I think of creativity as a kind of magic. It is the act of bringing something new into being out of nowhere. The Magician in the Tarot is shown by a table that is only partially visible. The tools and the visible table represent the creative instruments e.g. pens, pencils, our bodies, and voices, that we see and use, and the hidden part of the table represents the invisible and unknown creative tools that we learn about through our creativity.
Most people will agree that being in creative flow is an amazing feeling. Time flies, you are fully engaged and you feel like you are being carried. It is the musician playing with their eyes closed, the dancer lost in the dance, and the sports team in perfect synchronicity.
Creativity brings me back to a place of integrity and helps me understand the world, navigate my emotions and engage in my healing. I describe the experiences as a spiritual practice.
Our relationship with our creativity is deeply personal and so too are our creative blocks. Below I describe some flavours of different creative blocks, their possible sources, and ways we can reframe and engage with them.
1 No inspiration
This is the classic artist’s block: the writer staring blankly at the typewriter. It is Larry, stuck on the first three words of his novel in the opening scene of ‘Throw Mama from the train’ (watch for a giggle)
A dearth of inspiration can be due to a lack of knowledge, practice, or skills. It can be due to stress or simply it can be the necessary gestation time required for an idea to weave into form.
We all need to practice our skills and seek creative inspiration as we go. It’s important to make this a regular part of your schedule and equally to give regular time to get outside, de-stress, have fun and learn to find your balance between not pushing yourself too hard and not holding yourself back.
The magic here is when you realise that your skills are improving, you are taking better care of yourself and you are learning what you need in quiet creative gestation periods.
2 Not ready to start
The fear of getting things wrong can bamboozle us as we frantically take more up-skilling courses, continuously tweak and check for mistakes and compare our work to every peer we can find to make sure we can be good enough, and ‘ready enough’ to begin. But we never feel ready, and get caught in analysis paralysis.
The reframe is that you NEED to leap before you are ready.
Deadlines are good for addressing this not-readiness. If, like me, setting deadlines is not your forte call on a trusted friend, mentor, or coach to be your accountability buddy for deadlines.
You can also try micro time slots to get started. Setting a timer for 5–10 minutes and writing/sketching non-stop can be enough to shimmy the block even a little to gain some sense of movement.
Overwhelm can be about feeling daunted by a task, feeling flooded with everything you have to do.
It might be that you’re:
- listening to your head and not your heart
- not clear yet about what direction you’re going
- juggling too many ideas, or
- trying to do too much
This one needs lots of compassion, ease, and space. Take small steps at your pace. Walk away. Take breaks. Immerse yourself in other activities, and develop faith in your creative capacity.
The magic is the apparent contradiction of letting go of control and then receiving creativity inspiration and clarity! This is a lesson in humility, flow, and getting out of our way – known as the ‘hollow bone’ in the wisdom teachings of the Lakota tradition.
4 Need for approval
Listening too much to other people’s opinions and not listening to ourselves can keep us on a hamster wheel of needing approval.
This can be due to the feeling that we don’t know enough, are not good enough, or need to please everyone.
The reframe is that there are times when you need to stop listening to others and instead listen to yourself. You can trust your voice.
If this is holding you back — take time to regulate your nervous system and give yourself opportunities to express your emotions. I find with this kind of block I can feel agitated and angry and when I move it I tap into frustration and then sadness as I recognise that I have been ignoring myself.
You can explore releasing emotions through movement, music, watching sad or happy movies, taking a boxing class, or laughing with friends.
The magic is learning to hear your voice, feeling reenergised, and realising you can navigate others’ voices and opinions with greater clarity and ease.
5 Wonky tools
A different kind of block is not having the tools you need to work. I remember trying to design for a permaculture project in Nicaragua with no access to a computer, no proper place to work, and very few drawing materials.
You need to watch this one though, as it could be a subconscious procrastination tactic. I ended up producing some beautiful drawings for the permaculture farm by hand with A4 paper and colouring pencils while sitting at a wonky desk!
The magic here can be in asking for what you need and learning that some challenging situations with limited resources can be a source of inspiration, as you are forced to approach things in new ways.
6 Not feeling Safe
You need to feel safe to access your creativity. You need the support of good friends, a mentor, or a coach that is there for you and cheers for you!
Working in a large noisy studio or office did not feel ‘safe’ for me. I found it hard to create there. I would stay on in the evenings until others had gone home and I could have some peace and a calmer nervous system. I learned that I create best in my studio, on my own, and late at night.
This block can be associated with being shamed at some stage in our lives, sensitivity to light or sound and can manifest in shutting down our creative flow until we feel safe.
The magic here is in realising we have the power to explore what safety feels like for us and we learn how to regulate our nervous system to recover our creativity.
Having our ideas and our creativity rejected can be soul-destroying, and it is also part of the territory of bringing creative ideas into the world.
We have been conditioned to respond to our achievements but less so to our failures. Sometimes it can feel like we are working our asses off and just getting knocked back over and over again.
The reframe is in accepting failure as part of the process. This calls for a little magic – time travelling to remember times when you failed and learned from it.
Failure is an intrinsic part of the archetypal story of the hero’s journey. Examples of it abound in current culture, in Star Wars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wizard of Oz, and The Lord of the Rings. The hero sets off, engages in challenges, is brought to their knees, and learns to rise above the challenges. It’s good to be reminded that failure is part of learning and our creative process.
8 The landscape of thoughts
The thoughts we hold about ourselves and our abilities profoundly affect our creativity. Common negative thoughts that can squash creativity and create blocks include:
- I am just not creative
- Creativity is for other people
- I don’t have time
- This needs to be perfect
- This needs to look a certain way or it’s wrong, or
- I have to make money from this straight away
These thoughts can be due to our upbringing, our culture, and our response to shaming in our formative years. Low self-esteem, lack of acceptance, and a wicked inner critic can lie behind them.
The reframe is that creativity, curiosity, and play are essential for our well-being. Creativity engages the innocence of the inner child that may have been shamed at one stage and gives them space, acknowledgement, and the chance to heal from negative past experiences.
Engaging in the possibility that creativity may be beneficial to us can open up a crack of curiosity. Through exploring, sensing, and problem-solving, self-esteem, self-acceptance and a renewed sense of purpose can be nurtured.
Take breaks, take care of yourself, and immerse yourself in beauty. Have fun, Move your body and express your emotions. Begin now, take one step at a time and let go of the need for it to be beautiful. Reframe failure, let yourself be messy, and honour your unique creative contributions to the world.
Creative blocks are an intrinsic part of everyone’s creative process. And the process of engaging them can be an empowering journey of personal healing and self-discovery.
What other kinds of creative blocks have you experienced? How have you moved beyond them and/or reframed them for yourself?
Wishing you a beautiful creative week!
Note: Exploring blocks can be a fun and empowering process but if you feel you may have been affected by past traumatising experiences do reach out to a trained professional who can support you to safely take the steps you need to unfurl your creative potential.