Break on Through to The Other Side: How to Overcome a Creative Block

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23 August 2021

By Petra Music

A creative block happens when an individual finds it difficult to access his/her creative centre. This condition primarily affects those in creative professions i.e. musicians, writers, artists, and other performers.

As a creative, these blocks are probably one of the most frustrating things you’ll have to deal with.

On one hand, you’re feeling the strain of not being productive. But on the other, everything you do just can’t seem to come out right.

And because of that, you end up feeling lost, angry, and begin to doubt your talent. .

But fret not fellow artists as this is all part of the creative process. Even the best composers, writers, and performing artists all have their downtime.

The trick is to not let yourself get overwhelmed.

So, step back, take a deep breath, and slow things down.

Remember: it’s called the road to success for a reason. It’s a long and winding path and that’s why you need to take it slow… Putting pressure on yourself to perform will only make things worse.

And that’s why we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks that will surely get those creative juices flowing, starting with:

1. Take a shower

“Showers are 2% washing, 8% singing, and 90% winning fake arguments.”

– Unknown

If your lyrics don’t sound right or your composition just feels off, then maybe it’s time to walk away…

Throw your phone and laptop out the window and head right into the shower.

That’s right, the key here is to get away from it all and give yourself time to reset and refresh itself.

Don’t believe us?

Well, a study conducted by Cognitive Scientist Scott Barry Kaufman revealed that 72% of people surveyed agreed that showers made them more creative.

From a scientific standpoint, showers relax your body, release dopamine, and help focus a distracted mind, all of which are crucial if you want to break through your creative block.

It also probably helps that showers are usually the only time of day when you’re actually left alone. No distractions, no phone calls, just you, the shower, and your thoughts.

During quiet moments like these , your brain is given the bandwidth it needs to work, and that’s where your creative juices really start flowing.

So the next time you find yourself struggling to get creative, head into the shower and wash your cares away.

And as to whether a cold or hot shower works best, the jury is still out on that.

As a rule of thumb, cold showers work best if you’re feeling slow and sluggish and hot showers are great if you feel stressed out and overwhelmed.

The key here is to take your time and enjoy the sensation of getting away from it all, even if it’s just for a while. But don’t forget to have a recording device or notebook ready to jot down those ideas.

2. Get inspiration from your favourite artists

Get Inspired From Favourite Artists Petra Music

Photo by Daniel Monteiro via Unsplash

If you’re looking for some fresh inspiration to break free from your creative block, you can always take inspiration from your favourite artists.

After all, most of us got into music because we were inspired by other artists or musicians.

While trying to be original is great, there will be times when you need an extra dose of inspiration to get you going.

In the book Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, author Charles R. Cross wrote that Kurt Cobain would listen to Beatles records for hours on end when he wrote “About A Girl”.

If a song-writer as talented as Kurt Cobain can get by with a little help from his friends, we’re pretty sure that mere mortals like us also need help catching a break from time-to-time.

3. Think of blue skies

“We are each our own worst critic”

– Ellen Hendriksen

Oftentimes, creative blocks come about when an individual puts an excessive amount of pressure on himself/herself.

And that is perfectly understandable.

But here’s the thing, you can’t pressure yourself into becoming a creative maestro.

It doesn’t work that way, and you’ll only end up burning yourself out.

So if you do want to become a creative maestro, the first thing you need to do is to adopt the “blue sky thinking” mindset.

Write down any and all lyrics that come to your mind. Remember: at this stage of the creative process, there are no limits.

All that matters is that you’re giving your mind the space it needs to be spontaneous. When you give yourself that freedom, you’ll be surprised at what you’re able to achieve.

All too often, musicians and artists make the mistake of beating themselves up for bad ideas. Not only is that a huge waste of time, it also destroys your self-confidence and makes it even harder to break out of a creative block.

Can you imagine how different history would have been if artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd,  and David Bowie kept on doubting themselves?

Rather than doing that, let your creative juices flow and keep on composing and writing. This will then leave you with a mountain of material to edit and perfect into your magnum opus.

4. Treat your brain to some rest and relaxation

Rest and Relax Creative Block Petra Music

Photo by Brooks Leibee via Unsplash

Always remember that your brain only has a limited amount of processing power and will need time to refresh itself.

This is why it’s especially important to give your mind and body time to rest, relax and reboot.

While it may feel productive to spend hours continually grinding out ideas, you’re only going to end up cheating yourself.

What you want to do instead is to adopt the 2 hour rule i.e. setting aside 2 hours to focus exclusively on a single creative project. This means turning off your digital distractions and locking yourself away from everything else.

Not only does this make you much more productive, it also helps you focus all of your creative power on a single task. From writing new lyrics to musical composition, you’ll be surprised at how much more effective you become when you dedicate your time to a single task.

After those 2 hours are up, take a 1 hour break to let your mind recuperate. Meditate, take a shower, or just go for a meal, whatever it is, make sure that you’re distracting yourself from  work.

