(No, this has nothing to do with that extra slice of pie from Thanskgiving.)
Sometimes creators feel their precious wells have run dry, and they have to then find a means of replenishing that source, else they run into what some call a “block.”
Writer’s block, artist’s block; I’ve had them both, but the concept extends to any and all forms of creativity.
Many factors can initiate a block — stress, overwork, too much creating, et cetera. Recognizing the signs of an impending block comes first, followed by addressing the issue.
For me personally, creative blocks are laid brick by brick with the unforgiving mortar of stress, often compounded by lack of sleep, a full schedule, and sometimes a lower nutrient/caloric intake. If I’m not careful, those bricks form into a rather formidable fortress that takes more than some elbow grease and good ol’ stubbornness to bring crashing down again.
Doesn’t stop a girl from trying, though.
Here’s one method that works for me when a block hits: creative consuming. That’s what I’m calling it, anyway, because consumption reminds me of something rather less pleasant.
In moments of particular “stuck,” I refer back to a concept I used and reused often as an English teacher: the cycle of “consume, critique, produce.”
The three terms are highly simplified for memory’s sake, as each step scurries down a rabbit hole of considerable pedagogical depth. No need to bore you with that here.
Instead, consider the three as part of a continuous cycle; no writing, painting or other piece of creativity was created in a vacuum. Instead, they ultimately exist as ongoing products of what came before, whether as continuation of a trend or a bucking thereof.
Thus, in order to produce — and, indeed, to continue producing creatively — one must first consume other creative media, and then use what elements they can repurpose into their pieces.
(Note: I am not referring to plagiarism here. I’m taking about things like universal themes, color theory, dramatic angles, turns of phrase and literary tropes. They’re used over and over again, but in new or unexpected ways.)
As an example, during the holiday weekend I found myself tuning in to some food competitions. Some were new to me, others of a familiar cadence and formula. The point, though, lay in gathering seeds for my own culinary escapades.
Using eggplant or pumpkin as a vegetarian substitute in butter chicken recipes? What?!
Combining coconut milk and probiotics to create a different style of yogurt at home? No way.
Taking a bit of time to watch something related to my interests helped to keep the spark going. There’s a list now sitting in the kitchen full of new craziness to try! Later, in the critique phase, I’ll pare down the list, modify it, and add more as befits my time and experience level.
On the literary side, I’ve started rereading a book I enjoyed for both the worldbuilding and its narrative style. As a writer myself, I both read for fun and also to make note of what an author does stylistically that I’d like to emulate. I highlight passages that amused me, made me bust out laughing, or wrenched my heart with bitter tears.
Conversely, I might grit my teeth at writing habits that work my nerves… like using a word too many times, or using “said” after every piece of dialogue. And then I remind myself that I’m consuming, not critiquing.
The process works for visual arts and photography, too. When I have a strong concept in mind, I start sketching it out, often using references for pose adjustments, color corrections, and lighting ideas.
Unique color combinations or fashion choices I encounter online, in books, or out in the world give me pause: “That’s so cool. Why do I like it? Can I use an element of that in my own work?”
In the end, consuming related media even when not suffering a creative block can help keep ideas fresh and flowing. We learn best through emulating the masters, and then changing the style to better fit our own individual voices.
Sometimes we find that we don’t like what the ‘masters’ have done, and we defy tradition and move towards a new direction. It’s all part of the process and — to me — all part of the fun.
Fellow creatives, how do you kick the block when it hits? I’d love to hear your stories!
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