I just received my copy of Breakthrough!, the new book by Alex Cornell to which I contributed an article (republished below) on the topic of overcoming creative blocks. Its a magnificent compact publication designed to be carried around for constant reference, with great advice from Michael Cina, James White, Erik Spiekermann, Alex Trochut, Chuck Anderson, Paula Scher, and Michael C. Place to name just a few, and is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Overcoming Creative Block
By Tom Muller
I’ve tried many things whenever I find myself in a creative slump, when it feels like I’m just pushing things around aimlessly — hoping something will stick and show me the way out. I force myself to keep trying, tell myself that the answer is just around the corner, and any second now (and multiple design files later) I’ll be wondering why that was so difficult.
The solution is obvious!
Sometimes this “just push through it” approach works. Often though it doesn’t, and I waste valuable time. The thing I found works best for me (and it might be different for you — brainstorming sessions rarely do it for me for example), is to push it aside and go do something completely different. Hop on my bike for a spin through the local marshes, do the grocery shopping, read comics, or even watch TV (I have discovered through rigorous testing that watching shopping channels is excellent for this). Mundane things that take away my focus from the work, but allow me to wander off in thought and let things just happen. Distraction is actually a good thing, and I’ll often think of a solution when I’m not sat behind a desk, which is why I always carry a notepad and pen with me — just in case.
Actually, sitting here writing this ‘strategy’ document, my mind is wandering, and I’m sitting here thinking “What else can I say that hasn’t been said before or that doesn’t sound like the most obvious thing in the world?!” And the thing is, I can’t — because I don’t believe there is a set rule or system to overcome a creative block. I need to be able to let my mind wander, see things, and then mentally reconnect the dots that eventually lead to an answer in an organic way.
The best ideas happen when you’re not trying to come up with one.