Creative block: What is it and how do we overcome it?

I open my empty Word document and watch the little vertical line blink at me. I type something only to make it stop — but then, so do I. It begins to blink again and I can almost hear it mockingly say, “tick tock, tick tock”. Frustrated, I erase everything I have written and I walk away from the computer.

Days go by and I have nothing. 

This specific problem is not unique to me. In fact, it is the one thing that unites everyone who works to create something. Every single musician, writer, painter, etc., is familiar with the pain of the creative block.

A creative block (also known as artist’s or writer’s block) is a period of stagnant and stalled creativity. For some, it may last several days or weeks. For others, it may last months or even years. However, to those who do not understand it, it comes across as laziness.

Frankly and personally speaking, creative block feels like — nothing. It is as though the creative part of my body has suddenly turned off the lights, locked the door, and decided to hibernate. In such times, trying to write something feels as though I am trying to enter a space for which I have lost the keys. So, what do I do? I sit there and I wait for the lights to turn back on and the door to magically open. “Come on back in,” I (impatiently) wait to hear.

What causes creative block and how can you overcome it?

Many things can emerge and become obstacles in one’s path to creativity. Although it would undoubtedly be so much easier if we all faced the same enemy, everybody’s block is brought about by something different. While the list of such obstacles is endless, some common causes of creative block are self-doubt, a loss of purpose, fear of imperfection, negative self-talk, etc.

It is interesting to note that while we may all be fighting different demons, there is only one solution to creative block: to create.

It does not matter what you create or if it is your best work – in fact, it does not even matter if it is good work. The most important thing is that it is work. Ideally, we would be able to find inspiration in the ordinary and mundane. Everything would touch us deeply and everyone we meet would be our muse. In reality, inspiration is difficult to come across. It is rare and it is often fleeting. For this reason, we must not wait for it to come knocking on the door.

“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Chuck Close

Now, more than ever, it is easy to find a reason not to create. You see nothing. You go nowhere. You meet no one. As though this is not painful enough, the pandemic is also negatively impacting our mental health. Taking all of this into account, who can be surprised that our creativity has come to a halt?

Despite these completely valid reasons to feel stuck and lost, we must push forward. We must not cease to create even when creativity has abandoned us.

Artist Natalya Lobanova perfectly illustrates that even when we have nothing, we must produce something. On her Instagram profile @natalyalobanova, the artist has drawn three comics – all of which depict nothing. Introducing her series of “nothing comics”, Lobanova wrote: “I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas for comics in which stuff happens, so this week I decided to post a series of comics in which nothing happens at all.”

Evidently, these ‘nothing comics’ depict the passage of time. To me, they resonate with the way I feel when I am in the midst of an overwhelming and frustrating creative block; that is, when I sit staring at an empty Word document, watching time go by. More importantly, however, they act as a reminder to push through and create.

This, my dear readers, is my attempt to push through.

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