Blog Post

The two kinds of stuck (and what to do about each)

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

If you work on your own and you get creatively blocked, you’re equally on your own to try and unstick yourself and get productive again. Programmer, designer, copywriter — whatever your field of work, it’s the same dilemma: How do you prod your unresponsive brain to deliver the goods?

Video game design expert and author J.C. Herz has some ideas for creative professionals. She recently gave the commencement speech at Ringling College of Art and Design, in Florida, and rather than offering bland encouragements to reach for the stars or be of service, Herz got down to business, addressing the nuts-and-bolts issues of arranging your life as a creative professional.

It’s a wide-ranging and thoughtful speech that’s well worth a read if you’re a web worker who regularly has to come up with ideas for a living. Among the many tidbits of advice (make your habits intentional, procrastinate productively, join CrossFit gyms), she offered a taxonomy of different types of creative block and how to handle each:

Getting stuck is a big part of creative work, and it’s really important to be good at getting unstuck. There are two main reasons why creative people get stuck on a piece of work: The first is, you don’t actually have an idea. You may have requirements, and you may have tools. But you don’t actually have an idea that’s going to carry the day, and you’re going to be stuck until you get a solid idea.

The second reason creative people get stuck is that, while they have the idea, executing the idea takes a lot of work, and not all of that work is fun, and basically you don’t want to do the work, because having the idea in the first place was the fun part. The problem is, you don’t get to say “check mate in four.” You actually have to finish the project. So you get mystically “stuck” after the brilliant sketch is done.

It is very, very important to accurately understand which of these problems you’re having when you get stuck. If you don’t have an idea, you need to play around a little, take a walk, have a good conversation, open the aperture. As they say in drawing class, explore the negative space. If you’re balking at the work, you need to stop playing around, sit down, shut up, go offline, and focus single-mindedly on executing the work, and make it real. In either case, if you try to solve one problem when you’re really having the other, you’re going to waste a lot of time.

How do you go about getting unstuck when you feel completely unable to get down to work?

Image courtesy Flickr user Vince Custers