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Give Me a Break! Dealing with Creative Blocks

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

towering conifers photo by Michele Leonard

Recently, I took some time off from working on music to take a much-needed vacation at my favorite spot in Northern Michigan. Having lived in Michigan all my life, I have experienced my fair share of cold, blustery, snowy days and snowstorms. I have also had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful mountains of Switzerland during the winter season. Yet for me, there is nothing quite as breathtaking as a Northern Michigan winter. We might not have mountains, but we sure have lots of snow…and towering conifers…and beautiful forests to ski through and take hikes in….(did I mention the snow?!) It is so enchantingly beautiful, I don’t even mind the cold, brisk chill in the air. Trekking through the forest is a magical experience when there is snow all around and everything is completely still and silent outside, as if nature is sleeping.

During the long hibernation of winter, the world outside seems to be barren and dead, yet under the surface of the snow, everything is still very much alive: animals, plants and flowers are simply storing up their energy for their springtime emergence.

Something similar happens during the creative process which, like nature’s winter hibernation, often entails periods of dormancy. This applies to any creative project we may be working on, from composing music, or creating a painting, to planning a garden or building a house: anything that involves creative problem solving. Sometimes it seems like nothing is happening when our ideas are not able to flow or when we periodically experience creative blocks, but even when we are not consciously aware of it, our minds are in a constant state of activity beneath the surface, working on solutions to creative problems. We just need to allow ourselves the space for the process to unfold. Most of the time, this simply means taking breaks from our projects and coming back to work on them later.

Yet for many creative people, setting our work aside is not an easy thing to do. When we are not actively working on a project, we can feel guilty about the need to take breaks, particularly if we are working to meet a deadline. Many of us tend to resist this need and instead, we push on and try to work harder, trying to force progress to happen. Unfortunately, this often results in the opposite effect and we either end up getting (more) stuck or the quality of our work suffers as a result.

The need to take breaks is often underestimated but taking the time to take some time off can have an enormously positive impact on our work. Ideas need a chance to percolate and develop in the subconscious mind in order to come to fruition. Even if we are not actively working on a project, our ideas are formulating in the background, like little seeds that we have planted. Often, all we need is some time and breathing room to support the creative process and allow for a fresh perspective so our ideas can germinate and bloom. This is especially true in the case of large or long-term projects. Even if we are working to meet a deadline, it is still possible to schedule in time to take regular breaks.

Breaks can also be hugely beneficial because sometimes, we just need to get away from our own work for a while and get out and LIVE. After all, it is our experience of living that we bring to the work we do, no matter what that work may be. For many of us who are musicians, writers, artists, dancers, etc. our work may be a way of expressing our perceptions of life or bringing meaning to our experiences, but if we are just grinding away at one project after another without stopping to rest and recharge our batteries, we run the risk of experiencing burnout. We will also be unable to bring any fresh energy into what we are doing and can end up getting into a rut of stagnation. When I started to experience a sense of burnout after working non-stop on my first album and launching Blisswave, my trip up north was exactly what I needed to do in order to help me relax, unwind, and feel rejuvenated so I could move forward again and start writing new material.

Getting outside to take a walk, playing sports or exercising, spending time in nature, meditating, hanging out with friends or just doing something completely different for a while are all things that can make a huge difference and will most often be enough to get the creative juices flowing again. If we have really hit a wall, then it might be time to take some extended time off and maybe even take that vacation we have been day-dreaming about lately.

It is important to realize that creative blocks or lulls happen to everyone now and again. They are simply part of the process and are usually nothing to worry about. Most likely, it doesn’t mean that we are losing our creative edge – it just means our ideas are hibernating beneath the surface. Taking a break may be exactly what we need to do in order to jump-start the flow of our creativity and move forward with our projects once again. Just as the snow finally melts after a long, cold winter and it is suddenly spring, we can also emerge from periods of creative dormancy with a renewed sense of energy and vitality that we can bring to the work we do.

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