Some tips to help break your creative blocks


It’s not just artists and writers who can experience creative blocks — these frustrations can happen on the job or when trying to finish schoolwork. Two assistants from the Center for Creativity, Mike Campbell and Jasmine Green, presented a new Faculty & Staff Development Program workshop on Dec. 2 to offer hints and exercises for getting past these exasperating instances.

Creative blocks come in three types, explained Campbell. The inner critic practices “self-censorship, and it paralyzes you.” A lack of motivation can arrive when you are “overwhelmed, unhappy or you don’t know how to work through a project.” And then there is the common fear of failure. “That is how we learn, by failing,” he countered. When we see a successful piece of art or writing, or a successful work or school project, it usually comes after a long stretch of false starts and wrong turns.

Campbell’s creative outlet is drawing. “I didn’t learn to shade by magic,” he notes. “It was by a lot of pain and process.”

Workshop participants volunteered that their creative blocks had affected them in their jobs. “I have felt burnt out at home and at work,” one wrote; another had trouble “developing future plans for career development and education”; and a third could not find “a way to combine all interests and desires into one plan.” They’ve tried to break free by running, meditation, yoga and listening to music.

Campbell and Green spent most of the workshop demonstrating, and allowing participants to try, five exercises they suggest as simple desktop practices for unblocking creativity:

  • “Let the music move you(r pencil)” is free drawing while listening to a tune (in this case, “Fireflies” by Owl City). “Do not spend a lot of time thinking about what you are feeling or what you are drawing,” Campbell advised. “Feel what you are drawing. Hopefully you let some ideas flow there.”

  • “Reflection sketches” force a new perspective by asking you to draw an image only by looking at it in a mirror. “It challenges your perception of things,” Green said. “Sometimes getting out of my comfort zone while doing something creative is really challenging for me.” To overcome creative blocks, she said, “sometimes the solution can be thinking about your challenge in a different way.”

  • “Map your brain's terrain” attacks the block at its core, asking you to think about your current sticking point and begin writing words that you associate with that block. “It’s meant to be nonlinear,” said Campbell, so you can connect your thoughts in any manner you wish, using other words, symbols or artwork, “as long as you understand what you are putting down so you can come back to it later.” Trying it anew with the group, he remarked, “I came up with things I hadn’t really thought about before.”

  • “Read, use, recycle” asked participants to find a quote from a favorite book and rework it into a new poem or piece of visual art. Alternatively, you could put your finger on a random passage, or just use favorite book or movie titles in your construction. Green used four book titles to create a poem: “What I really like about the activity — for a lot of us, we feel like we have to generate new ideas on the spot.” Instead, she suggested “leaning on ideas that already exist,” adding: “We ourselves don’t exist in a vacuum.”

  • “Wordtoons” is the act of turning a short, single word written on a page into a visual representation of the word. The word “pizza” can become a slice with someone eating it. The word “fire,” chosen by Campbell, turned into a cartoon bird clutching a torch.

“Hopefully you had fun with these ideas,” Green said, “and can incorporate them” into working your own creative blocks free.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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