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Breaking through a creative block

There are few things more discouraging than being stymied by a creative block. It’s a wasteland. If you can’t break through it shortly, you are bound to start suffering. Without anything to work on, you are also at loose ends, which can lead to the nattering of pessimistic self-talk. Malaise and depression sneak through the door after anger and frustration burn themselves out. If your livelihood depends on it, a creative block can become quite serious. We don’t have to give up, though, and while the effort itself can be hard, inertia is worse. There are a few tricks to counter the dreaded block. Of course, there’s only one way to find out if they work. Try them.

  • Take a break: Get completely away from your project and don’t think about it. Taking a break will not only give your mind a rest, it will purge you of the brooding and frowning that comes with frustration. With a light(er) heart, you are more apt to come up with something new. How long a break? It’s up to you, really. A good way to prevent overthinking is to try a simple behavioral change method I’ve used. Do this only if you find yourself obsessing, though. Place a rubber band around your wrist. Every time your thinking drifts back toward your creative block or the project you’re working on, pull the rubber band and snap your wrist. Sounds and is primitive, but it really works. Pretty soon you won’t be thinking of your block at all!
  • Become inspired: Pore over books and magazines about ceramics. Go to an art gallery gift shop and pick out several books that catch your eye. Libraries are also good. I just checked out two on tiles today. My library sells off old issues of Ceramics Monthly, too, and I’ve bought a few issues there. See if you can get a guest library card at a university; it’s bound to have a good choice of books in its holdings if ceramics classes are taught there. If you are associated with an art centre, peruse any books on hand. Enjoy your time. You can’t force inspiration.
  • Do something else: Not a break, more like shifting gears. If you’ve made boxes, start throwing. If you have used certain glazes, use stains with a particular decorative technique. Your neural pathways are in a rut, but you can pave new ones by doing something else. It’s also Alzheimer’s prevention because it’s known that people who do things habitually are more prone. Just as you’d change your route to work, change what you’re doing. Changing habits can also free you up, give you more energy.
  • Move somewhere else: If you find that nothing works, that you are experiencing a perpetual creative block, move. I guarantee you, there is nothing like a move to shake things up. According to feng shui tenets, stale energy builds up in a home if nothing’s done about it. But if you move, you have to discard, and discarding frees up energy. Whether it’s just several houses down, as I’ve done, or across town, it’s change. I wouldn’t recommend moving over a border, like I did, though. Your creative block will be put on the back burner while you sort through immigration red tape. All your time will be taken up by it and who knows when you’ll get back to your precious clay? It took me years to get back in the groove after coming to Canada.
  • Get others involved: As they say, two heads are better than one. I would only ask people who are truly on your side. Avoid people who have an agenda or who will use it against you. Seek out people who understand and truly care about your efforts and who believe in you. We have to protect the energy around our ideas, especially while they’re in their infancy. This would be the case when we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I can’t stress this enough. New ideas can become easily poisoned by a lack of well wishers. If you can find a true gem who is willing to dash around ideas with you, you are doing well and are on your way. They won’t necessarily give you an idea…and let them know that’s not why you’re asking. Just hashing things around can lead to something new.
  • Doodling: Whether¬† you’re out for coffee¬† or are sitting at your kitchen table, doodling is a good way to go. I have a friend who is a die-hard napkin doodler. He comes up with his best ideas that way. Partly, because he’s thinking with ‘averted vision,’ with his mind only partly on what he’s doing. While the cook is working on his order, he doodles away and asks for another napkin when his order arrives. I actually have saved a number of those napkins, his ideas were so brilliant!
  • Be domestic: You know about the need to become busy while you are procrastinating? Got a test to study for? Gee, the fridge needs cleaning out. A difficult conversation needs to take place over the phone? Hmm, this room could use some vacuuming. Well, use the same tactics tackle a creative block. It’s a mini-break or diversion, if you will. Clean the stove top, unload the dishwasher or drying rack or do some dusting. Use your shop vac, guys! But keep it domestic. Those ordinary, homely chores we do seemingly without thinking can actually dislodge an idea or two because you are on auto-pilot and have room to let something new in.
  • Do more research: Are you working in a particular vein? If so, investigate it. The web is full of info… Sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily and search its site, run by the Potters Council. It’s terrific. Many free e-books can be downloaded from there, too. There are many forums and groups… LinkedIn has many ceramics groups. Find a niche that is working on what you’re doing and look into it. Maybe you want to do hard copy research…that’s fine, too
  • Use symbolic sight: View the situation through the eyes of symbolism. What does the block mean? See if you can find a root cause. Also, consider whether there’s a bigger issue going on that is being covered up because you are focusing on the idea of a creative block. Maybe something else is transferring over into your artistic domain that needs to be kept out or dealt with in its rightful territory.

Persevere and your dry spell will soon be history…

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