10 Ways to Get Unblocked and Restart Your Creativity

Here’s a scary story, just in time for Halloween: It’s 2:00 in the afternoon – a time you’ve set aside to write, design or otherwise create something. You stare at the screen or page and… you’ve got nothing. Call it writer’s block or just being creatively stuck. The spark isn’t there. The ideas don’t flow. Inspiration is nowhere to be found. And the deadline looms, getting closer and closer…

Blocked creativity is enough to scare even the most experienced professional. Here at Relish, however, we can’t afford to wait for the creative spirit to strike at just the right moment. We have to ignite our creativity on demand to deliver the fresh results our clients need, when they need them. And we do it with these ten approaches:

Change your soundtrack. Creative Director Michael Palermo says that changing the music he’s listening to helps him refocus and shift his thinking. Art Director Paul Marquardt says that REM’s Document and Dave Matthews Band’s Big Whiskey and the GruGrux King are go-to albums that energize his creativity (although he sticks to instrumental music when he doesn’t want to be distracted by the words). And Account Executive Noah Chen makes playlists that match the tone of the project at hand.

Change your scenery. I find that taking my work outside – or just into another room – can be just the shake-up my brain needs to get going. Account Director Mia Johnson also finds that walking away from whatever she’s grappling with can make a difference for her. Marketing Project Manager Leigh Flemistertells us that being surrounded by nature keeps her focused on the big picture. Michael says that sometimes, simply shifting from his chair to a standing desk is enough to help him reset.

Shift your attention. Many of us overcome writer’s block by working on something different shifts us into a different mindset. For some, this means tending to an unrelated creative project. For others, it’s doing something that isn’t creative at all – raking leaves off the front porch or folding laundry. Whatever the alternate activity, when we return to the original project at hand, we often find that whatever was in our way before is gone.

Get moving. Countless studies affirm that physical activity can wake up inactive brain areas while improving mental health and feelings of well-being. No wonder lots of us turn to this approach when we’re creatively stuck. Leigh treats her dog to an extra walk while getting some exercise for herself. President and Founder Pam Willoughby feels like taking a brisk walk activates her brain. Digital Media Director Jacob Campbell says that a kettlebell workout and run energize his brain for the day ahead. Senior Account Executive Andrea Williams likes to clear her mind with a run, yoga workout or bike ride. She even has a portable treadmill under her standing desk so she can walk between meetings.

Grab some food for thought. Whether your snack of choice involves a healthy handful of blueberries and nuts, quality dark chocolate, or a fresh cup of coffee, most of us have found that a quick bite can provide a fresh jolt of energy that gets us past creative barriers. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, however, you may want to skip the espresso late in the afternoon.

Play a game. Michael tells us that a quick game like Wordle or Quordle can get his brain unstuck. I have a children’s game called OuiSi, a set of cards containing a variety of interesting photographic details. I spread them out and arrange them according to anything from similar shapes and colors to contrasting patterns. Then, I look at them again. Invariably, the idea I’ve been missing is right there.

Put pen to paper (literally). A pen in your hand will express things in ways that are different from your fingers on a keyboard. Those processes affect the brain differently, too. If you usually start projects on a computer, try starting with pen and paper. You may agree with Mia, who says that mapping out her thoughts on paper helps reset her thought patterns and get a stalled process back on track.

Give yourself 20 minutes. Sometimes, when I feel creatively stuck, what I’m really feeling is the enormity of a big project. So, I set a timer for 20 minutes and write anything I can about the project at hand without stopping. Some of what comes out is my own frustration – “I have no idea what to do here.” But almost always, some gems show up, too. When the timer stops, nine times out of ten, I’m on enough of a roll to take the project forward.

Sleep on it. When Pam faces significant creative challenges, she engages her mind on the topic right before going to sleep at night, noting any great options that arise. “Something about this time right before sleep opens up my thought patterns to new areas,” she says. I do something similar as I’m waking up, when my brain still has lots of dreamy elasticity.

Phone a friend (especially here at Relish). Several of us find that talking with a friend or colleague opens our minds to fresh ideas. After all, one person’s challenge is another’s inspiration. We all enjoy helping other people through creative issues – and that includes you, too! If you’re stuck on a creative problem, tell us about it! We’ll be happy to hear from you – and might have the fresh perspective you need to get back on track.

Writer’s block and creativity barriers happen to everyone. But these ten approaches keep them from being truly scary for us. We hope they’ll work for you, too. Consider them our little treats this Halloween season.