Get over Creative Blocks, Beat Resistance, and Do the Work


“I’m going away to make my art” is the dream of creatives. The idea that our work can be created in idyllic isolation, refined to perfection, then released into the world to be greeted by rapturous ovations — is the biggest over-romanticized lie we have ever told ourselves.

Whether we’re writing for our company blog, writing technical documentation, or simply running a personal blog to showcase our industry knowledge for career development, there comes a time every creative thinks about retreating into isolation to solely focus on creating.

Who has ever made a ‘creative vacation’ work? Probably fewer people than you think.

I only know of one person. How many do you know?

British musician, Mike Oldfield, locked himself away in a Manor House recording studio for a year. By the end, he had created his LP, Tubular Bells. Like all works of art, it wasn’t an overnight sensation. It took a year of rising up the charts to reach number one. The album has sold more than 2,630,000 copies in the UK alone and by July 2016 it was the 42nd best-selling album of all time in the UK.

Mike Oldfield’s creative vacation was an exception. Countless others have tried.

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, battles resistance to creation every day. He too tried idyllic isolation. He failed.

A friend of my family, a published author, told me his son was a better writer than him so when his son graduated from college, he rented a cottage for him for a year, took care of his expenses and told him to write. At the end of the year, the kid showed up with nothing.

Samsung got tired of stealing technology and felt they needed to innovate. So they hired the top students from Korean Universities and put them in a “smart house” for a while. No worries at all. . . all expenses taken care of and their only mandate was to innovate. At the end of the year . . . Nothing.

Creativity and solutions aren’t born in a vacuum; they are born out of butting heads over problems.

The environment has been vital inspiration to Monet

Taking yourself out of the environment to create may be one of the worst creative moves possible.

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Claude Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting. He was living and working at his house in Giverny for 43 years. He began a landscaping project of the surronding area of his house which spanned over 20 years of his life. These paintings would become the subjects of his best-known works.

The environment is the essence of your art, it is the firm base on which your work can thrive, breathe and bloom.  Without a nurturing environment, your art will wither away, like an unwatered plant.

Let’s forgo the thought of a creative vacation, and work, while we create. You will create more than you know.

The art of work

So how do you create magnificent art and how do you stay at it every day? You can’t wait for inspiration to hit. If you’re are a writer, and you wait to be in the mood to write, then you’re not a professional. This is like needing a knee operation, and hoping the doctor is in the mood to do your surgery today.

Practice your work as art every day, and respect it as a practice. Even with all the noise around you, make time for it every day.

It’s like creating any habit. If you want to start reading books, exercising or practicing mindfulness.

  • Don’t rely on tools
  • Do it for 66 days (and more).
  • Schedule it in for a specific time

Tools will not always result in productivity

The techniques that bring fame, status or success are not the easy methods people want them to be. Nor are they just having a set of the tools.

When you seek advice and you turn to an online search, you’ll often be given a list of tools. And because it worked for that successful individual, you’ll instantly buy those tools, or download and install them.

But, this won’t work for you. This is like asking Stephen King, “Stephen, I really want to write like you, everything you do is incredible, which pencil do you use?”

If you own the same pencil as Stephen King, it does not mean you will write like Stephen King. We’re in a generation that’s constantly looking for the next tool to hack our goal. Yet with art, that method will never work.

Mike Rudnitsky gives some creative nonfiction writing promptsWriting a book is hard, but it doesn’t require quitting your job. It requires intensity of focus, rather than duration at one time. A focused hour a day is infinitely more valuable than five hours interrupted by work, or scrolling Facebook. Most people waste time worrying about tools, resources, and carving out dozens of hours. I know what I’m writing the day before, and then I try to bang it out. It doesn’t always work … but it’s as close to a cure for writer’s block as you possibly can get.

Matt Rudnitsky, Author, You Are an Author: So Write Your F***ing Book.

Do your art for 66 days

A study by University College London examined 96 people over a 12-week period. Each of these 96 people were asked to choose one new habit to implement into their lives every day. There was a mix of complex and simple habits people were trying to incorporate into their everyday routine.

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At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.

On average, it takes 66 days before a new behavior becomes automatic.

Schedule your art and your work for your optimum time

Capture a set time of day to work on your art.

Many of the best writers have a daily practice for writing. You need to adopt this practice too. The most common theme among them was: wake up early, and start writing. Yet, there were a few nights owls in there as well.

But what’s best for you? Measure it.

Find your optimum time to produce great art by finding your biological prime time — a term coined by Sam Carpenter in his book Work the System.

Just like productivity expert, Chris Bailey. Chris kept track of his energy, focus, and motivation levels for 21 days. If you do the same, you’ll be able to allocate a small window in your day to create distraction-free. Two hours is perfect.

Here’s a sample of Chris’s data:

Use Energy Levels in your Biological Prime Time as creative nonfiction writing prompts

Chris Bailey’s best time to work is 5pm – 7pm.

My best time to write is 10am – 12pm.

What’s yours?

Don’t forget to reward yourself

Creating consistently can feel like a burden with pressure to produce work daily; whether that’s meeting a word count or filling a blank canvas. In a perfect world, the act of creating would be a reward in and of itself.

But even creating for work can be a pleasure.

If you penned something, even if it’s not much. you will come away feeling confident.  A little reward or a visual reminder of your progress is helpful, says Sarah Barbour, Book Coach and Editor for Entrepreneurs:

Sarah Barbour shares her writing reward system for creative nonfiction prompts“I’m a huge believer in tracking your progress as a writer and in rewarding yourself when you hit certain milestones. A very easy way was popularized by Jerry Seinfeld a few years ago; it’s simply to use a wall calendar as a writing tracker. For every day that you write, note it on the calendar with a big X or a shiny sticker. As your writing days start adding up, you won’t want to break the chain; it becomes an incentive in and of itself. My addition to this is to reward yourself at regular intervals, say after an unbroken week or month, with a special treat or activity.”

Embrace the mess to create your best art

The artist’s brain is messy. Artists love spotting the patterns in mess. There are plenty of examples of creative talents choosing to be a bit light on the housework.

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So where did us creatives get the idea that if we tidy our mind and ourselves from our current environment, suddenly the work we produce is going to be next level? When did quitting our day job ever lead to success?

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign?

Einstein definitely was not alone in finding a messy desk was a productive desk.

Let’s forget about romanticizing a 6-month window to go away and create our best work. Being head on in the problem makes your art even better. The trick is to utilize that as an energy giver, and know yourself when you can create something amazing. A little bit of work every day goes a lot further than you would believe.

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