Dear Design Martyrs: The One About Creative Block

Posted inDesign Inspiration

“Dear Design Martyrs” is PRINTmag’s advice column from Debbie Millman. Debbie will respond to your most burning questions about design, branding, work-life balance, and so much more.

Dear Design Martyrs,

I don’t know if it is because of COVID and the surge of Omicron or my own laziness, but I can’t seem to bring myself to feel inspired when designing ANYTHING anymore. I think I have EPIC creative block. Any ideas on how to reignite my creative juices?


Desperate in Denver

Dear Desperate,

I hear you. Boy, do I hear you! 

These days I find it hard just to put on real clothes. Last week my wife looked at me, squinted, tilted her head, and asked me how many days I had been wearing my sweatpants (and they are still on). This pandemic has been raging for nearly two years, and I AM OVER IT. 

That said, in thinking about how to answer you, I was reminded of a piece I wrote and illustrated many years ago for the writer Alex Cornell in his book, Breakthrough! 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination. 

I re-read it and decided that rather than try to top what I had written, I’d update it. So here it is, both in text and a completely re-drawn illustration. It’s everything I do now to overcome my own creative block and start making things again. If that doesn’t help, definitely check out Alex’s book. But please be patient with yourself—this has been a difficult time for so many, and beating yourself up won’t inspire you to do anything productive. Maybe taking the pressure off a bit will do you some good.

Overcoming Creative Block in 10 Easy Steps:

  1. Get enough sleep! Sleep is the best (and easiest) aphrodisiac.
  2. Read as much as you can, particularly classics. If a master of words can’t inspire you, see #3.
  3. Color code your library. This is fun, and you will realize how many great books you haven’t read yet.
  4. More sleep! You can never get enough.
  5. Force yourself to procrastinate or channel Jessica Hische and procrasta-work!
  6. Look at the work of Paula Scher, Emily Oberman, Marian Bantjes, Jonathan Key, Wael Morcos, Zipeng Zhu and Chip Kidd. You will be inspired for sure.
  7. Weep! And then weep some more! It always helps to have a good cry.
  8. Surf the web! Watch some funny TikToks! Check out your HS friends on Facebook! Feel smug.
  9. Watch Law & Order SVU marathons and revel in the ferocious bad-ass beauty of Olivia Benson.
  10. Remember how L-U-C-K-Y you are to be a creative person and quit your belly-aching! Get to work now!

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