Musicians, artists, writers, designers – whatever your form of expression, it is likely you have stumbled into a creative block at some point. Maybe you are in one now. Being in a creative funk brings about a lot of complicated emotions – I usually start with confusion and frustration, move deftly into self doubt and feelings of failure, mope about in boredom and procrastination for a while before succumbing to eating a massive bar of chocolate and just accepting it.
I recently took a week off from my bill paying job during lockdown and saw it as the perfect opportunity to finish up my EP and start filming some videos. I was so excited! 10 days of pure unadulterated creativity with no life interruptions, staying up as late as I like and living the life of a full time artist – what bliss! Well needless to say, after three days, two ruined mixes and a godawful video project; I had to face facts and accept that I was in a funk – no creativity here folks! The fact was – I was burnt out and needed a break.
So instead, I started to think about what this creative block meant for me and perhaps others. Which led me to write the first of my 2 part blog on navigating this troublesome little devil of a feeling…
First things first – stop fighting it. The label ‘creative block’ itself, in my humble opinion, attaches a negative relationship to the feelings you may be experiencing which can in turn cause overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear and even a sense of guilt. Perhaps we need to rethink the concept of a ‘creative block’ and see it from a different perspective. Is it your body’s way of saying – I need a break? Is it your mind telling you – I’m tired? Or maybe it is your heart saying ‘I’ve got some healing to do – spend some time with me’.
Either way – you can’t force art. Not great art anyway.
TURN EVERYTHING OFF
We are surrounded by noise all day every day – whether we are making it or hearing it. So many musicians I know really struggle with silence. In fact – people in general find it hard to ‘switch off’ and sit in their own company for a while. I feel it is because silence typically results in us thinking about stuff, sometimes stuff we don’t want to think about. And it also forces us to entertain ourselves, something that us humans are quickly becoming less inclined to do.
As musicians, our ears and perception of sound is truly precious. It’s a tool to be cared for; so maybe it is time to take an hour out of your day to just be silent. Give your ears and brain a well deserved rest. The benefits of this are plenty – for a start, it will give you a chance to reset. You will be able to come back to your project with recalibrated ears, a fresh perspective and a clearer perception of your sound. It is also a really great way to start practicing mindfulness, which will in turn really help your creative expression.
LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Ok, so I don’t mean this literally (unless you want to – go on, I bet somebody gorgeous will be looking right back at you!). But ask yourself a question: do you need some self care?
Maybe this creative funk is your body’s way of begging you to take a break. Are you spending enough time looking after yourself? Have you been spending valuable time with your friends and family lately? Are you eating properly? Are you getting enough sunlight?
We aren’t living in the 90s when it was supposedly cool to spend weeks at a time in a basement making an album. This isn’t sustainable – if you want to be successful in music long-term, it is important to balance your life out to ensure you are healthy in all areas – mind, body, spirit. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself or your relationships for your art – it won’t make you happy in the long run and you will keep hitting blockages throughout your career.
FIGURE OUT WHY IT HAPPENED
This one is important. Maybe there is a reason you have hit a creative block and you have an obstacle to overcome in order to get back on track…
I asked my friend Vanessa, who is a bit of a polymath to be honest – she is not only an incredible sports masseuse and in my opinion, a natural healer; but she also plays drums, bass and keys, can sing and is just generally a cool AF human! She said that for her, creative blocks are totally linked to her emotional state – whether that be too tired from work (I can totally relate!) or overwhelmed with emotional situations. However, sometimes in her lowest moments she tends to create her greatest works – something I’m sure we can all relate to – which she often doesn’t realise until long after they have been created and they show themselves at a time when she needs a particular message.
I am fascinated by the impact of our emotional state on our art-form.
An incredible artist I know once said that the best art comes from the darkest of places. At the time I absolutely agreed with him, I mean, just look at the history of some of the most celebrated musicians and artists in the world.
However, 7 years later, that very same person was a changed man – one of the happiest souls I have encountered. And you know what? His art is just as incredible as it was before and he is now a successful artist, actor, musician and sculptor. So I refuse to believe that the best art only comes from darkness; amazing music can come from as much happiness and joy as it can from sadness and pain. In fact, I feel that when we refuse to face our fears, our issues, our pains; it hinders us in the long term. We run out of creative energy because we have depleted our resources and not learnt how to keep that cup brimming.
We often plaster over our wounds with our art. There is a reason that mental health issues in the music industry are rife – ploughing our pain and emotions into music can certainly be cathartic; but is it really healing you? Maybe your creative block is asking you to explore new ways of taking care of the things that have hurt you. Sometimes making music is an interim fix when really you might need to figure out how to properly heal that wound.
