Emergency Tool Kit for Blocked Creatives

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ~ Steve Jobs

Whenever something’s not working, what we need is a new approach.  After all, according to Albert Einstein the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It doesn’t matter what you are wanting to achieve creatively – you could be writing a book, finishing an assignment, collaging a family history, inventing a killer new recipe for Master Chef, adding the lyrics to a love song, refining your dance moves or renovating a bathroom. When you’re stuck, you’re stuck.  That’s where having an Emergency Creative Tool Kit comes in handy!

Put down that thing giving you the trouble.  Stop worrying about the work you’re NOT creating. Pull out your Emergency Creative Tool Kit.  What we need right now is fun, creative engagement and play.


Image from Shutterstock

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”~ Carl Jung

The following items are essentials for your Tool Kit:

  • Mood Music.  Many of my writer friends swear by using music to evoke mood, ideas and word flow.  Why not compile some play lists that help you to tap into characters, locations or events? This isn’t just for writers. Music works wonders with all stuck brains!
  • An Ideas Book – If you haven’t started one yet, this can be your first creative project. Find a book big enough to glue pictures and inspiring articles. Write down your small and your grand creative ideas.  It doesn’t matter what sort of ideas they are.  If you want to create a medieval banquet for your next birthday, design a new kitchen, embark on writing opera, knit a bunny rug, write a history of your great grandfather, or you just have a fantastic character name in your head and no idea how to use it, then put it in the book! When you get stuck for inspiration simply open the book and have a look through it…
  • Paper, coloured pens and crayons, stickers, glue, old magazines, glitter and other fun stuff.  Or go on and use that i-pad App you’ve always wanted to try…  The point of this exercise is that it needs to be VISUAL even if you don’t consider yourself in any way artistic. Now choose one idea, one character, one issue – nothing central to your stuckness, but something that’s just in view from the corner of your eye. Or something new and completely unrelated to your current project. Explore that thing.  Doodle, collage, cut and paste, mind map and brain storm.  Let it be as much about having fun with the process as it is about coming at things sideways.
Mind Map by Donna Kim - fairy tale story

Mind Map by Donna Kim – fairy tale story

  • Moving Meditation – A meditation is actually any activity that you devote your full awareness to, so that you are in the moment with that thing. For me, a spot of washing up by hand at my kitchen sink often does the trick. You might try knitting, tapestry, beading, bread making – anything that gets you doing something with your hands.  Write a list, get any equipment or supplies you need and go create something.
  • Walk in Their Shoes – What is it you’re trying to do? Be a painter? A singer? An advertising guru? Performers call it Method Acting. Research and act like your favourite artist for an hour or a day. Immerse yourself in the world of your project. Pretend to be your character and look at the world through their eyes as you go about your daily task.
  • Just Go! – I get some of my best results from this technique.  If you are bogged down, embittered and disconnected, or even just bored with it all, then this will help to get you out of that head space. See it as a game of wits. Evoke your Inner Stubbornness to not quit. Pick one thing, one scene, one area and begin. It doesn’t matter how awful your creating is. Make yourself keep going for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes seems to be a magical time interval for getting back into creative flow, although from day to day it might be ten minutes or an hour.  You might have to scrap the first part of your effort, but somewhere in there will be something you can salvage and that can help you keep going. You could even get an incredible breakthrough!
  • A ‘Source Of Inspiration’ Outing – Sometimes you really do need to move away from the desk, get out of the house/studio/office and stretch your legs. Go somewhere that puts you in a better mood. Go somewhere that makes you happy, a place where you can spend an hour or two and come back refreshed.  For me that can be plant nurseries, Farmers Markets, the Library or a Bookstore, or a wander through town, looking in shop windows. The key here is that you move into a different environment. New environments fire up new brain connections and pathways, and help you to move out of old thinking patterns and into new ones.  Note – staying at the computer surfing the web does not count!
  • A Glory Box or Glory Book – Sometimes the biggest block to creativity is low self-esteem.  We convince ourselves that we truly suck at this thing that’s so dear to us. We run ourselves down and beat ourselves up.  How can anyone sustain creativity feeling like that?  Your Glory Box or Glory Book is for snippets and reminders of positive feedback and good results you’ve had in the past, even completely unrelated to your current project or desire. Maybe it’s the story you wrote when you were five. Or a trophy from winning Junior Division Soccer. It could be an old love letter, or a birthday card from someone special. If you have a knock-out Report Card from grade school, re-read those kind words. You’re still that person.  All of that goodness lives inside you.  We all need to be reminded occasionally.
Positive Report Cards from your Childhood can be a powerful reminder of who you are!

Positive Report Cards from your Childhood can be a powerful reminder of your gifts and talents!

  • Blow Out The Cobwebs List of Activities – Movement connects us to positive energy and disconnects us from negative energy.  Make a list of physical activities that leave you on a high. Ideas include windsurfing, bike riding, snow skiing, bush walking, salsa dancing, roller coaster rides, walking the dogs at the beach.  If you are very ill or incapacitated sit in the sunshine or at a window so you can breath some fresh air. Do some simple stretches and work on your breathing. Yoga breaths are great for this. If you can’t get out of bed, then go there in your mind.  Imaginations are wonderful freedom machines!
  • The Skeleton Effect – When you’re overwhelmed by a project, break it into pieces. Think of a human skeleton – there are the great long thigh bones and the tiny little finger bones. Sometimes we’re up to working on a big piece of a creative project, and sometimes all we can manage is a simple chunk where you can easily see the beginning and end. It all counts. Make a plan of the big, medium, little and ridiculously easy parts of your project.  On the days where you just can’t do the big parts, work on a smaller one. Start by making that plan.
  • Dress Up Box – Yes, really!!! Sometimes dressing the part can get you in the right headspace to connect with your project. And anyway, it’s fun. 🙂

Over time you may come up with other ideas and inspiration for your Creative Tool Kit.  Add them all in there. And share what you know with your creative friends.  Everyone needs a little help and encouragement sometimes.

