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Five Strategies to Beat Creative Block

We've all felt it. It's that creeping feeling that you have nothing to say, that your ideas are derivative, and your skills are inadequate. It's an illusion that has struck down some of the greatest artists in history, but as powerful as it seems at the time, it's an affliction that ultimately passes. To aid this, we have five broad strategies for dealing with creative block. We'll also give four examples for each that you can immediately apply to your creative process.

Stressed out person wearing headphones

You Can Stop the Block

If you've got creative block you're in good company. Revered composer Sergei Rachmaninoff couldn't write for two years after his first symphony failed. No Doubt vocalist Gwen Stefani ironically fell into self-doubt before launching a highly successful solo career. Beethoven went deaf whilst blocked and still went on to compose some of his most famous works.

Just as these artists struggled in different ways, so too will your experience with creative block vary, and the solution that works will ultimately be unique to you. Our strategies below are designed to be broad, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory. Experiment with the provided tactics and augment them with your own insights for a block-beating plan of your very own.

Person looking at art in a gallery

1: Borrow

Borrowing takes inspiration from art and life around you. The trick is to borrow widely and mix it together in new and interesting ways. There are enough ideas out there to break your creative shackles and inform an entire career's worth of projects. With a good ear and a solid process, you can make even the most exotic ideas your own.

Look in these places for a shot of external inspiration:

  • Listen to music to increase your musical vocabulary
  • Roughly transcribe musical ideas and re-purpose them for your creative process
  • Look to other artforms and the chaos of life for inspiration
  • Collaborate with others to spice up your writing/production tasks

Check out our How to Borrow Ideas for Your Compositions article for a deep dive into this topic.

Woman playing guitar outside

2: Change Perspective

Changing Perspective is a simple way to increase productivity by rethinking our standard creative tasks. As we open our minds to other ways of working, perspective change resets our brain and circumvents creative block. This fun method does require some maintenance, however, as new habits tend to form as quickly as we banish the old.

Try these tactics when you find yourself stuck in a creative rut:

  • Skip between sections, writing parts out of order and back again
  • Change or reorganise your environment by tidying your studio or getting out of it completely
  • Learn a new skill or tool that can inspire ideas for new work
  • Get physical by thinking while walking, or moving more as you play

Check out our Increase Productivity by Changing Perspective article for more info on this approach.

man producing music at desk

3: Take a Macro Approach

Taking a macro approach subverts the idea of the genius artist from whom masterpieces naturally spring. It focusses instead on dividing the creative process to match your energy/inspiration levels. By chipping away at minor tasks, we dispel the mesmerising stare of the blank page and warm ourselves up to serious creative decisions.

If the blank page has you stalled, give these tasks a go:

  • Save everything and rework your growing library of old material
  • Hit record and dump out a heap of ideas, both good and bad, that you can edit later
  • Record/mangle samples to find new rhythms, melodies, and textures
  • Do the housekeeping by organising and renaming your files and projects

Check out our How to Take a Macro Approach to Music Making article for an in-depth look at this idea.

Person recording audio outside with a Zoom recorder

4: Live the Art Life

Living the Art Life is a concept encouraged by writer/director David Lynch. It suggests an artist that is ever alert to the myriad ideas swirling around them, and who has a process to catalogue and combine these ideas into new work. Living the art life is also defined by conscientious growth of skills, knowledge, and workflow.

Feeling like an imposter? Live your best (art) life with these behaviours:

  • Collect ideas using a notebook or recorder by being aware of your surroundings
  • Watch (and play) live music to exchange thoughts and concepts with other artists
  • Have a routine where you can focus solely on combining ideas into new work
  • Keep learning, using gaps in your knowledge to help guide exploration and growth

Check out our How to Live the Art Life & Catch Ideas article for a full explanation of this philosophy.

Laptop with Ableton Push

5: Give Yourself Artistic Constraints

Artistic constraints are a great way to circumvent the choice paralysis created by hundreds of free plugins, presets, and samples. They seek to strip the artistic process back to an exercise in lateral thinking brought about by creative need. Artistic constraints help you explore your skills and tools in a stress-free situation.

Overthrow the tyranny of choice with these inspiring restrictions:

  • Set arbitrary deadlines and do everything in your power to meet them
  • Limit your tools to a small selection of instruments, samples, and effects
  • Play creative games that challenge the way you would normally approach tasks
  • Visualise your end goal to avoid getting distracted selecting/tweaking things

Check out our How to Increase Your Output with Artistic Constraints article for a full run-down of this strategy.

Banish Your Block

The illusion of creative block can seem impossible to shake. By coming at it from multiple angles, we guarantee that something will shock your brain into action. If you want more information about these strategies, check out our dedicated blogs that break them down even further with concrete examples to try and tweak. If you're looking for some conversation or gear-related inspiration for your current project, visit us in store or chat to our friendly online orders team.

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