Facing the blank page: What’s your block to creativity? (Part 1)

[really_simple_share]How many times have you started a project by grabbing a clean sheet of paper or opening a blank document on your computer, and then…nothing. You just sat there staring at it, feeling blocked, feeling stuck, wondering why you couldn’t come up with anything to put on that page. Or if you did put something down, wondering why it just didn’t seem to be all that creative.

The problem was: your page really wasn’t as “blank” as it looked!

The baggage that we bring to the creative process has a big impact on whether we can do something truly creative or whether what we do is just a new twist on what already exists—some version of what we believe is expected of us. It may even determine whether we can bring ourselves to do anything at all.

When we look at that seemingly blank page, we fail to notice that we have already put a lot on there, before we’ve even started! The background is already filled in with a whole lot of assumptions.

Whatever we believe (consciously or unconsciously) to be a necessary part of the thing we are creating—our assumptions about what it should be or should include—will automatically become a part of it, without us ever considering any other options.

For example, if someone handed you a blank piece of paper and asked you to draw a flower. You might immediately start drawing a series of petals, a stem below it, a leaf or two protruding sideways from the stem, and maybe a brown line to represent the earth it is growing out of. I mean, that’s how we’ve been drawing flowers since we were in Kindergarten, right?

Notice how our assumptions about what it means to draw a flower, then, have prevented us from doing something more creative, like drawing our flower as it floats on a pond, or as it hangs upside down being dried, or as it pokes out of a bridegroom’s lapel. Who said it needed to be on a stem, coming out of the ground? See how the assumptions of what a flower drawing is supposed to be limited from the very start how creative you might get. Notice then, that as you started your drawing, the blank page really wasn’t blank after all!

Imagine if Frank Lloyd Wright had been staring at a piece of graph paper when he was brainstorming ideas for the Guggenheim Museum. Despite his brilliance, it would have been very hard for him to imagine the building as he eventually designed it—made almost entirely of curves—when the page in front of him was covered with straight lines meeting at right angles.

Additionally, Wright might have allowed his training as an architect to convince him that the building should have straight lines that meet at right angles. And that their levels must be clearly delineated, stacked layers of rectangles. These underlying assumptions would have limited his creative options, and likely lead to a very different building than the Guggenheim!

But when Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum as we know it, part of what allowed him to be so creative is that he put aside all the typical assumptions, which meant he had fewer rules to follow about how a building should be designed. If Wright had worked within these rules, it would be as if his blank page in front of him was actually graph paper. THIS is what I mean by your “blank” page not really being blank!

Universally, rules and assumptions stifle creativity. Fewer rules and fewer assumptions provide a “cleaner” page. The cleaner the page, the greater the ability to be creative!

Creativity requires a clear work space—a blank sheet of paper.

So what’s already on your “blank” page?


[In part 2 on this topic, we’ll look at the effect pressure has on the creative process.]


Leave a Reply