Matt Lara

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  • How to deal with creative blocks

    The most important thing to remember about feeling blocked creatively is that we all get there from time to time. I am someone who has had many different creative pursuits over the years--musical theatre, dance, photography, content creating, marketing, and activism--and throughout every season of every career I've gone after I have hit moments where I felt I just couldn't come up with a decent idea to save my life.

    Thankfully, I learned early on how to deal with these moments. There are a few simple tools and tricks (if you prefer to think of them as that) that I learned almost right away. Nothing I'm about to say is original, by the way. Still, even I have to remind myself that these few basic practices exist and can be easily executed as soon as you stop reading this.

    I picked up The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron when I was a sophomore in college and it's a book that I think anyone who considers themselves even slightly creative should read. It's a 12-week course on unblocking creative potential. If 12 weeks sounds intimidating, don't worry. The program is designed to be done in and around your everyday life. It's less of a bootcamp and more of a daily practice. Cameron lays out three simple tools:

    1. Morning Pages. This is where the daily practice part comes in which is simply writing three pages in a journal first thing in the morning. That's three pages of longhand writing with a pen and notebook. (No typing allowed.) Cameron talks more about this in her books and on her website, but basically the point of this is clear your mind of clutter while the act of physically writing gives you a point of focus. I'll admit doing the Morning Pages every morning can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, especially as social media seems to continue to eat my brain. It's a simple tool that is very effective when used longterm.

    2. Artist Dates. This is a fun one. An artist date is where you take yourself out on a solo excursion of your choice. In my experience, the easier the date the better. Visit a new coffee shop. Walk through a public garden. Stop a random library in a neighboring town. You can turn your Artist Date into a weekend road trip if you like. Word of advice, don't stand yourself up. The point of the Artist Date is so "fill the well" with experiences you wouldn't normally have. You want to break the usual routine here.

    3. Walking. Cameron talks about walking only a little bit in The Artist's Way, but she expands on it in her later books. Take a walk. It can be a 10-minute walk on the lunch break, or over an hour through a hiking trail. Walking is free, easy, doesn't require much effort. If it does require some effort, it is an legitimate form of exercise--so it's good for you. This is honestly the tool I would turn to most often. If all else fails, take a walk.

    Like I said, none of these tools are new so I can't take any credit for them. But in all of my creative pursuits they have been the reliable friends that see me through. It's important to remember that none of this is meant to be complicated. I believe we are inherintly creative creatures, so utilizing the most basic functions of thinking, of walking, of experiencing life ought to bring us back to that more naturally creative state.

    Another thing to remember about creative blocks. Artists are sensitive. We are awake and alert to our environments. We tend to think we can somehow power through blockages by staying up until three in the morning and pounding out ideas. In my experience, that tends to make things worse. I'm a sensitive guy and when I'm feeling stuck, that's my cue to step away from the desk and go do something else--I wash the dishes, I garden, I talk a walk.

    Also, if your job is to create stuff on a daily basis and things are just not flowing my best advice would be to keep a file on hand for these very moments. Your file can be physical or digital (or both) and the idea is to always be adding to it. Copy down passages from books, articles, lines from movies. Tear pages from magazines. Save paint colors you like, song lyrics, or random fabric samples. Digital files are easiest to keep, but for me the physical act of touching and handling a source for ideas is important. Index cards are more easily shifted around a work space than windows shifted around your computer screen. This may be my dance background talking, but physicality is a great conductor of creativity.

    That's all I have for now. Like I said, the point of all of this is keep it simple. Don't over complicate things. Step one is acknowledging that you are blocked, the rest is more or less self care.

    Matt