How to Hack Creative Blocks

The subtle art of removing the blocks and letting your creativity flow
How to Hack Creative Blocks
Jake McNeill
June 17, 2021
5 min read
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What are Creative Blocks?

Every artist or creator has felt devoid of inspiration. The creative emptiness inside evokes panic.

The truth is we all have barriers that block our creativity. They can last for weeks, months, or even years.

Creative blocks are hurdles created by the self-imposed pressure to perform to a high standard. They are most commonly felt after a period of success and the pressure to repeat the creative success. 

As a former artist manager, I dealt with creative blocks on a regular basis. Here are some of the most common issues. 

Creative Blocks

Nearly every adult has some form of creative block. 

NASA tested the creativity of 1,600 kids over a 10 year period. This was their results:

  • 98% of 5-year-olds were creative geniuses
  • 30% of 10-year-olds remained creative geniuses
  • 12% of the 15-year-olds remained creative geniuses 
  • They tested 280,000 adults only 2% were creative geniuses.

Dr. George Land who built the NASA creativity test put it down to two things:

  1. The education system teaches us to memorise and repeat instead of creating and innovating.
  1. Fear. At age 6 or 7 kids start feeling self-conscious and caring about what others think.

As adults, our creativity is stunted by our fear of rejection and failure.

Fears

“Am I good enough?” This is the fundamental fear that all creative blocks are born from. Even the biggest stars feel this.

The more successful I get, the more insecurities I'm getting, it's weird. I don't know if it's because I'm so blown away that people like what I do, but I just feel like I'm never going to live up to it.' 

‘I have anxiety attacks, constant panicking on stage, my heart feels like it's going to explode because I never feel like I'm going to deliver, ever.’

Adele

Ultimately we’re scared. Scared that we’re not good enough. That we’re going to get found out. Scared that we’re wasting our time.

Time anxiety is a real thing.

That our parents and teachers who advised us to pursue a more stable career were right. 

We are terrified of failing.

So we follow the crowd. Do what the others do. We blend in. Safety in numbers.

We stay in our lane. We don’t take risks. We dilute our creativity. 

Fear of failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The Fix? Get out of your head.

Go for a walk. Move your body. Change the scenery.

Do some thought stopping and square breathing. 

Do what gold medal winning Olympians do to overcome their self-sabotaging self-talk

Lean into your fear, get out of your comfort zone and take risks — this is where your best work is. 

If you’re not pushing yourself and taking risks regardless of other people’s opinions, you will never achieve your potential.

Which fear is bigger? The fear of being criticised for work you believe in or the regret and shame of not even trying?

Nothing of note was ever created in a comfort zone. Get out of it.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is fear. 

As creatives, we are terrified of creative criticism and rejection.

Why? Because our creativity is so personal we feel people are rejecting us as well as our creativity. 

Fear of rejection is baked into our DNA. We start overthinking everything. 

Our inner critic goes into overdrive.

Perfectionism is also born from ‘Am I good enough?” We obsess over the minute details that only we can see or hear because we’re terrified we’re not good enough. 

Hence the perfectionism. 

The Fix? Strive for excellence and not perfection. Perfection is an illusion that stops you from publishing your work. 

It can lead to burnout.

Create a release schedule and discipline yourself to publish on time. Announce your release schedule publically, this will keep you accountable.  

Turn it into a challenge. That’s what I did. And it works.

Done is better than perfect. 

Self-worth

As artists and creators, our self-worth is tied up in our creative success.

When things are going well we’re happy and productive. When they are not, we are withdrawn and living in our heads. 

Our creativity is all-consuming but we have to remove the external validation. 

There are two types of creatives: Chefs or Cooks. 

Chefs are trailblazing pioneers who create masterpieces. They are often misunderstood and rarely breakthrough as they create art for the fringes who appreciate it. 

Cooks are talented but follow other people’s recipes. They are often more financially successful than Chefs as they make above-average products for average people.

If you’re a Chef, then you pride yourself on mastery. 

If you’re a cook then you pride yourself on the applause.

The Fix? We all need to be more of a chef than a cook.

Focus on the internal validation and the joy of creating work that matters. 

Pressure

64% of all artists on the billboard top 100 chart are one-hit wonders. 

Some just got lucky. For others, the market simply moved on.

For most, the loss aversion bias is a debilitating factor that creates the mother of all creative blocks.

Loss aversion is when our subconscious preference to avoid failure is greater than the desire of acquiring gains.

Research has shown that losing $10 is 2.5 times more negatively impactful on us than the positive gains of finding $10. 

Our tendency to avoid losses causes us to make stupid decisions and subconsciously change our behavior simply to keep things we already own. 

The Fix? Knowledge is power. Knowing that your blocks are a subconscious bias is helpful.

It’s not just you. Everybody feels the same. 

Metacognition. What is that? It’s a fancy term for thinking about your thinking. 

It’s talking yourself down. When you feel the pressure you need to calm yourself. 

Do some square breathing and thought stopping. 

Lean into it

Gwen Stefani had co-written and sold 33 million albums with No Doubt.

In 2003, Interscope Records gave Gwen a multi-million dollar solo deal. But Gwen was struggling.

She was insecure. This was her first writing sessions without the band. 

She didn’t feel good enough. 

Gwen had a severe case of writer’s block.

After breaking down in tears during a writing session with Linda Perry. Linda turned to Gwen in an attempt to shake her out of her slump and exclaimed ‘What are you waiting for, Gwen Stefani’

It worked. This became the title for Gwen’s first solo international hit single. The lyrics are here. They are literally about her writer’s block. 

Gwen Stefani leaned into her writer’s block and wrote a song about writer’s block.

Don’t hide from your fears.  They are a source of creativity. 

Different strategies from other artists

Don’t fight creative blocks, that makes them worse.

Just go with the flow and don’t beat yourself up.

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, Artist

I know that forcing something is not going to create anything beyond mediocre, so I step aside and work on a different project until it hits me.

Ben Skinner, artist

A bit about me

I help maverick artists and creators make a racket in crowded markets, crush the creative blocks that hold them back, and turn audiences into superfans

Every Creative Rebel’s worst enemy?

Lack of strategy. Creative mediocrity: Being bland. Staying in our lane. Creating in our comfort zone and following the crowds.

The Goal?

To create authentic work that matters. Take creative risks, avoid creative burnout, and make a full time living with our passions.

I’m a former multi-platinum artist manager who got burnt out and became a creative blogger, coach, and consultant.

I’ve challenged myself to write 50 articles in 50 working days. 25 down, 25 to go.

You can read more in the archives here. Find out more information on my website or connect on my LinkedIn

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