Advice for Designer-makers: Beating creative block

So, previously on this blog we’ve had a look at some of the many things you need to deal when starting out as a designer-maker. Pricing and marketing, tax, insurance, business planning – there’s so much to think about.

That’s all well and good, but now it’s time to focus on the reason you do this in the first place – creativity. And more specifically, what to do when you experience a nasty bout of creative block. You want to make things, to get working, but it’s just not happening. What can you do?

There’s an amusing article from the BBC which suggests ‘cheap austrian wine’ as a historically valid way of treating creative block, but if you’re not quite that desperate yet, here are some top tips:

1. Get off the internet!

It’s so easy to spend hours of your life in the online vortex, convincing yourself that you just need to look up one more thing. If you’re doing this, shut the laptop and go for a walk, or make the dinner, or go outside and dig the garden. Anything that keeps your body busy but lets your mind wander.

2. Stop comparing your work to other people’s

You are unique. This is corny but true. Looking at what other people do and comparing your own work will only ever depress you.

There’s a great blog post here from Angry Chicken, about the importance of training yourself to think ‘Good for you!’ whenever you hear about somebody else’s success. Remember that the supply of good luck and opportunity in the world is unlimited. Other people’s achievements don’t mean that you are less likely to succeed.

3. Give yourself limits

Think back to art class at school, where you were only allowed to use crayons, or charcoal, or you had to draw the same still life as everyone else. Giving yourself creative limits forces you to think your way around problems, instead of being paralysed by endless possibility.

Tell yourself that you can only use one kind of fabric and one kind of thread. Limit yourself to working in one colour, and make it one you usually hate. Or get your family and friends to suggest a restriction you might not have thought of by yourself. And make sure you stick to it.

4. Make it routine

Routines might seem like the enemy of creativity, but there’s evidence that doing the same thing every day can help you tap into your sub-conscious and get creative faster. Read more about that here.

Sometimes it can be hard to take your own work seriously enough, especially if you have lots of other commitments. Make a plan for when you’re going to get down to work, write it in your diary and keep to it. You might want to check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for more about this.

5. Try and make the worst work you can

Perfectionism is the enemy. If you’re scared to make something that’s a bit rubbish, you won’t make anything at all.

There was a great article in the New Yorker last year, all about two Hollywood therapists who specialise in bizarre and unusual techniques. It starts with a description of a technique for blocked screenwriters:

Michels told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels’s instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written. When the timer dinged, he would start typing. He told Michels that the exercise was stupid, pointless, and embarrassing, and it didn’t work. Michels told him to keep doing it.


You can also use this timer technique to force yourself to work. Set it for 25 minutes and get started. By the time the buzzer goes you’ll probably be absorbed and interested enough to keep going (this also works for house cleaning…sometimes).


6. And if all else fails, give up


Just for a little while. Give yourself permission to do other things. Now might be a great opportunity to tackle your tax return, or organise all your receipts, or finally figure out how to update your website. You’ll be begging to return to the studio and get working in no time.


What do you do to stay creative? Do you find it hard to juggle designing and making with everything else going on in your life?