Here on the northwest shores of Lake Michigan, we experience a natural phenomenon known as “lake effect.” We’re perfectly positioned in climate and landscape to enjoy hundreds of inches of snow every year. Most years the snow starts falling around Thanksgiving and continues each day until after Christmas. The newness of winter and the pure white blanket that covers everything is always an inspiring change. I don’t think I could ever live in a place that has no winter.
But as we turn the corner into February, each of the slowly falling flakes brings with it a tiny dose of depression.
When weeks and months pass without any sunshine, our bodies and minds enter a kind of hibernation that makes motivation hard to come by.
An unfortunate side-effect for those of us right-brained northerners is some pretty severe creative block.
While I can find ways to manage the seasonal sadness and lethargy—even if sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other—conjuring up creative sparks when I’m surrounded by gray can be quite a challenge.
I sit down at my computer or with a sketch pad or notebook and stare—my eyes perpetually glazed over like two donut holes peeking out from my skull, and brainstorming is little more than a prolonged “uhhhhhhhhhhh.”
Any hint of ideas are like little sperm that just don’t have what it takes for conception as they are sparingly trapped in the net of cobwebs that’s currently replaced the creative sector of my mind.
What I’m reminding myself today is something I’ve been slowly learning over the past several years—that trying harder may be adding to the problem rather than solving it.
As an artist I can double the time spent in front of the canvas… slapping paint or pixels or whatever it is… but ultimately it leads to more frustration over the additional time wasted.
Many artists swear that walking away from the frustration is the most likely way to find release from the creative block. To do something or some activity or investment that is the exact opposite of what the currently reigning side of my brain is telling me to do.
Work harder! More hours! Focus!
In fact, that’s proving true not only in overcoming creative block, but in many areas of life.
When faced with frustration in work, relationships, even spirituality… either my blue-collar blood or my high sense of reason keeps telling me to fix it.
To keep my nose to the grindstone and git-er-done.
And honestly I often do need to push through pain and do the real work required of success.
But in many other instances my own efforts only amplify that cycle of defeat. I try harder in my marriage, business, projects or whatever… and it just creates more complicated problems, additional frustration and ultimately depression.
When what I might actually need is a break.
To do one thing that seems completely counterproductive to the issue at hand.
Go skiing, take a road trip, even just walk the dog when I’m facing deadlines.
Go on a date with my wife when we’re in financial crisis.
Play hooky with my daughter when she’s struggling in school.
Watch an entire movie without cell phones, iPads or laptops.
Take a vacation when my business is in chaos.
Attend church when there’s a million other things to do.
Spend even just 10 minutes in quiet.
How to Beat Creative Block
So creative folks, what do you do when facing creative block? What has worked for you and what hasn’t?
One of my efforts to stay ahead of the slumps this year is collaborating with readers and other artists just-for-fun every friday. Check out the past few weeks!