’s worth it. I’ve also tried timing myself when I need to complete a project. That’s helped me not be overwhelmed and distracted.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I agree. Hard, but good.

  • http://twitter.com/StuartWooster Stuart Wooster

    I love number 8. I don’t make use of it often enough. My girlfriend is normally the one who instigates ‘laughter therapy’ and our two dogs look at us as if we are going mad Hehehe!

    Some more for you:

    Listen to music.
    Listen to music loud!
    Read fiction.
    Watch weird films like Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Pan’s Labyrinth, or a music video by Chris Cunningham.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Weird films are good… especially indie ones!

  • http://thisdreamersjourney-lynne.blogspot.com/ Lynne Holder

    Stranger Than Fiction–Emma Thompson does a great job playing her blocked writer character. Very funny.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      love that movie

  • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com Lizzie

    Hahaha great advice here.  While this may not be weird, I try to read FANTASTIC books as soon as I feel writer’s block creep up on me.  Because when I read truly great poetry, prose, I get uber-jealous.  I wish I had written those words.  And while a major flaw, what’s a greater motivator than envy?  It gets me back to the keyboard in five seconds flat.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      any good reads lately, lizzie?

      • http://www.storywrought.wordpress.com Lizzie

        Right now I’m reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (sparked by Midnight in Paris), but my go-to writer is William Trevor.  Also, I’m looking forward to reading Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife…she just won the Orange Prize at age 25, so I’m a bit envious, for sure.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          love hemingway. thought of reading that after watching that film, as well.

  • http://5minaday.tumblr.com Craig Kelley

    Sometimes you just have to plow through though.  Just start writing and something will come.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      true enough.

  • MichaelDPerkins

    Your solution regarding painting is something I can relate to.  I consider myself a writer with no art skills.  But I regularly draw paper or anything else to get it going.  I also love taking photos of things at weird angles.  It really refreshes me.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Me, too. Incidentally, I started out as a “creative” drawing in the 5th grade. I wrote a few comic books and even started my own short comic strip (in my sketchpad). Usually creative people can cross disciplines pretty well. I don’t draw much now (not seriously, anyway), but I’ll often doodle to re-engage my creative self.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Btw, I really like your drawings.

      • MichaelDPerkins

        I appreciate that man a lot. I’m still doing them. I just need to find a place that will allow me to use their scanner.

  • http://popparables.com Keri

    #3, 11, and 12 are things that I need to do, A LOT!

    Here’s my weird one: manual labor.  I find that even doing the dishes frees my brain up to think about things more cleary.  I think for some people going for a run does the same thing.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      good one. i recently read someone who said that housework stirs creativity. was that you? i don’t get that.

      • http://popparables.com Keri

        NO!  It wasn’t me.  I abhor housework, but it must be done.   I just find that when I do the manual labor (like housework) it allows the creative juices to flow more easily.  I think it’s something about using other parts of your brain that involve no creativity whatsoever.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          must be. i agree with that.

  • Anonymous

    Weird, huh?  Now weird I can do. :)  Thank you for some new ones. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      gotta love weird.

  • http://robrash.us Rob Rash

    Great suggestions Jeff… I think a key is to ‘break routine’… Do something different. A change of perspective. And even, like you suggested, STOP doing things. 

    I find that I have to continually get refreshed and that happens to be a wide variety of ways.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Indeed. There’s something about a breaking of the ordinary that inspires.

  • http://twitter.com/kimthebruce Kim Bruce

    *Play a game with a child…hide and seek…a board game…jump on a trampoline…whatever.  Or even better, take a kid out for ice cream and have a conversation…kids are INCREDIBLY creative and they don’t even know it!  They can inspire great ideas!
    *Similar to the first one…hang out on a playground and watch the kids interact with each other…listen to them talk to each other…watch them be creative.  But, be careful not to look like a creepy child stalker!!!
    *Take a nice walk outside, WITHOUT an ipod…just quiet.
    *People watch…in a downtown area…in a mall..at the airport.
    *Read other creative blogs

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Games are great!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Getting away from the iPod/iPhone is the hardest, but most necessary, for me to unlock the creative self.

  • clateboulder

    I really liked #12, I’ve scheduled into my day non-internet times. This has helped greatly.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Nice.

  • amykiane

    Dancing in the rain.

  • http://www.JanetOberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    Good collection of creative block busters! I’ll have to try some of the others. 

    Thanks for the link – #7!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1419226621 Eva Pauline Scott

    I like the photo walk idea. Thanks!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Did this yesterday actually. Was great

  • Anonymous

    I sometimes sorta do #4 – I can’t think of how to put something when writing a more analytical piece, so then I go to my journal and free-write about whatever it is that’s distracting me OR I just write about how frustrating it is not to know how to say something (sometimes I even “scream” at my journal in all caps: helps let off the tension) – when that’s over, I feel at least a little better because I’ve at least been somewhat productive, and it helps sort out my feelings.

    I also sometimes do push-ups or jumping jacks or “air-jump-rope” (like “air guitar” but different). It’s sorta like my version of #7 and #13.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.dberruti.blogspot.com Deb.

    While I’m not officially a ‘creative’ professional, in my line of work I can’t get enough of numbers 7 & 8!  I use both in my therapy sessions on a daily basis.  But I also find that changing my context and surroundings helps too . . . for example, I’ve been ‘blocked’ on finding some more personalized treatment ideas for a mechanic I’ve been working with, so I found an excuse to go and ‘play’ in the garage.  I found just being in his ‘context’ helped the creative juices flow.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Deb. I think everyone is creative in some way.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Kinesthetic works for me. I cycle around our local hills. As I pedal, I think, pray, talk out loud. Throughout my life, I’ve found movement helped me a lot–driving and talking, walking and talking, riding and talking. Somehow moving my body helps move my mind and often my mouth (although I have been known on occasion to actually listen to friends as well as talk to them).

    Good list.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Running definitely does this for me.

  • Jamss Cls

    good one. i recently read someone who said that housework stirs creativity. was that you? i don’t get that. 
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  • http://michaeledits.myopenid.com/ Michael LaRocca

    Cooking is a good kinesthetic and creative activity that leads to thme bonus of meating. If you can begin with a bike ride to buy the ingredients, well, I do my best thinking on my bicycle or in the shower. Pull me away from the places I read and write, and give me something to semi-occupy my mind but not really, and stuff happens.

  • Lia London

    You, sir, are a delightful nutcase.  I read something from a totally different genre than that which I’m trying to write.  Or walk the dog.  Or crank my favorite jazz tunes and sing so folks in the next neighborhood can hear me.

  • Haliq Hanzo

    All cool except for the option of quitting. Not a fan of giving up, but ironically enough I abandon projects all the time. Hmph!