Being in the midst of a creative block is a strange, frustrating, and ill-defined state of mind. At heart, a creative blockage is the temporary inability to begin or continue a project, whether that’s writing, painting, sculpting, designing, or any other creative pursuit. This is normally due to fear, anxiety, or lack of inspiration.
Writer’s block is the best known of all the creative blockages. But even then, famous writers have many different ideas as to what exactly is going on when the words dry up. Many writers reject the very notion of writer’s block entirely. Neil Gaiman, for example, had said, “I don’t really believe in writer’s block, but I absolutely believe in getting stuck. The difference is one is imposed on you by the gods, and one is your own damn fault.” That might sound a little harsh, but Gaiman has a point — and it’s one that many other artists, as well as psychologists, agree with.
“Creative block” is a metaphor for being stuck, but to think of it as a blockage is unconstructive. Most creative types and psychologists agree that the best way to overcome a creative block is to create — even if that means moving away from your comfort zone and trying something new. As Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage.” This simple sentiment is something echoed in the following quotes from famous writers and artists on the kind of slumps that all creators are bound to face.
If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter,” then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.
— Vincent van Gogh
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would… stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway
Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You cannot intellectualize creativity. You can think about something before or after — but not during.
— Ray Bradbury
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.
— Maya Angelou
Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.
— Isabel Allende
Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.
— Charles Bukowski
Most artists have experienced the creative block. We get stuck in our work. We beat our head against the wall, and eventually the wall will yield. Perseverance, and faith in the impossible task are essential ingredients.
— Lukas Foss, composer, pianist, and conductor
When I have a creative block, I take walks. I like to see what shapes stick out — so many legs rushing by at once, it can seem abstract. I don’t need to see great art to get stirred up. Music does that for me more easily.
— Caio Fonseca, painter
I always like to have another story, another introduction, another work, and I’ll just go and work on that, while somewhere in the back of my mind I’m churning over why I’m stuck and what went wrong and figuring out how to go forward.
— Neil Gaiman
The best way to become more creative is to create nothing. By this, I mean that you should return to zero point. Rid yourself of all the mental and emotional blocks that keep you from manifesting your full creative potential.
— Ilchi Lee, author
When you are stuck, walk away from the computer and draw. It will teach you how to see.
— Gerard Huerta, typographer and graphic designer
The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.
— Austin Kleon, author
Don’t stop because you’ve hit a block. Finish the page, even if you write nothing but your own name. The block will break if you don’t give in to it.
— Isabelle Holland
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
— Chuck Close, visual artist and photographer