5 Surprising Causes of Creative Block and How to Overcome Them

Most freelancers depend on their creativity for their livelihood. Freelance writers, designers, artists, photographers, and even web developers and programmers all rely on creative thinking to perform their jobs.

However, once in a while a freelancer finds that their creativity (that same creativity they’ve been relying on to earn an income) just isn’t there. The ideas just aren’t flowing like they used to.

Writers call this “writer’s block,” but it actually happens in many different professions.

Naturally, when this happens a freelancer can feel a bit panicked. After all, your income is on the line. You ask yourself, “will this be a permanent problem for me?”

Fortunately for most freelancers, creative block IS a temporary problem. Plus, if you understand some of the causes of creative block, you may be able to overcome it entirely.

In this post, I’ll identify one surprising source of creative block and give you some ideas for overcoming it.

The Surprising Source of Creative Block

You may be surprised at the source of many creative blocks. It’s … you. Or, at least it’s your habits and your practices that you can control.

When it comes to nurturing your creativity, you may actually be your own worst enemy. Bad habits and bad attitudes can crush your creative spirit and cause your well of fresh ideas to dry up.

In the next section, I’ll list some of these bad attitudes and habits and provide you with some practical solutions.

How to Overcome Your Creative Block

Are you going through a creative dry spell? Here are five creativity busters and some practical tips for overcoming them:

  1. Fear–Fear is a common problem for freelancers. There’s fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of failure, and many types of fear. For a creative freelancer, there can also be the fear of trying something new. Fear can certainly cause creative paralysis. One of the best ways to overcome it is to give yourself permission to face the fear head on. Once you identify the fear that’s paralyzing you, tell yourself it’s okay if the fear comes to pass. Write this permission down if you have to and refer to it often. Then, proceed to act in the face of your fear.
  2. Perfectionism–Are your creations never quite good enough? Do you have trouble feeling that a project is really complete? Are clients happy with your work even though it never seems quite good enough to you? If this is you, you may be suffering from perfectionist tendencies. If so, you’re not alone. Many creative people are perfectionists. One trick for combating perfectionism is to ask yourself if you would be this hard on someone else. Often, the answer is “no.” You should be at least as reasonable with yourself as you would be with another person.
  3. Busy-ness–Overscheduling your time with too many projects might seem like a good moneymaking strategy when you’re a freelancer, but in the end it can leave you feeling burnt out. This is because most creative people need time to process their ideas and they also need exposure to the outside world for inspiration. When you over schedule yourself you eliminate both processing time and inspiration. To overcome this problem, incorporate a regular block of time that isn’t assigned to a project in your weekly schedule. Use this time to process ideas, find inspiration, or just rest.
  4. Procrastination–In many ways, this is the opposite of busy-ness. If you have a problem with putting projects off you may find that the quality of your creative work suffers. While a few freelancers do thrive under deadline pressure, the most creative work is usually not done at the very last minute. Tackle your procrastination by creating a workable schedule with plenty of breaks. Also, examine your attitudes closely to make sure that the root cause of your procrastination is not really the problem of fear or perfectionism.
  5. Health–Not taking care of your health is a bad idea in many ways, but when you’re a freelancer bad health habits actually threaten your ability to earn a living. Let’s face it. No one performs well on a diet of junk food or after only a few hours of sleep. If you get sick, your freelancing creativity will take an even bigger hit. To solve this creativity buster, identify your unhealthy habits today. Make healthier living (exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, and regular checkups) a part of your routine. It’s best to avoid as many health problems as you can.

Another tactic that can help you overcome the bad habits that stifle creativity is to find an accountability partner who can encourage you while holding you accountable to your goals.

(Note: The tips here work for many freelancers. However, if a situation persists it may be necessary to consult a mental health professional or your personal physician.)

More on Creativity

Here are some other resources on creativity from Freelance Folder:

Your Turn

Have you struggled with creative blog and overcome it?

Share your tips in the comments.

Image by palindrome6996


  1. says

    These are some good points. I think psychological health is another important factor. Often when I run into creative blocks I find there’s something affecting my mood that needs to be addressed, either by dealing with the cause of that mood or by taking active steps to change the mood itself (such as a break for a walk, exercise, etc.). Sometimes it’s almost scary how easily creativity can be affected.

