Summary Written by Susan Gregory
"All of us struggle at one time or another with creative block. Inevitably striking at the worst moment, it can leave you feeling paralyzed and inept. Take solace in knowing that you are not alone: it happens to everyone and is an unavoidable part of the creative process."

- Breakthrough!, book jacket

The Big Idea

Creat(ive) Distance

"First and foremost, I get up and walk away."- Breakthrough!, page 20

You’re stuck. You’ve made a few false starts then trashed what you’ve created. You keep coming back to ideas that haven’t worked in the past. You’re still stuck.

The thought occurs to you to take a break. How will that help, when you have so much work to do?

Many of the 90 creative types shared that walking away from the work helps them to move past the creative block. Tim Navis, a photographer, will pack his car, point to a spot on the map and drive there. While this might be impractical, there are other ways to get distance from our block:

  • Find a more inspiring place to think or work
  • Take a walk
  • Stop actively working on the project – do something else
  • Listen to airport traffic information

I’m not an artist, but I recently realized the value of allowing myself my own creative process for my work. For example, I’m working on designing a course and what I find works well is to read the documents, make some notes and then go for a walk. Taking a walk is not my break – it’s part of my working process.

Insight #1

Reframe the Problem

"Take the problem that’s handed to you and redefine it in a way you find compelling, intriguing or exciting."- Breakthrough!, page 22

Paul Madonna, illustrator and cartoonist, says that the creative process has two parts: generating ideas and choosing tools to express those ideas.

If you’re stuck on a task and need to generate ideas, try addressing it in a different way, using one of the tips proposed by the creative types in Breakthrough!:

  • Ask yourself questions that provoke a different way of thinking about the problem, such as, “how would [insert famous idol] approach this question?” “How would I write this if I were writing for children?”
  • Talk with someone about it. Just describing the issue out loud might give you a new perspective, or the thoughts of another may spark your brilliant solution.
  • Open a book. Any book. Stare at a random sentence and consider how it relates to the issue you’re trying to resolve.

The key here is to realize the need to generate ideas and find an engaging way to explore your topic.

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

Fight It!

"Creative block is closely connected to fear: fear of my ideas not being good enough."- Breakthrough!, page 80

Kim Holm, Motion Designer and Digital Artist, puts forth the idea that creative block is a result of losing confidence in the idea. Kim believes that when the fear kicks in, it’s a sign that the idea really has merit and it’s time to push through.

How can we push through?

Tom Balchin, Graphic Designer, says “I asked a copywriter once how he overcame writer’s block. His advice was to just keep writing, even if it was gibberish. If you can keep pace with your production of ideas, then you can go back and edit it down to something more meaningful.”

Many creatives expressed the same idea in different ways. Forcing yourself to keep producing will ultimately break down the barrier created by your mind.
We all have the possibility to find our creative flow when we’re stuck. Next time you find yourself staring at a blank computer screen, try stepping away, redefining the problem or trying something new. Give yourself the freedom to do what works to move from block to blockbuster!

Read the book

Get Breakthrough! on Amazon.

Alex Cornell

Alex Cornell is a San Francisco-based Designer and Musician. A graduate of Duke University, Alex cofounded Firespotter Labs in 2010 and has designed and launched Nosh, Jotly, NoshList and ÜberConference. Recently Firespotter raised $15M from Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.