Something that happens to everyone at some point in their life is ‘hitting the wall’ not in the literal sense, but the “creative wall” if you will. The expression itself may have a fairly diverse definition from person to person, but in general, for creatives it boils down to a handful of things that lead us to that creative barricade or obstacle we just can’t seem to overcome, or a problem we struggle to solve. So in this post I want to help address those obstacles and share with you how I overcome them, and how you can try and avoid them in the first place, because avoiding hitting the creative wall is a lot more efficient than having to try and overcome it. Prevention over a cure is what we’re aiming for.
The best way to comprehend a problem is to break it down into smaller chunks and deal with those chunks individually. So first of all let’s look at a few common things that can force us into hitting that creative wall, then break it down from there.
What can make us hit the creative wall?
There’s a lot that can drive a creative professional speeding right into the creative wall. This is a brief list of a few things i’ve found myself dealing with in my freelance career, along with the steps that I’ve taken to digest and overcome them.
- Lack of inspiration
- Creative constraints
- Lacking confidence/experience
- External real life issues/influences
- Revision after revision, after revision… after revision, and more revisions…
Sure, there’s always more that you could add to this list, but i’ve found that these are the most common issues i’ve dealt with along with a lot of other creative professionals. It took me a while to learn how to overcome them, but as a creative there’s a lot of time wasted in not dealing with things that limit our creative output. It’s best to learn how to deal with these things quickly so that next time an issue like that arrises, we can tackle it head-on.
Identifying Your Creative Walls
If you’re anything like me, you try and make lists as often as possible to keep track of, and organize things or processes. A list of what makes you hit that creative wall will help you come to terms with what retards your creative drive. Feel free to write down what you’re struggling with and what’s influencing the issues.
For me personally, I dealt with a lot of creative constraints when I first started my freelance adventure. I worked with a lot of clients that would rather use me as an implement than a creative asset. By implement, I mean that most of the clients I worked with didn’t value my creative opinions, suggestions, and ideas. Sure, in some instances things needed to be a certain way, but when a client is just using you for a project because it’s less of an investment than buying the Adobe Creative Suite and learning how to use it, that’s a waste of time and money for everyone. At times I was literally being used as a mouse to “move this there, and put text here”. Those kinds of projects didn’t, and never will sit well with me. It’s projects like that, and ones with ridiculously tight creative freedom that pushed me harder and further into bettering myself and finally saying enough is enough. I had to change something, I wasn’t having fun or enjoying a large amount of the projects I undertook. After realizing that I was literally wasting untapped creativity and my time, I decided to evaluate the situation. I had to find quirky, fun, interesting, and most importantly, enjoyable client projects. I started actively searching for clients that I wanted to work with. From business types, to business location, I started sending emails out parrot fashion briefly explaining who I am and what type of creative services I could provide for their business if they had a need for a Graphic Designer. As i’m sure you can guess, sending out the same old email ten or twenty times a day to prospective clients can really take its toll on you, not to mention that any replies I did get never led anywhere.
Breaking Down The Creative Wall
It took me some thinking to figure out how I was going to get away from the creative constraints I was facing. I lacked enthusiasm, projects seemed to last far longer than they needed to be, and my creative drive was diminishing. Though my creative potential was sitting on the back burner, I decided to channel that creativity into coming up with creative ways to find new, fun, interesting clients. I knew that the work I had done wasn’t something I wanted to show off in a portfolio, so I started searching for potential clients that had a need for a graphic designer… Again. Only this time, I was looking for an end result I would want to show off, and businesses that did things differently.
I’d figured out that low budget clients were draining me. You know the ones that always need ‘one more revision’ and wouldn’t budge on their budget, even if it involved numerous more work hours for you? So, I cut them loose. No negotiation!
Next, I realized that the low budget projects came with far more stress than was necessary, especially for the budgets involved. That kind of stress played a huge part in negating my creative enthusiasm. So, i’d pretty much killed two birds with one stone by dropping and denying low budget design projects.
Realizing that I now needed to free myself from projects that had horrible creative constraints, I revamped my entire business plan. Becoming a freelance graphic designer was a total shot in the dark for me. I’d never tried to run a business, and i’d never been focused on customer service (something I now strongly believe every business owner should try to perfect). I came up with an entirely new business model that would let me focus on my freelance design goals, while establishing a strict model that I’d follow for any potential and new clients. Project briefs, questionnaires, contracts/agreements and a strong sense of what kind of projects, from what kind of businesses or clients I wanted to take on. This was my absolute focal point.
For the most part, i’d identified my creative walls and issues where I myself were to blame for the struggle of what i’m sure all freelance graphic designers face. I was doing the whole “work on myself” part of this relationship, but I still found myself hitting some sort of creative barricade fairly often.
It wasn’t until I changed my image and portfolio that I started seeing some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. I began pushing for pro-bono work from clients that could get me some exposure for my portfolio. I’d engage with other designers online and pick their brains and ask them how they dealt with the creative wall.
After getting a nice amount of portfolio projects under my belt, a lot of back and forth with other freelancers and business owners. I knew that increasing my hourly and flat rate would weed out low end projects, and in turn would let me focus on making more money working on projects that I enjoyed. For any of my readers that need help calculating their freelance rate. Check out this yourfreelancecareer.com rate calculator. It’s a simple tool that helps you figure out what you should be charging to make your target earnings and has some additional features that may prove useful also.
Over To You!
Please feel free to let me know what kind of creative walls you’ve dealt with and how you overcame them. I’d love to read about them and answer any questions you may have.
Hopefully this post helps someone break down the creative wall that they’re struggling with. If you think anyone could benefit from this post, please share it!