What to Do When You Are Irrevocably Stuck Creating Something

I love creating. But sometimes I get stuck. And not the calm “oh, I’m stuck so I just need a break” kind of stuck. I’m talking about its violent sister “I’m REALLY tired of this project and I wish I had never started it and I want to kill something right now” kind of stuck.

Relate? You’re in the right place.

About 3 years ago I started designing book covers for aspiring authors. Nothing official, my purpose was just to hone my design skills and offer a boost of inspiration for people doing NaNoWriMo (a month long 50,000 word writing challenge).

I got stuck. A lot. It’s hard to ask for someone’s book title, their name, a short synopsis, and any random ideas they have about what the cover should look like and turn it all into something that’s visually appealing and representative of their project.

But I also learned how to get unstuck. Even though there was no payment involved, I kept the turn around rate high because the work tended to pile up quickly. Over the course of 3 years, for about a month every year while NaNoWriMo was going on, I made over 70 covers.

This taught me a lot about design. But it also taught me a lot about my creative process and how I deal with being stuck. It helped me tremendously during my infographic project. It improved my writing. It changed the way I approach any creative struggle.

Here are a few of my methods to get un-stuck and avoid the case of the serial killer designer (I swear I’m not a serial killer, please don’t hurt me).

Side note: The following steps are written with design in mind, but I routinely use them in all my creative projects.

1. Step Away

I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Go get Chipotle. Go watch a thought provoking movie. Go for a walk.

Do something else and completely forget about said project. It’s not worth it to keep banging your head against the literal wall (okay, maybe that’s just me).

You’re stuck. It’s okay. Everyone gets stuck and it’s a part of the creative process.

The good news is that your brain has a curious way of solving problems that you aren’t consciously thinking about. Let it do its job while you forget about it completely for a bit.

2. Change Something Big

Okay. You’re back and still stuck. What now? Don’t worry, the break wasn’t a waste of your time, your brain cells are nice and fresh again and your thinking is a bit clearer.

Save a copy of what you’ve already done and change something big.

I’m talking drastic here. Make an element way bigger or smaller than it was before. Change the main font.

Delete something you think is essential. Add something crazy. See what happens.

Don’t worry, you still have that copy of your original so you can go all out with this step. In fact, it’s better if you do. I can’t tell you how many times that this has saved me. This is purely creative trial and error. A lot of the time, you’ll find something that you will fall in love with.

3. Start Over Again

Sometimes, when nothing is working and all hope is lost, it helps to trash it and start over. Just start with a blank canvas and just try again.

There’s nothing wrong with this. And even if it doesn’t work out, it’s still worth it. Experimentation and failure are both a huge part of creating anything. And if you aren’t doing that, you aren’t creating. You’re regurgitating and that’s gross.

Give yourself permission to fail and you give yourself permission to create something amazing.

Happy creating.

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