Mental draino: Dealing with creative block

Mikey 9 comments
Mental draino: Dealing with creative block

If you're in a job or position where you are required to be creative, blocks can come at the most inopportune of times. When I say 'block' I am of course referring to writer's block, designer's block and so forth. As I write for a hobby and design for a living, I 'suffer' from these blocks quite regularly.

As any artist will tell you, being creative on demand is almost impossible. To demonstrate a couple of cases in point, working in the web development arm of a large company we, like our competitors, need to conform to a strict time scope in order to not blow the schedule and budget. This is essentially asking to put a time frame on creativity.

Another case is I often schedule some time to sit down and start blogging only to find I have nothing, which is ironically what spawned this article.

Instead of trying to find the root cause of these psychological stumbling blocks (lets face it, there are too many), I am going to share my suggestions for dealing with them.

Walk away

Get up and do something else. If you have to force yourself to get creative and write, design or whatever, then it probably isn't going to happen. Go and do something else until you feel compelled to try again. You will know when that is.

Get inspired

This is something every creative person needs to do regularly. See what else is going on in your industry.


Remember that stuff we used to use called 'pen and paper'? They are still amazingly useful for rough drafts and sketching out ideas. Do this in an environment that is likely to harbour creativity. Sitting in front of the television is probably not the best place. Sit down on a park bench and let the world passing by be your source.

Set a goal

Decide early on if this is something you really want to write about and if so, what is your intended reaction? Visualising the goal can help you reverse engineer an article you're yet to write.


Get a discussion going on your subject. Listening to other ideas and solutions can be the solvent that removes your block.


When the creative flow starts to weaken, or to put it another way, when the block starts to slowly re-appear, put your work away and come back to it later. I have often produced my best work after letting an incomplete design perculate over night.

Set aside 'me' time

One of my main causes of creative block is the sudden interjection by one of my daughters. If my attention is on her for too long I loose my creative flow and find it hard to pick it up again. Setting aside 'me' time often means letting the creative process only happen when there is minimal chance of interruption - like when the kids are in bed, or when the wife is busy.

Don't over-think every detail

If I had a dollar for every time I re-read my article or revisited a design and exclaimed "WTF was I thinking?", well I would be about 768 dollars richer. Some of my best work has been the result of being rough and adding polish later.

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Friday 27th June 2008 | 01:30 PM

You forgot "Knock one out" Mike!

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Friday 27th June 2008 | 01:42 PM

"Some of my best work has been the result of being rough and adding polish later."

That's like me! Except I haven't got 'round to the polish, yet. :-)

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Friday 27th June 2008 | 02:06 PM response to this comment by Rodney. Ergo, the definition of a programmer ;-)

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Friday 27th June 2008 | 07:54 PM

Makes it hard to do a 9 to 5 then, it goes against free and creative thinking!

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Gina Squitieri

Friday 27th June 2008 | 09:41 PM

Michael, what you said is really going to help my daughter. She's 21 and needs someone older and wiser who's going through the exact same thing she's going through so she realizes she's not nuts or stupid--she'll especially relate to the "WTF was I thinking?" part. I could tell her this all day long, but I think she needs another creative person, like yourself, in order to actually convince her. Kudos!

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The Ink Rat

Saturday 28th June 2008 | 03:04 PM

I've found a little sunlight helps, any sunlight (mine happens to be on a transport dock surrounded by day-old newspapers) .
But, before I write/design/photograph I try to think to myself beforehand, what is it I am trying to say. Then ask: Where am I going? And finally, why is this important?
For polish, usually it comes dressed as importance.

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Wednesday 2nd July 2008 | 04:07 PM response to this comment by Debra. Thanks for those Debra. Links are added automatically as long as they begin with http:// or www.

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Thursday 3rd July 2008 | 08:11 AM response to this comment by Mikey. Shows you what I don't know! Thanks!

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