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  • Writer's pictureOwen Johnson

On Taking Down Writer's Block

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Getting stuck in a creative loop sucks. Getting writer's block is a commonplace mental state that can afflict every artist with intensities varying from a few hours to decades and beyond. This is why it can be not only frustrating when we encounter creative's block but also terrifying. When you're sitting at your desk staring a blinking cursor at the top of an empty document, or at the empty timeline of a DAW, or at your camera on the shelf, and not feeling any excitement or inspiration, we worry we have lost it: the source of our creative momentum. Has it dried up, or merely stagnated? Are we ever going to get it back? Here are a few things I have noticed that affect my creative energy, and how you might be able to put this dry spell behind you. Hopefully if you have this problem, something on this list might be something worth trying.

Keep things fresh by working on skill variety

Having a variety of skills is a huge benefit for a few reasons. Firstly, if a writer knows how to use Adobe photoshop or illustrator, they have the ability to turn their written work into visuals, from concept art to illustration to cover art and more. Additionally, it is another thing you can put on your résumé. If a music producer knows how to take and edit photos or shoot and edit video, that gives them similar access to a visual medium to expand the depth of their work. If a videographer knows how to produce music, knowing the principles of that art might help them make better music videos. Having creative diversity is similar to genetic diversity. It allows for new connections to be made both in our projects but also in the neural pathways of our brains. How can this help you navigate the depths of writer's block? There's a chance that if you are experiencing it then you have been oversaturated in one corner of creativity. Consider taking aim at a new software, a new medium, a new skill that can not only benefit your résumé, but also introduce new challenges and different ways of thinking about creative work as a whole. Try writing down a list of things that you consider yourself good at, and then some that you aren't, but would like to be. Try to connect what you are good at to something that you aren't but have the potential to influence one another. Take some time to learn. Keeping things fresh by learning new skills can create inspiration and make you a better artist.

Are you procrastinating?

It isn't always possible to have everything off our to-do list before we sit down to embark on our own artistic endeavors. However, frequently when I am not feeling inspired to do any creative work of any kind yet still want to make something, there's a chance I'm intentionally ignoring something I need to do. This can be something simple like typing and sending a difficult email, calling someone you intended to call a week ago, an overdue or upcoming piece of homework, cleaning your room, the list goes on. Taking a moment to be mindful about what you may be ignoring and then facing that issue can free up your mind to rest comfortably in front of your canvas, whatever form it takes.

Root through the archives

If you're like me, you have many projects, ideas, notes, concepts, and other unfinished pieces of work in your "ideas" folder. Maybe you have stockpiled old projects from several years ago you gave up on or forgot about which became outdated as you progressed as an artist. These are all prompts, the stem cells of creativity. Getting momentum going creatively is what will help you start new projects, so maybe cracking open the dusty folder labeled "old stuff" which is full of items named "untitled-project-04" or "user project 2" or "story idea" and clicking on a few of those items will give you something to work on. It can take away the pain of having to write your first word or insert your first clip or snap your first shot or type your first note. This usually goes one of a few ways for me. If I am very lucky, the idea was very good and I had just forgotten about it, giving me something new to work on until it earns the privilege to be moved into a more contemporary work folder. Maybe I'll linger with the project until im inspired to start a new one. Perhaps ill close this one and keep looking. Even if it doesn't feel productive, you're still working within your area, which is better than, say, opening TikTok.

Brute Force - Search for inspiration outright

My last resort is the easiest thing to do - consume media. Browsing through art pages on instagram, skimming Spotify and soundcloud, these things have done wonders for writers block in the past, and may help you as well. However, a word of caution: While searching for inspiration can get you going on a project, I have found sometimes that it can cause additional problems as well. Actively listening to music for inspiration hits different in the brain than maybe listening to music on your way to work because your brain is starting to attach itself to someone else's art. This can cause two problems. One, it can cause unintentional plagiarism down the line (though any person of integrity knows to be thorough before releasing work inspired by others), and more importantly, two, it can cause an idea feedback loop when working that will bring you right back to your writer's block. Thoughts that show up when this happens can be things like "why can't I make this [art thing] like they can," and, "ugh my [art thing] isn't as good as theirs," which can ultimately cause more harm than good. If you've felt genuine inspiration then this cycle of thinking is less likely to happen because you were inspired by a concept or perspective instead of a specific component of the others' work such as a color or sound.

Hopefully these few ideas can be additional tools in your inspiration tool belt for you to call on when facing writers block. It is really important to push through times when you feel like your passion may be fading, because it means that you have an opportunity to try something new, and may be on the verge of a break through.

Below I am going to post a few images of work I have done while deliberately trying to learn new skills like mentioned in the first suggestion. Enjoy!

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