How to Beat Writer's Block and Other Creative Hurdles

Last week, we covered 6 habits and mindsets to coax creativity from all corners of your brain.  This week, the Savvy Psychologist has 8 strategies you can use to karate-chop a creative block. 

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #7

In Part 1 of this series on creativity we discussed the 6 ways to boost your creative juices. Make sure to check that out before you continue.

But what if your muse is on strike? What can you do to get it back on the job? That's what we'll be talking about today. 

Here are 8 tips to bring it back to the negotiating table. The idea for this series comes from listener Ty C. of New York City.


Tip #1: Check Your Mood

It turns out the classic image of the moody, tortured creative artist isn’t quite right.  Researchers at the University of Amsterdam looked at 25 years of studies on creativity and emotion and found that creativity is maximized when you’re in a good mood, not the throes of melancholic angst.  In the study, feeling positive and happy was associated with greater creativity than feeling neutral.  Feeling sad, notably, didn’t seem to do anything, and feeling anxious was associated with impaired creativity. 

So if you’re feeling lousy, it’s still important to work on your project, but a quick mood-booster like doing some jumping jacks in your office, looking at pictures of your favorite vacation, or cuddling with your dog for a few minutes might be a good warm-up activity.

Tip #2: Try Open Monitoring Meditation

A 2012 study compared the effect of two types of meditation on the creative process.  In the first type, focused attention meditation, the meditator focuses exclusively on a particular object, sensation, or thought, like a candle, her breath, or a mantra.  All other distractions, like physical sensations, background noise, or intrusive thoughts, are to be filtered out and attention gently returned to the chosen target. 

In the second type, known as open monitoring meditation, the meditator notices and observes any occurring thought, sensation, or emotion without judgment.   In the study, the participants meditated for 35 minutes and then took some tests that measured, among other things, creativity.

When possibilities are endless, the block seems endless, too.  But limits, counterintuitively, can be freeing. 

Turns out that open-monitoring meditation—the kind where you notice all sensations and thoughts without judgment—was significantly better at promoting creative thinking than focused attention meditation.  

So open your attention, and your mind may open creatively, too.  However, it is worth noting that each participant was an experienced meditator, with an average of over 2 years of practice, so certainly try meditation in the moment, but also make it an ongoing practice. 

Tip #3: Create Some Constraints

A cursor blinking on an otherwise blank computer screen, or an empty white canvas, or [insert your own paralyzing beginning here], often makes your mind feel the same way.  When possibilities are endless, the block seems endless, too.  But limits, counterintuitively, can be freeing. 

So give yourself some constraints, much like you’d see in a school assignment.  Rather than a goal to “paint,” try instituting some limitations, such as, “paint my happiest memory, using three types of media.” There.  Rather than letting your imagination run endlessly until it drops in exhaustion, you just created some nice, neat boundaries in which it can play.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.