If you’ve read any of Dr Seuss’s books, you probably won’t be surprised to find that he was fond of being silly and using his imagination. In fact, he used these techniques to overcome one of the most difficult things artists face: creative blocks.
Few people outside his inner circles of friends and family knew it, but Dr Seuss was a keen collector of hats, which he stored hundreds of in a secret closet at his house. During his travels, Seuss collected hats from the places he visited—in particular, hats that held emotional significance for him, such as soldiers’ wartime helmets.
The hats weren’t simply relegated to the secret closet for storage, though. They came out as guests arrived for dinner parties, with each guest choosing one to wear for the evening.
Likewise, when Seuss and his editor, Michael Frith, got stuck as they worked on a new book, the hats would come out:
When they were stumped by a word choice, Mr. Frith said, Geisel would often bound to the closet and grab a hat for each of them — a sombrero, or perhaps a fez. There they would be, sitting on the floor, Mr. Frith remembered, “two grown men in stupid hats trying to come up with the right word for a book that had only 50 words in it at most.”
Of course, sometimes the hats weren’t enough, or Seuss would get a creative block when he was working alone. At these times he used painting to free up his creative juices.
Sometimes spending time with others can help you collaborate to solve a problem, but there are also times when being alone is what you need. Having multiple go-to options to wake up your creative brain can be a good thing.
Want to take some clues from Seuss? Here are three tips from his story to help you overcome your own creative blocks.
1. Do something unrelated
When he struggled with writing, Seuss overcame it by painting. When his story wasn’t working, he put on a hat. Doing something completely unrelated can give your brain a rest from active concentration so it can solve your problem subconsciously.
John Cleese advocates this method as well, particularly the idea of “sleeping on a problem.” If it’s not quite bedtime yet, you could opt for a walk, making coffee or even something as simple as doing the dishes.
So long as it works on a different part of your brain, this will let your subconscious kick in and work on the problem for you.
2. Use your imagination
Of course, if you work in a creative field, you’re constantly using your imagination anyway, but again, this is about using your brain in different ways.
If hats or painting don’t take your fancy, you could try reading fiction, drawing, writing (assuming none of those are what you’re stuck on in the first place, of course!) or a creative game.
3. Be silly
You may have assumed Seuss was a fan of letting his hair down, considering the inherent silliness of many of his stories (don’t even try to tell me eating green eggs and ham in a box with a fox isn’t silly), but his fanciful hat collection proves it.
Being silly helped Seuss shake off his creative blocks, come up with new ideas and connect better with others. You might just want to try it.