Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Overcoming creative block and self doubt

Every photographer, for that matter every creative, I've ever met comes to a point when they're not happy with the work they're producing. The pendulum between creative highs and dry spells swings continuously. For some the cycle is long and the bouts are quite mild for others the feeling of doubt about their work can be a crushing experience which returns all to frequently.

It's actually quite healthy to have these periods of doubt because it can often be the beginning of something new and interesting which takes you further than you thought possible.

Creatives in the commercial world have to always perform and although they may agree looking back that they've had a few patches where their work was less good, they always seem to bounce back. A very few creative geniuses deliver such high quality work that their poorest attempts still surpass the rest of us. But I have never heard of anyone, from tortured soul of Van Gogh to the supreme showman and genius, Salvador Dali, that didn't have their bad days.

OK, so you probably have them too. How do you get past your creative block and self doubt? That feeling when you look at what you've been producing lately and you've got to admit to yourself that it's not as good as it should be.

For me the solution is simple. Keep on working. It can be a painful process but what you've got to do is unlock the potential in your ideas or come up with new ones.

One thing is for sure. Having no ideas and doing nothing, sitting back and suffering from inertia will leave you stuck in a place you do not want to be. Any ideas, even if they are bad ones, will lead you somewhere new. A bad idea can lead to a good idea.

Simple dos and don'ts to overcome creative block and self doubt

Don't go and look at other great photographers' work. You'll just feel more crap and if you do find an idea to steel then all you're doing is being a second-hander. To be successful you have to come up with a fresh and creative take on things by yourself.

Don't sit and write lists of ideas. All you're doing is intellectual foreplay and pussyfooting around the problem. You're not dealing with it head on.

Don't give up and sit sulking in the corner. Sooner or later you're going to have to come out. You're just prolonging the pain.

Don't compare your work to other peoples'. Everyone is unique. All the great photographers have their own voice. You have to find your own creative voice.

Don't choose the company of doubters and negative people. They will just pull you down.

Do pick up your camera and start taking pictures of anything and everything. One idea will lead to another.

Do think creatively and set yourself a challenge and an achievable target. A good way to get going is to pick a totally off-the-wall starting point. For example set yourself the challenge of taking 10 pictures while kneeling on your front lawn with a lens on your camera that you rarely use. The idea here is set parameters and points of departure. By limiting your freedom in movement and equipment you force yourself to become more creative.

Do challenge conventions and the norm. Challenge everything you've learnt. Great creatives all have one thing in common. They break the rules in interesting ways. If you follow the rule book you'll be safe, mundane and ordinary - just one of the crowd.

Do think in terms of opposites, conflicts and interesting juxtapositions. But remember successful images rely on fine visual balance and the most satisfying results are a harmony created out of often disparate elements.

Do realise and remember that all creatives feel the same as you do from time to time and some of the most successful are driven foreward by tremendous self doubt. Turn the negative feelings into positive self motivation.

Do surround yourself with people that believe in you and want you to succeed. This kind of support makes a world of difference.

I hope these strategies will help you next time the black dog of creative despair falls into step by your side and you doubt your work. Above all, just pick up that camera and take some shots. Remember a bad idea can lead to a good idea. Having no ideas and putting in no effort leads to nothing.

Just go and do it. If you've found this article useful please let me know.

Cheers,
Paul
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