  2. says

    Hi Some Design Blog, Yes, I’ve found that creativity is very susceptible to moods and circumstances. At least, that’s how it is for me.

    Hi Gold–Personally, I don’t know your circumstances, so I wouldn’t assume anything about you as an individual. I think the suggestions work for many people, but there are always a few who will need something more.

  3. Carson Field says

    Hi, I just want to say thanks for posting this article. It really helps me realize what I need to be more focused on. And gives me a sence of direction. I am a music composer from Vancouver and I used to have alot of random music playing in my head. But unfortunatly lately i just lost track. I’m going to try this and see if it helps.

    Peace, love, music
    -Carson ‘Daisy’ Field

  4. says

    I think fear is a big one for many people. Working in a creative industry, our purpose is to stand out and be different, but there is still a fear of venturing too far away from societal norms. We don’t want to be so different than our work is looked down upon or seen as weird and unacceptable. The truth is, that it’s that unique way of thinking that helps us succeed as creative professionals. It’s an important thing to get over. Nice article!

  5. says

    Thanks for your comments Carson and Brittany!

    Carson–Glad to hear that some musicians read our blog. :) Let us know if the tips help.

    Brittany, I’m glad you liked the post. I absolutely agree with your comments about fear.

  6. says

    A lot of what you’re describing here is covered in Neil Fiore’s excellent The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play. Personally, it’s more about making sure to work less, yet more effectively and firstly allocating a whole load of time to do the things you enjoy.

    Creative block happens most for me when I’m in the same surroundings with no or boring people. Best overcome by staying busy with a whole load of various persuits, whether is skateboarding, running, seeing friends, cycling, getting out & about, talking to people (often overlooked by many!) and just doing different things – more things to stimulate and inspire me.

  7. says

    If I”m stuck, I will usually turn my attention to something completely different for a while, then go back to the project. If I’m writing, I’m usually stuck on the lead. So I just start writing and getting things organized, and then it usually comes to me.

  8. says

    Hi ciaran! I’m not familiar with Neil Fiore’s piece, but it sounds like a good resource. I think you’re right that it’s possible to get too bored and suffer block as a result. (I’m usually on the other extreme with too much to do and too much stress, so I tend to think in terms of rest.)

    TLC, I like to switch gears too when I can. I’ve found that it can be really helpful.

  9. says

    Laura, you might laugh at this.. but whenever I’m stuck in a rut, I’d just take out my mini rebounder and jump like crazy. Then, I get my fix. I think it’s all that blood pumping that drives me into a writing frenzy after my 30th jump. If I were to add one more item to your list, I’d say: Addiction. Sometimes, you can’t say no to something you’re addicted to that you would stop time to get just that ( and I’m not talking of illegal drugs here ). It can be as simple as going out to your favorite mall and shopping for 2-3 hours which could have been spent in doing something more productive.

  10. says

    Issa @ Ajeva–Nope, not laughing. :) I don’t jump, but I’ve found that exercise does help stimulate new ideas. (For me it’s taking a walk or riding my stationery bike.)

  11. says

    Good post i feel this now and again with big clients. I’m not sure if anybody else goes through the torture of having absolutely no ideas throughtout the day but come bedtime bestowed with a wealth of creative ideas. I tend to only get my creative ideas when im asleep so no ive decided to have a sketchpad and a notepad at the side of my bed ready for that eureka moment at 4:06am.

    I find looking around online for something in particular helps to give an idea, sometimes you can find something it may be an image but something within is striking or maybe the creator had missed a trick that you can accomplish. But the biggest way to be creative is to surround yourself with creativity.

  12. says

    Laura, I’m so glad to see you mention health as a cause of creative blocks. This is so seldom mentioned. I’ve come to think of #5 as necessary to overcome the other four. Having the wherewithal to do creative work takes energy, and we need to conserve and enhance our personal energy if we’re going to get past our fears, etc.

    Nice to meet you, from a former Spencer (my maiden name)!

  13. Filt says

    Hi, Laura. Nice article, thanks. I would structure it differently, though. I believe reasons why our work suffers are only three (in your article): FEAR, BUSY-NESS. and POOR HEALTH. In my opinion, Perfectionism is one of the fears (“it’s never good enough!”) and Procrastination is a response to avoid the activity causing the anxiety. I also heartily recommend Fiore’s The Now Habit. Cheers


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