When you’re dealing with a creative block, it’s important to learn how to compartmentalize your thoughts. A brain that is overworked and tired won’t be very creative, but a creative mind without focus is a distracted mind.

5. Hit the gym and work it out

Did you know that stress is not only a silent killer, but also a destroyer of productivity?

Studies have shown that stressed out employees tend to be much less creative and oftentimes struggle to develop new ideas.

The same could be said of an artist struggling to complete his/her latest composition, which is why it’s extremely important that you learn how to manage your stress.

A creative block usually manifests itself when an artist or performer feels stressed out. From meeting deadlines to simply feeling unproductive, higher levels of stress will equate to lower creativity.

And when that happens, frustration levels will naturally increase, hence leading to a vicious cycle of frustration and lack of creativity. When left unchecked, this will cause major burnout and even depression.

Fortunately, there is a way to deal with all this.

One of the best ways to reduce stress is by hitting the gym and working out all of your frustrations. Whether you’re into cardio, weightlifting, or high-intensity interval training, it doesn’t matter.

Exercise of any kind is scientifically proven to be a great stress buster and also helps you clear your mind. This reduces your overall stress levels while giving your mind time to rest and recover.

Besides that, exercising releases endorphins and dopamine which boost your mood and enhance productivity in the long-term. Let’s not forget that exercise keeps you trim and fit, which is sure to be a confidence booster.

7. Change the scene

How To Get Over Writer's Block Petra Music

Photo by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Sometimes, the best way for you to break out of a creative block is by changing your environment.

It can be as simple as just cleaning up your workspace or getting away from it all for a few days in a remote location.

In the 90s, electronic duo Groove Armada redefined dance music with their seminal track “At The River”, a dreamy dance number that has since become a staple of chill out playlists and beach bars everywhere.

So, what does this have to do with anything?

Well for starters, it shows us how changing  your environment can inspire you to do great things. When Groove Armada were looking to write their debut album, they rented a cottage in the remote English countryside.

The isolation helped them focus and would go on to really influence the tone of their single “At The River”. Since then, Groove Armada have become a household name all over the world.

Maybe you’ve found yourself at a crossroads or simply just can’t nail down the right sound for your album. If that’s the case, then consider hitting the road to shake up your entire creative process.

You may be surprised to see how much your sound evolves with a change of environment. The sudden shift may even inspire you to redefine your entire sound all together, and who’s to say that it isn’t a good thing?

8. Surround yourself with a community to stay motivated

Ever heard of the saying, “Birds of a feather, flock together?”

Well, the same thing applies for musicians and artists alike. Creative minds usually work better when they have a community where they can bounce ideas off each other.

Whether you’re discussing lyrics over a cup of coffee or enjoying an impromptu jam session with friends, it really does help to work with other like-minded individuals.

And on that note, it’s also important to be aware of the echo chamber effect.

An echo chamber is an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own. Echo chambers can create misinformation and distort a person’s perspective so they have difficulty considering opposing viewpoints and discussing complicated topics.

While the echo chamber effect primarily refers to political discussions and social issues, musicians too can fall victim to this phenomenon, which in turn leads to creative stagnation.

This is why it’s equally important that your musical community is as diverse as possible. If you’re into rock, why not incorporate elements of R&B, hip hop, electronica, or even jazz into your music.

Stop being an elitist and remember that the most successful artists have always had a diverse set of musical influences.

Yuna for example is an artist who draws on various influences that include pop, jazz, electronica, and even rock. And this is what has allowed her to craft such a unique sound that has evolved over time.

The same could be said for the late, great P. Ramlee whose music featured elements of Malay folk, jazz, and joget.

So if you want to break out of your creative funk, widen your horizons and get inspired by everything this rich world has to offer.

And if you’re looking for a diverse community, then why not join us at Petra Music. Our ensemble crew features professionals from all across the music industry, united by a passion for music.

Be inspired, share your ideas with us, develop your talent, or just take a look at what everyone else is doing. Our community is one that is dedicated to the development of the local Malaysian music scene.

9. Break down your tasks into chunks

Sometimes when dealing with a creative block, it may feel like the walls are closing in around you and you can’t get things done fast enough.

Hence in order to make up for lost time, you keep trying to get more done with the same lack of success. And finally, this leads to you burning out having achieved totally nothing.

This is why, you should instead break down your tasks into manageable chunks. For example, maybe you’re looking to write some material for an upcoming album.

Rather than trying to tackle it all in one go, divide your project into workable chunks and tackle them individually. Doing this stops you from getting overwhelmed and let’s you focus your efforts on creating quality material.

Always keep in mind that there’s an important difference between feeling productive and actually being productive.

Closing Thoughts

Breaking through a creative block isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, but with a bit of effort and some patience, you can pull through anything.

From taking a nice, relaxing shower to listening to your favourite artists, or just changing your scenery, there are plenty of ways for you to overcome your creative block.

Petra’s goal: create good music that adapts to the times.

Good music about good things.

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