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Features

How to Overcome Creative Obstacles

Advice from determined creatives on pushing past blocks and making a long-standing idea a reality.


We all have that one idea we keep circling, but that always seems just a little too much to take on for whatever reason–you may be lacking the time, money, or focus to make it come together. We rounded up advice from a handful of determined creatives who have wisdom to share on how to get things in motion when things have been a bit stuck.

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Time-poor?

Many of us are busy, overextended, and doing our best to cram as much as we can in a day. No wonder many of us struggle to find time to properly ruminate on a big idea that’s been lingering. It might flourish into something significant, but only if you give it the space and attention it needs. You might think that multitasking is the answer, and fruitlessly keep adding it to the bottom of your to-do list. But as Dr. Sahar Yousef explains, this is a myth that might be holding you back, as well as adding to your guilt. Our ability to focus for long stretches has been compromised by distractions and a constant stream of demands on our time. We need uninterrupted time to get into the flow, fully focus, and sincerely engage.

“One of my mottos is that there’s no ‘on’ without ‘off’.”

The self-explanatory first step is to rethink your blurry relationship boundaries with your inbox by setting aside specific blocks of time for checking and answering emails. This frees up significant brainpower for other things–like turning your attention to a long-standing project. As Dr. Yousef points out, “The more focus training (i.e. meditation) you do, it’s like hitting the gym. That ‘muscle’ gets stronger, and then it becomes easier to then in turn focus.”  

And while it could be tempting to sacrifice your sleep in service of your creative momentum, the trick is to work smarter. Resting is a crucial reset for your mind and body. “One of my mottos is that there’s no ‘on’ without ‘off.’ It comes back to intentionality for me,” says Yousef. “Have intentional off periods where you’re relaxing, you’re not processing information, and you’re truly resting and rejuvenating.”  

Illustration by Andrea Manzati

Illustration by Andrea Manzati

Short on resources?

Can you visualize all elements of your project but draw a complete blank when it comes to the logistics? Maybe you need a working knowledge of Photoshop but don’t know who to ask for a rundown on the basics. Or perhaps you want to stage an event but don’t have the first clue about what permits are required in your city.

Mitch Goldstein is an enthusiastic advocate of libraries as the best (and most overlooked) resource available, be it your local public library or your alma mater’s facilities. The staff are likely able to send you in the right direction if it is beyond their scope, because librarians are trained in deep research, both digitally and via books.

Goldstein is also quick to point out something that many people may not be aware of, “Many libraries also offer a bonus hidden perk: a free membership to Lynda.com’s (now LinkedIn Learning) video tutorials on software, which is an excellent resource to keep up on new tools. Of course, the Internet has a ton of stuff for free (YouTube), but I really love Lynda’s well-organized and structured lessons, which include downloadable exercise files.” 

Lacking inspiration?

Being stuck in the quicksand of a creative rut sometimes seems insurmountable. The more you think about it, the more daunting it seems to take that first step. Take heart in knowing that everyone battles this particular obstacle, and lives to tell the tale. One way to jolt yourself out of a state of monotony is to experiment. Don’t think too much about the details, and go with your gut. Do something out of your comfort zone and shock your creative system with an unexpected excursion.

“It’s important to allow yourself some freedom, flexibility and time to begin noticing things.”

“What helps me get out of a creative rut is to stop trying to replicate previous success and instead try new things and experiment,” says designer and illustrator Marina Martian. Don’t feel tied to any particular path and see where expanding your thinking takes you.

Artist, author and podcast host Tai Snaith agrees, saying “If I’m feeling creatively flat, I will go to a thrift store and it helps to activate the part of the brain that looks for opportunities. It’s important to allow yourself some freedom, flexibility and time to begin noticing things.”

Feeling overwhelmed by the world?

You’re forgiven for feeling defeated, especially in today’s overwhelming news cycle. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your voice can do little to change things that seem so much more pressing. But what if you reframed your creative pursuit as a necessary outlet for yourself, that will make you much more available to your community and the world at large? A creative outlet does wonders to shift your perspective, and can serve as a vital driver in other areas of your life. Monica Khemsurov of Sight Unseen touched on this when reflecting on the year ahead, “Since people are so anxious right now, they need the comfort of beauty and creativity more than ever. But at the same time I feel like we need to be actively involved in enabling change. I’m not sure yet what that means in practical terms.”

Take care to not overlook the importance of creativity, and the comfort it can bring. Your project might well serve as someone’s inspiration (or distraction!). And Khemsurov is buoyed by hop of a positive shift in the design industry, “What if people start spending less on fleeting fashion items and more on sustainably-produced objects and furniture they can live with until 2030 and beyond?”

Take a moment to think of the greater purpose of your work and how it can be a driver for change.

Need some direction?

Mentorship is an undervalued resource that can shift your perspective, be a powerful motivator, and change your approach to work. So when feeling apprehensive about diving into a daunting project, look to someone who has been through it already.

“If someone shares their work and it’s important to you, reach out to them.”

For Alexis Lloyd, VP of Product Design at Medium and former head of Design Innovation at Automattic, seeing how John Maeda worked up close shed light on what makes a good mentor and leader. The key is to “give people space to surprise you.” Use your network to find someone who would be a good fit as a mentor for you. As photographer Aundre Larrow points out, “If someone shares their work and it’s important to you, reach out to them. The internet gives exciting opportunities to meet people you can learn from.”

Illustration by Fran Labuschagne.

Illustration by Fran Labuschagne.

Commitment issues?

Have you heard the expression “throw your hat over the fence?” You’re not going to take on a daunting climb until there’s something to hold you accountable, and when you toss your metaphorical hat over the line, it puts a tangible placeholder out in the world. When artist and author Emily Spivack decided to write a book, she knew how tough the road ahead would be. So she created a website announcing her plans and made her ambitions public. “That was me putting a stake in the ground,” Spivack says. The public accountability she set up for herself was the push she needed to commit to a big project without external deadlines.

 

More Posts by Mia Pinjuh

Mia is a writer based in New York. 


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