Creativity and How To Deal with Mental Blocks

Having a creative career is absolutely the best thing ever.  I really do love it. But there comes a point when you’ve been ‘creating’ for 8 hours straight and suddenly you hit a brick wall – bam! And that’s it. You’ve no idea what to do next.  The well’s run dry.  It doesn’t happen much (thank the lord, buddha, shiva, zeus, whoever’s in charge up there) but it’s a bit of a kick in the nads when it does. Here are a few strategies I’ve tried out to get around, over or through that wall.

But first, a few theories I’ve had about creativity…

Being creative means making something, inventing something, growing something up from scratch. There’s an awful lot of trust between me and my brain, when I start a new project, to actually deliver the goods.

It’s a bit like going on automatic pilot, or turning off the practical, logical, reasonable bit of my personality and seeing what takes over. Letting my subconscious handle the reins for a while. Giving it space to play, to explore. To just go with the flow and see what happens, without worrying about whether the stuff I’m writing is any good or not, or is even appropriate. I just trust that it will be, and my far-cleverer-than-me subconscious will deliver.

So… strategies to combat the mental block are really just about creating the environment for that emotional, subjective and irrational bit of me to feel free and get out and about for a bit of fresh air!  This is what works for me. It’d be great if it helps you.

Don’t fight tiredness.  If you’ve been scoring for 8 hours it’s probably time for a break.  Some say that you should have a break every hour, but that’s daft if you’re in the zone and creating some ridiculously cool tunes and then suddenly an alarm ‘bings’ and that line of thought crashes and burns.  Trust your mind to give you the cues for any breaks it needs.  

Deadlines are wonderfully focussing.  Create deadlines for yourself and stick to them.  If you’ve got an awkward cue, give yourself, say, 2 hours to get it done.  After that point you know you’ve got to stop. Just write, whatever happens, and hold back on the second-guessing. 

Promise yourself a reward when you’ve finished.  Doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe a hot drink, a snack, a walk, some fresh air and sunlight, 10 min surfing on the net, a quick chat with a friend, listen to some inspirational music, a 20 minute nap, read a chapter of a book. Sometimes, distracting your conscious with an incentive lets your subconscious sneak out and do something fab!

Work on something else.  If it’s a tricky cue, pick a cue later on in the film that’s a completely different style/tone.  That’ll get you out of the rut and will probably even give you a few new ideas to try out on the original section. Maybe even just sketch a few ideas out independant of any project your working on.  See how you’re feeling, and write that.  Exorcise a few emotional demons perhaps?  Get it all out there, then return to the cue in an hour or two.

Concentrate on smaller chunks of score – rather than the next 20 minutes, think about where you want to get to in the next two.

Go back to your discussions about tone with the director, think more about these words and feelings rather than the nuts and bolts of the technicalities of putting that note there in that instrument for that length of time etc.

Quit eating convenient junk food and drinking gallons of coffee/red bull. This is easier said the done (for me anyway) though. It’s tempting when you hit a block to give yourself a bit of a boost with this sort of stuff, and sometimes a caffeine hit does give you the kick in the pants you need for that little bit of inspiration, I cannot deny it.  

But it’s not consistent, the hit lasts (for me anyroad) an hour tops and then I’m back where I started. Sometimes I’m even lower, and so I’ll have another.  It’s not the end of the world, but after the 5th mug or so I’ve stopped being creative and I’m more than just a little bit twitchy-jittery.  I might work faster but I’ll probably not be all that chuffed with what I’m writing.  In fact it might be downright rubbish and so I’ll maybe scrap it and have to start from scratch again.

Apparently, exercise makes your brain work better.  I must admit I’m not the most athletic of people but after I heard this I thought I’d give it a wee trial and see if it did anything for the old creativity.  It certainly made me feel more awake after a 30 minute cycle, and a bit more limber, but I can’t honestly say it did anything for my inspiration.  Try it and see if it works for you if you like though 🙂 .

If you’re consistently hitting a brick wall, it’s a good idea to do a little bit of analysis and see if there’s any self-sabotage going on.  Take a quick mental snapshot and check your feelings, what you’re thinking about, if there’s anything distracting you from your task at hand, that’s niggling you. Write it down, file it on your to-do pile and then forget about it.

Is there a limitation with your kit? Take a half-hour break to do a little research to see if there’s an easier solution to your problem.

Remember, you’re only human.  You’re not a machine.  Don’t beat yourself about it.  Put it all in perspective… you’ve got the best job in the world, all you have to do is put a few sounds together and make them sound great.

No pressure…

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