Everybody is different and has very different ways of dealing with things, but please don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are some incredible resources out there, specifically for musicians including Music Minds Matter and Help Musicians, or check out your local professional support services.
ARE YOU BORED?
Maybe you are in a creative funk because you are bored. Have you been doing this all your life? Are you loosing interest in what you are doing? Is it becoming a bit too ‘cookie cutter’ for your liking? Maybe your creative mind is signalling that it wants to explore new things.
Taking time away from your ‘job’ music and doing something for the sheer fun of it is a great way to stay engaged with your craft while going through a creative funk. Play with obscure samples, try instruments you never used before, experiment with weird plugins; just play around for the sheer fun of it – you never know what might some from it!
YOU can do anything you want to do. Forget what everybody demands of you. If you want to explore new genres and produce something entirely different to what you are used to – just do it. You could even do it under a different name so that you can explore without fear of impacting your existing success – just allow yourself to be who you want to be, not who anybody else tells you to be.
COULD IT BE YOUR HORMONES?
Man or woman, hormones have more influence on your creative zone than you realise.
A few years ago I did a music production course with Saffron (a record label based in Bristol). Aside from being a great class in general, the biggest take away I had was actually something the tutor said that absolutely fascinated me: Women hear and respond to music differently throughout their cycle. Whuuut? This resonated with me so much – I go through cycles of loving and hating what I have produced which really slows down my process! With our emotional state so connected to our hormones (and I’m not just talking PMS – guys, you have hormones too you know!) it stands to reason that if our hormones are out of whack then it could affect the way we perceive our own music production.
Now I am no neuroscientist, but I can go by experiences of myself and others. If you are ploughing bad food into your system and spending weeks on end in the studio with no break and no exercise, it’s bound to affect your body and hormones. This is going to impact your energy and in turn will deplete your creative juices significantly.
So make sure you are eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, getting regular exercise, going outside for some of that vitamin sunlight (when it’s around!) and getting enough rest.
JUST CHILL OUT
Maybe you just need to have a rest. I get it – everybody is under pressure in some way or other, deadlines are looming; your label is knocking on your door wanting a fire new album; fans keep commenting on your social media ‘new album please!’ etc etc. But your productivity will actually be greatly enhanced if you take some time out. Ploughing through and forcing your art will make the process longer, less enjoyable and possibly result in producing something you aren’t happy with. It does’t have to be a long rest – doing it in short spurts can be just as invigorating as a full blown sabbatical.
Got kids? Go play with them. Got friends? Go hang out with them. Got family – go have dinner with them. Got a sofa? Go lie on it. Just chill for a moment. Take a break. If you are self employed and don’t have 22 days a year holiday allowance, maybe this is your inner boss saying – urrr dude – you have holiday entitlement you know!
I asked my friend, the incredibly talented artist Dahlia Fernandes, her perspective on being faced with a creative block.
She gave some wonderful insight that I would like to share…
Overcoming Writer’s Block
by Dahlia Fernandes
It’s only natural for an artist to experience writer’s block. Fear to fail? Perfectionist? Burnt out? Don’t know how to start so never do?
The causes go on and on. It is no easy feat and we all struggle with this. That being said, here are a few things that help me when I experience that loss of gusto and mojo.
First of all, I spend time with myself in quiet meditation. It’s important to try and be as honest as you possibly can with yourself. What are some of the reasons you think might be causing this block? Once you have a sense of what it might be, only then can you dig for solutions.
For example; overcoming writer’s block as a result of being burned out requires a different approach to overcoming a block because you are busy or overwhelmed.
What did help me immensely and became a definite game changer, was when I read “War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. It taught me that no matter what the cause of your writer’s block – you have to learn to identify when you are experiencing resistance. Once you can accept your resistance then you can start finding ways to overcome it. The mind is powerful and could even fool you into believing that you are not resisting working on your art!
Let’s say for example you are coming to the end of an album project, but you are struggling to finish it. So you rationalize going out with your friends who are songwriters to avoid staying home and doing the work. Your mind may tell you: “look, we are potentially going to write a song with all of your friends and going out is working on your art”.
On the other hand you might be overdue a break from your work and your friends may be awesome songwriters that have a great track record of writing tunes every time they get together – so they could actually help you through.
Only you know the truth. Only you know if you are truly using going out to avoid the blank page!
So in my humble opinion, honesty with your self and seeking what’s really causing that block is step #1.
After all, you can’t fix a broken down car if you don’t know what’s wrong with it in the first place!