How to pulverize creative blocks

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 10 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours. Follow him on Twitter.

READ THIS FIRST: This post is only for actual creatives who create creative creatively. It is NOT for social media managers, digital content “creators” or native ad writers, for two reasons: 1. You have never learned — and therefore your brain can’t comprehend — the sublime “creative process” that only ad copywriters, ad art directors, and (some) graphic designers have/do. 2. It will spare you crushing feelings of inadequacy.

The creative block: man, does it bite. There you are with a great video assignment for Tic Tac or Guinness, and all you have written on your pad after 10 hours is “Tic Tacs,” “Tiny,” “FUCK,” and a sketch of your CD getting pegged by Angelina Jolie.

Recently, two creatives from London’s AMV/BBDO created the Creative Unblocker website. It generates “creative” tasks for you and your creative partner to perform, like “Create a DJ name for your left sock,” “What is the meaning of life for sewage systems” and so on. You have 60 seconds to complete each task.

I don’t know if it works because my “creative process” is inactive because I’m not currently working on a freelance project. But hey, it’s free. Meanwhile, there are many other mental and physical exercises creatives can try to unblock their creativity, like acid.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Back in April, a London team of researchers and scientists performed an experiment titled “Semantic activation in LSD: evidence from picture naming.”

The eggheads found that acid causes a “generic defocusing, hyper-associative effect” that “can result in a cascade of associations that allow quicker access to far-away concepts stored in the mind.”

NOTE: LSD will not work well with a large brainstorming group. You’ll all just end up freaking each other out, causing everybody to run out of the conference room, screaming and looking for somewhere to hide.

I am, therefore I Cann

Smells like defeat

This summer McCann Montevideo in Uruguay came out with a fragrance meant to trigger creativity called “I Cann.” What you do is, the next time you come up with a great idea, you splash this fruity-smelling crap all over yourself. Then when you’re blocked in the future, you soak yourself again, which will automatically incite creativity thanks to olfactory remembrance. Looking at the atrocious promotional video McCann made for I Cann, I can not dehort this idea enough.

Put on a thinking cap

Go away, I’m ideating

When your brain is in “creative process” mode, it apparently settles into a 10Hz alpha wave hum. What this skull cap — created by Michael Banissy, head of Goldsmiths’ lab for cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology — does is “tickle” the brain at a 10Hz frequency resulting in a 5-10 percent increase in “creativity.”

The brain can only handle so many great ideas at once.

Uh, I don’t know. All I can think is this:

Acquire Depression
It’s not the depression that unblocks you; it’s the powering through depression that does it. Famous often-naked designer Stefan Sagmeister doesn’t buy it, but he’s not the end-all, know-it-all on creativity, is he? I have depression! If you’d like to use me as a muse; I will ideate with you … for $500 a day. That’s my rate, sorry.

Video, video and more video

Lastly, find a video or three about creativity that you love to watch over and over. One of my favorites is the old Monty Python ad sketch “Conquistador Coffee.” What I do after watching it is I jot down as many similarly awful concepts as I can for whatever I’m working on. It makes the process fun. And making the process fun is far and away the best way unblock creativity.

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