I used to go around telling everyone I knew that there was no such thing as creative block. I was primarily a writer back then, and I felt (and still feel) that being creatively blocked is just another way of saying that you're lazy. But that all dealt with writing. Once I started doing more design work, the creative block issue became a problem. No longer could I just work my way out of it the way I can write my way out of writer's block. The struggle was real.
In those moments when the work never seems to end and my creativity seems to be tapped out, I go to a private Pinterest board that I've established that links to various motivational quotes and thoughts on the creative process and creative block itself. It's good sometimes to see that other people struggle with the problem as well, and it gives me hope that I'll be able to break through.
With that in mind, here are a few of my favorites.
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” - Chuck Close
Sometimes you just need a swift kick in the arse to get yourself moving, and this quote by Chuck Close does exactly that for me. Why? Well not only is it blunt and to the point, but a quick read on Close shows that he suffered from a spinal artery collapse in 1988, paralyzing the lower half of his body, and he still continued to work. Now if he can do it, what excuse do I have?
“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
This is the one that I usually need to hear somewhere around 2pm every day when my energy is low, my caffeine levels have dipped to dangerous levels, and my creative spirit is drained. Just because I don't feel like it, doesn't mean the work can be neglected.
"Inspiration and work ethic, they ride right next to each other." - Jack White
This whole video is packed with good stuff, and although I'm not a Jack White fan, I do love this quote. When I feel like pushing things off, I think about the kind of work ethic I want to have. And if I want to be a hard worker, then I can become one, and the inspiration will follow right along with it.
"Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up." — Isabel Allende
This is what I was getting at with writing: eventually, if you write long enough, something will happen. Is it the same with design? I'm finding out that it is — at least in my case.
"When I am stuck … I just search for excitement, but not too hard. It is when I find myself playing more than trying that I find my way out of a block." — Aris Moore
This goes back to the concept that by being idle, we can let our imagination roam, which lets creativity in. I love it.
"I give myself permission to just make for the sake of making without any thought to the outcome, which can be surprisingly hard. … What I would tell my younger self is this: There is no 'right' way to make art. The only wrong is in not trying, not doing. Don’t put barriers up that aren’t there — just get to work and make something." — Lisa Golightly
That last part is key: get to work. You can't make any kind of creative thing happen without putting in at least a little bit of time.
"If it is a bigger creative block, I try to ride it out and just let it happen. I will still draw, but most pieces will end up in the trash, and that’s OK. I think some of the biggest bursts of creativity and artistic growth I’ve had are usually preceded by a big creative block." — Ashley Goldberg
What I like about this one is the concept of throwing things away. Not everything you create will be gold, and that's OK. Each project teaches us something, and we use all of those lessons to figure out who we're going to be in the end.
"The idea of divine inspiration and an aha moment is largely a fantasy. Anything of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication. If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working." — Sydney Pink
Failure — and frequent occurrences of — can seem demoralizing at first, but again, it teaches us something. Eventually that work will bloom.
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” — Stephen King
That's one of the biggest hurdles for many creatives: starting. Writing a novel seems like a daunting task because it's so big. Designing a website is the same thing. But if you can get past that opening salvo, you're good to go.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” — Pablo Picasso
It sure sucks to find yourself inspired when you're miles away from your studio. So the more time you work on your creative passions, the more likely you are to intersect with inspiration.
“It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” — Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield is an interesting guy, and if you pull nothing else from this piece, take this advice: go read The War of Art and Do the Work! Both are quick and easy reads that inspire me on a regular basis.
“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.” — Ray Bradbury
Ever hear someone use the phrase, "Like herding cats?" Yeah, that's where Bradbury is going with this one. Ideas aren't easy to wrangle, but once you get them under control, you hold all the power.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." — Vincent Van Gogh
Don't stop doing something just because someone says you can't, even if it's you. Just do it, and forget the fear.
“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.” — Hugh MacLeod
Have you ever seen a kid draw? They have no limits. Nothing is wrong. My daughter told me just today that, "When I was a baby, my grandma told me that she could fly!" She's four.
Go back to the time when you were a kid and remember what it was like to be free of every obligation you have. Then use that memory to propel yourself forward.
“'Procrastination is not laziness,' I tell him. 'It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.'” — Julia Cameron
It's true. Sometimes you procrastinate just because you're afraid of what might happen — both if you succeed, and if you fail.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” — Steve Jobs
Make sure to note things down whenever you see something that strikes you or could inspire you down the line. Who knows when you'll need it.
“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” — Pearl S. Buck
It's a repeated theme because it's true. If you think that someone or thing is going to come along and inspire you to create magic, you're wrong. Get your grind on, hustle, and you will make something.
“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter who I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” — J. K. Rowling
I mean, it's J. K. Rowling. How could she not inspire you?
“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda
Getting out of your comfort zone is everything.
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London
If you fight tooth and nail for success, you will find it. Just bring a big nail.
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