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Inspiring Creativity

Getting Unstuck: 9 Ways to Escape from Creativity-Halting Goo

Series Introduction: Every Artist Gets Stuck

By Rick Benzel | Updated September 1, 2018

Every artist gets stuck from time to time in "creativity-halting goo." It can happen at any phase of your work: when you're beginning a project, in the middle, or close to completion. The goo can overcome you in many different ways — it can prevent you from finding an idea, or cloud your mind when choosing among many ideas, or pull you downwards into a creative void.

Whenever it happens and whatever form it takes, creativity-halting goo is frustrating, energy draining, and harmful to the self-esteem of the creative mind. It feels like a sticky poisonous tar that envelops you. No matter how much you try, you simply cannot escape from the gooey spot you have gotten yourself into — and your creative work stops dead in its tracks.

Keep in mind that there are times when losing your creative momentum is not because you are stuck, but rather that you are entering a valuable phase of the creative process referred to as an "incubation" period. During this time, your mind unconsciously processes new ideas and feelings that will eventually drive your project forward. Many creative people actually nurture such incubation periods, letting themselves remain fallow for days or weeks without trying to force ideas. They stop painting, writing, composing, dancing, acting — and instead sit back and attend to other business in their life, all the while letting their unconscious intelligence gently process images and thoughts in the background, without any attempt to track them.

How can you know if you are in an incubation period or a gooey mess? Actually, the most telling cues come from your body. When you incubate, your physical being is at ease. You feel calm, in a relaxed state of mind without nervous energy or anxiety. You eat and sleep well, and have no problems performing the other work of your life. You enjoy friends, reading books, going to movies — because behind the scenes, your mind is hard at work "considering."

When you are stuck, your body also lets you know it — but in very different ways! Your mind races, your stomach hurts slightly (or a lot), and your muscles become tense. The goo on your mind and body weighs you down, and at the end of a day, you feel like you need an expensive full-body massage. When you are stuck in goo for several days, your stress level mounts and often transforms into anger towards yourself or those around you.

Being stuck is no way to be creative — or to live. It saps your energy, your vitality, and your joy in creating. While artists and creators cannot get rid of all moments of stuckness, the solution is to minimize their effect on you. You need to learn techniques that allow you to break out of the sticky mass that holds you back, leading you back to health and productive creativity.

I present to you nine approaches that I have found to be useful in getting unstuck. They synthesize a range of ideas and techniques that I have used with my clients, as well as with myself. Think of these approaches as a toolbox that you can open whenever you need something with which to pry yourself free. Keep in mind that you may encounter various types of stuckness. Try out different techniques and see which are best for each individual situation.

Next: The Reframing Approach

©2005 Rick Benzel. All rights reserved.