PS: This post is part of my 2013 Creative Challenge Project.  If you’d like to read more, visit these posts:

The Challenge to Live Creatively this year – come join us!

Join my 2013 Creative Project Challenge

Creative Project Challenge – February Check In

Advice and Ideas for reconnecting with your Creativity:

Lost your Creative Mojo?

When the Muse vanishes – thoughts on the loss of Creativity

How a Garden Can Teach You To Be More Creative

Enhance Your Creativity

When the Muse vanishes – thoughts on the loss of creativity

Image from www.layoutsparks.com

Image from www.layoutsparks.com

“Creativity is our true nature; blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.”
~ Julia Cameron 

If you’ve ever had some sort of creative block, where the juices stop flowing and the ideas dry up, then you’ll probably just find the quote above to be irritating, maddening and mocking.

Yes, we are all supposed to be creative.  Yes, creativity is meant to be our natural state.  But what happens when it’s not?  What’s wrong with us?  Why can’t we be creative like everybody else, or like we used to be?

juicingI actually believe that creativity is a little like a bicycle-powered juicer. You have to start pedalling BEFORE there can be enough power for the juice to be extracted. It’s the same with creativity – once you have some momentum up you’ll find yourself in flow, even if you weren’t there to start with.


Sometimes we can’t even get on the darn bike.

Before you start gnashing your teeth, and muttering self-loathing thoughts, or committing to epic self-evaluation or a psychiatrist’s couch, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has sleep been an issue lately?
  • Is there something on your mind?
  • Are you unwell?
  • Suffering from anxiety and/or depression?
  • Is there a situation that threatens your financial security?
  • Is there a situation that threatens your emotional well-being?
  • Are you stressed to the max, with too much on your plate?
  • Are you raising very small and demanding children (or bigger children who are going through ‘stuff’)?
  • Is there a safe and amenable place for you to practice your particular brand of creativity?
  • Have you already created something big recently?
  • Are you being creative and productive in another area as part of your work life?
  • Are you suffering from burn-out in ANY area of your life?

Sometimes we are simply just too tired, too sick, too worried, too stressed, too overwhelmed or too broken to be in a productive and creative space.

And that’s okay.

The biggest gift you can give yourself creatively when you’re in this place is time to rest and heal, and time to attend to the things that are sucking up all of your energy and head space.  Get that thesis finished.  Get that tax out of the way, or the divorce, or the bathroom finally renovated enough that you can shower and brush your teeth instead of standing outside with the garden hose.

There is a difference between ‘not feeling in the mood to create’ and being wrung out, battered, bruised and exhausted by life. Sometimes we need to rest and fill up the well before we can begin again.


Think about what you want to create or the vision you have, or did have for a creative project.  (If you can’t even THINK of a project, then go with the desire to create rather than naming an actual project.)

Now tune in to your emotions. One a scale of one to ten how is your energy towards this project right now?


At 0 we are excited, motivated, happy and raring to go. We are emotionally engaged and enthusiastic about our project, and we are already sitting down and getting on with it. In fact, in the moments where we are not working on our project we find ourselves thinking about it, planning for it and wanting to get back to it.

At 10 we can’t even think of a project – it’s just a big black sucking hole, or a misty grey fog, or some other equally miserable and barren wasteland. We are flat out breathing and coping with life and that takes ALL of our energy.

What to do about it!

Strangely, one of the best medicines for a lack of creativity is creative exposure. Take some time this week to sit down with your journal and write a list of creative pursuits and activities that you have a flicker of interest for, but that are NOT your life passion.

For example, if you want to write the Next Great Novel, steer clear of anything to do with writing.  If you want to be the next prima ballerina, avoid anything to do with ballet. If you want to be a chef, stay away from food.  Are you getting the picture here?

Instead think of other cultural, artistic and creative pursuits.  Could you take up beading, chainsaw ice sculpting, macrame pot holders, hair braiding, decoupage, dancing the tango, painting some old chairs, making your own sourdough (no chefs – you guys go learn to make and fly your own kites!) etc. Do something that sounds interesting but where you don’t care whether you set the world on fire with your macrame skills or ability to compost garden scraps.

Image from www.acupfullofsunshine.blogspot.com

Image from www.acupfullofsunshine.blogspot.com.au

Make a list of music you’d like to listen to, bands you’d like to see, DVDs you’d like to watch, books to read, movies and theatre to see, galleries and cafes and markets and other places it would be interesting to visit. Think about painting those chairs on the back deck, or making a meal with a Moroccan Tagine.  Just because it’s fun.  Just because you can.

Over the next little while, dip into your list.  Don’t expect the Muse to turn up.  You don’t need her right now.  You just need some restorative time, some time with no pressure, no deadlines and no expectations.

That’s truly the meaning of Art as Therapy.  We do something a little creative and it restores a lost or damaged part of us to ourselves, so that we become fuller, more rounded, more whole.

Image by www.smashingchintz.co.uk

Image by www.smashingchintz.co.uk

This post is part of my 2013 Creative Challenge Project.  If you’d like to read more, visit these posts:

Join my 2013 Creative Project Challenge

Creative Project Challenge – February Check In

Lost your Creative Mojo?