Given that we are so blinking creative, human beings have developed innumerable ways of losing contact with their innate creativity. That said, here are three that are tried and true.
Looking in the wrong places
We experience creative block when we don’t find ideas where we expect or think we want them to be and then conclude that we have a problem.
It’s not looking in the wrong place that’s the problem (though it made a nice subhead, don’t you think?). I mean, if we’re talking about creativity, can there be a wrong place to look?
The problem is believing that you have a problem when you don’t find what you think you need or want.
Believing you have a problem is like putting a clamp on the hose connecting you to your creative source. The more serious you think the problem is, the more you constrain the creative flow.
What really sucks is that on some level you know this, and knowing it you lean on yourself, further constricting the flow.
That would be why the subsequent desperate scavenger hunt for ideas doesn’t usually reveal treasure after that first round of frustration. You can search high and low, but if the creative flow is constricted, you won’t see the gleam of inspiration even if it’s staring you in the face.
Which brings me to a second common way to generate creative block.
Overlooking the obvious
Sometimes the creative thing to do is so obvious that we overlook it.
You know this one if you’ve ever puzzled over what to wear only to end up with the first thing you took out of your closet. Or agonized over what to write for the About page on your web site only to find the answer staring up at you from a forgotten note or email.
I’m not going into detail with this one because it happens so often to most of us that you’ll find plenty of examples in your life in the past week.
Why do we overlook the obvious? One answer lies in a third common way to generate creative block.
If believing we have a problem is clamping down on the connection between us and our creativity, comparing our creative process or output to someone else’s is like dropping the hose. We instantly abandon our personal access to creativity as we try to figure out how to splice into someone else’s.
What’s more, we feel the disconnect. Adding insult to injury, we interpret that feeling as evidence that there really is something wrong.
That last bit is important, and it applies to all the ways in which we generate creative block. The block is insignificant compared to the belief that the block is a problem.
Worrying about creative block holds it in place
Worrying about creative block not only holds it in place, it is the block. Without worry, what we’re calling creative block doesn’t exist. In its stead are any number of moments in which any number of thoughts are freely flowing through your mind. Some you like. Some you don’t. Maybe you pick one to follow, maybe you don’t. But until you worry about it, you don’t have a creative block.
Wait a minute. Is that practical?
I can hear some of you rolling your eyes (can you hear eyes roll?). Isn’t this talk of blocks and worry just word play?
After all, if you need a creative idea, and you don’t have one, you still have a problem, don’t you?
What you have is an unmet desire that may and may not have any number of consequences (none of which, it’s worth noting, exist in the here and now).
Call that a problem of the “This needs worrying about!” variety, and you will continue to feel cut off from your creativity.
Call it a problem of the “Hmmmm…” or “Huh?” or “I wonder…” variety, and you can expect–sooner or later–to have an insight or aha that meets or exceeds your expectations.
Rely on the connection, let go of the content
As a human being you have continual access to the infinite flow of creative thought. You don’t get to control the content, but you have a a lot of choice about how connected you feel to that flow. The more connected you feel, the more likely you are to recognize inspiration when it comes along.
Your leverage is in trusting the flow, not sweating over the content or the timing.
Photo by Jessica Merz via Flickr