Many people need inspiration to turn a pile of loose bricks into a cool model!

Overcoming Builder’s Block

Have you ever wanted to build a LEGO model, but just couldn’t get started? Maybe you just didn’t know what to build, or maybe you were afraid that people won’t like what you built. You are suffering from Builder’s Block, and we have the cure!

Though I’ve been a fan of LEGO for over 40 years, I’m very new to creating MOCs. Since last summer, I’ve built only four, and they’re all quite small. The truth is, since I started building things without the comforting guidance of a LEGO instruction booklet, I’ve felt a little intimidated and paralyzed. Instead of building, I’ve spent my time sorting bin after bin of bricks, plates, tiles, and more.

Many people need inspiration to turn a pile of loose bricks into a cool model!

Many people need inspiration to turn a pile of loose bricks into a cool model!

Joining my local LUG about a year ago began a deep dive into AFOL world… I scoured Flickr, books, blogs, and websites looking for ideas. I’ve been dazzled by what I found. I always knew that creative people were out there building massive LEGO models, using bricks in unique ways, and generally just wowing others with their ingenuity and imagination. I got a bad case of inadequacy-induced Builder’s Block. (Pun absolutely intended.)

I got a bad case of inadequacy-induced Builder’s Block.

That’s why I always came back to sorting—sorting was safe. Sorting became a way for me to work with my LEGO collection without having to produce anything. That I could do. As a bonus, I find sorting LEGO pieces incredibly satisfying. Order out of chaos. Everything in its place. So I kept sorting, and kept putting off the actual building. Then I hit the small flaw in my avoidance plan. I finished sorting. (Before you get too jealous, keep in mind that I have a pretty small collection.)

With no pieces left to organize, I realized that it was time to face my fears and build something. But how to proceed? How to overcome my perfectionism and my need to create something worthy? I did a lot of thinking and poking around online. I came up with some ideas to break the block. They helped me, and maybe they can help some of you too.

Let’s take a look at a few techniques that I’ve tried or found online to help me get past my builder’s block…

Sketching

I don’t mean with pencil and paper (though that works too). I’m talking about brick-built “sketches” using LEGO bricks. While sorting, I always found myself looking at pieces, turning them, connecting them to each other, and to other pieces nearby.

Often, I’d find a combination I liked, so I would set it aside, sometimes into a bin labeled “spaceships” or “buildings.” Combining elements into something small, and in a way you haven’t seen before, can be very satisfying.

Participating in a Challenge or a Contest

There are always building challenges or contests going on, but it can sometimes be a little hard to find them.

Here are some ideas to get you started on your search:

  • See if your LUG holds build challenges?
  • LEGO sponsors regular building challenges via their Rebrick page.
  • The Brick Blogger website includes a list of contests on their Community News page, and even wrote a post filled with tips on how to build a winning model.
  • Find out which themes are going to be featured in an upcoming LEGO convention. This gives you a deadline, a direction, and opportunity to win a prize!
  • LEGO Ideas is a great way to share your ideas, and see what other people are building. (They just announced a new contest, and the winners from the last one.)
  • If you’re a fan of LEGO Architecture, then check out Tom’s LEGO Architecture Studio 30 Day Challenge. It’s a great idea that you can replicate even if you don’t have that set—try to build something different every day!

Hit the Books

Most of the LEGO building ideas books are aimed at kids, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find inspiration there. One book my kids and I particularly like is 365 Things to do with LEGO Bricks. Some of the great ideas I found include: build the initial letter of your name; use tiles to design a fancy floor; create a map of your state or town, marking important places; and give a set a color change.

365 Things to do with LEGO Bricks, by Simon Hugo & Alice Finch.

365 Things to do with LEGO Bricks, by Simon Hugo & Alice Finch.

Ironically for me, suggestion #106 is to “Sort your LEGO bricks.”

Start with One Piece

I asked Jme Wheeler, a prolific fellow member of NELUG what he does when he’s at a loss for what to build. He answered, “A lot of times I end up just getting obsessed with some specific element and try to figure out what to do with it, or how to use it in a new way and that discovery of a technique leads me to a build.”

This has definitely happened to me, especially when putting together a new set. Encountering a new piece always gets me thinking and often leads to one of the brick-built sketches I mentioned above. You can also “force” this kind of obsession by picking a piece at random and coming up with new ways to use it.

Revisit the Past

If nothing else works, look back through your previous MOCs or an official LEGO set that you built. Why not pick one that you enjoyed and add on to it, revise it, or recreate it using a different building technique.

When you’re not starting from scratch, a lot of the pressure is off.

Builders block broken!

You might be wondering if I took my own advice and got building again. Happily, the answer is yes!

Sketching out ideas using just a few parts might give you the inspiration you need to build something larger.

Sketching out ideas using just a few parts might give you the inspiration you need to build something larger.

By combining two of the above suggestions, I got un-blocked. I revisited the brick-built sketches in my “buildings” bin. I had once stuck a 2×2 tile onto a 3x4x2/3 Wedge Cutout Mudguard, thinking “Hey. That looks like the gate and drawbridge of a castle.” Last weekend, I started building the castle around that gate. Then I created a landscape for the castle to live in. What a joy it was to be building again! Up next for me: I just ordered the LEGO Architecture Studio and am going to try my own 30-day challenge. I can’t wait.

I hope these tips helped you unlock your creativity. Please share your tricks for overcoming a slump in the comments below!

3 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    Great article, you had me at a laugh out loud moment when you said you were finished sorting and right when my face scrunched up you said, “ before you get jealous, I have a small collection.” I too, experience builders block. When I come across a MOC with instructions my are like, “wow dad thats cool, did you build of the top of your head?” So this article will be saved, printed and stored for further absorption. Thanks a bunch. -Damon

  2. Melvin Lee says:

    Nice article. I think most of us have hit the same state of inertia when trying to build something.

  3. Laura Strand says:

    Great article Michael!

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