Why Creative Blocks Aren’t Always Bad

Today, I’m joining a group of bloggers tackling the subject of creative blocks. To find out more or to submit your own article, scroll down to the bottom of this post. If you’re new to this blog, you can find more about subscribing for free here.

Whenever you feel stymied, stuck, or frantic, remind yourself, this is the result of having too many good ideas — even if it feels like you have no good ideas at all…
—Julia Cameron

Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Anne Lamott calls it “being empty.” Others call it a lack of inspiration. Whatever the name, most creatives will agree that from time to time, they feel blocked.

But I don’t believe that’s true.

Personally, I’ve never experienced a creative block. I’ve never run out of ideas. What I have experienced is paralysis due to too many ideas.

When it comes time to “ship,” I hesitate. I make excuses. I worry. I wait. I procrastinate.

Sometimes this is because of fear. But other times, something else is going on. And that’s where this gets tricky.

Creative Blocks
Image credit: The talented Stephen Brewster

When I was leading a creative team with a strong bias to action, we sometimes hesitated. We had our ideas, but we weren’t making decisions. Not because we felt blocked, but because we had too many choices. Too many possibilities.

While some say that the solution to this kind of paralysis is to simply choose something, I don’t believe that’s wise. Nor do I believe that creative blocks are always our enemies.

In fact, sometimes, they’re our allies.

As a team, we learned to embraced the gift of these blocks. We learned that, sometimes, creative blocks be good. Here’s how:

Creative blocks remind us we’re unique

That fact that we creatives experience blocks means that we also experience epiphanies, that we are tapped into an otherworldly source of inspiration.

Face it: not everyone is like you. Some people struggle with creativity. Few have ideas flooding into their minds to the extent that they are constantly overwhelmed.

This means you are special.

What you call a “creative block” is what many simply call life.

Allow these moments of emptiness to remind you that you are unique.

This calling to create is a gift that deserves your diligence.

Don’t take it for granted.

Creative blocks help us do our best work

Most creatives are perfectionists. Boldly believing that art can change the world, they rarely settle for “good enough.”

When you feel “blocked,” this is sometimes just your inner self is telling you that you could do better.

So you do. You stay up late, painfully deliberating over a single line of prose or a certain piece of a website, trying to get it just right.

And no one understands why. No one but you.

When you’re done, you know that the extra work has made all the difference.

Creative blocks help us discern the right timing

Sometimes when we feel “blocked” what we’re really experiencing is the call to wait.

We have a killer idea, but something tells us that it’s not right. Not yet.

Maybe the world isn’t ready. Maybe we’re not ready.

These are the tough but enriching times of being an artist.

It’s hard to say what’s happening on the inside as we’re seemingly doing nothing on the outside. Sometimes, we’re being humbled. Others, we’re simply being prepared.

It feels like a waste, but in fact, it’s not. It’s an investment — a time of sowing. As we wait, something magnificent is beginning to stew within us.

Pushing through these times is the wrong decision. We need to stop and listen to our work.

There is a proper time for all creative endeavors, and there is no other way to determine when to begin a project than to close our eyes and open our ears.

So what does this all mean?

It means that when you’ve felt blocked, sometimes you weren’t. There is more to creating art than just thrashing around and working an assembly line. Being creative means learning to listen.

It means that being blocked isn’t always bad — not when it causes us to reconsider our ideas and the difference they may make in the world. Not when it reminds us that we are special or helps us create our best work possible.

And definitely not when it leads us into a deeper maturity and obedience to the calling of an artist, guiding us to wait for just the right moment to move forward with our work.

What do you think? Are creative blocks always bad? Join the discussion in the comments or on Twitter using the hash tag #creativeblocks.

This was a “blog carnival” on creative blocks. Below is the list of all contributors. Read some of the articles below by clicking the links. Feel free to copy and share this list on your own blog:

60 thoughts on “Why Creative Blocks Aren’t Always Bad

  1. Love the positive things you’ve shared that we can take from our blocks. Especially the one about timing. There have been times I’ve had to sit on things because I knew it wasn’t ready to come out yet or it wasn’t quite right yet. I think the longer you’re an artist the more you begin to trust your instincts and love yourself through your blocks.

  2. I write for fun and hopefully to inspire at the same time.  So, all my deadlines are self made deadlines.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a true block…YET.  There are endless topic to write about.  I once wrote about a can opener.  Another time I wrote about an electrical outlet.  When I have nothing to say, I tend to write anyway.  I’ll take this opportunity right now to apologize to my readers.   It’s like an itch I have to scratch. 🙂

  3. Brilliant as usual. I think creative blocks come because our art has potential to rise to the next level. If we do what is outlined in this post, our creative blocks could actually become stepping stones to deeper creativity.

  4. I don’t think they are always bad, but I think they can create (or maybe expose) the bad in us.  I know that I have to fight the urge to quit when I hit a creative block

    1. Good call. My thought on that — admittedly, my attempt to redeem something that is often perceived as primarily negative — is that this actually can help you create better art, if you let it.

      It’s not about quitting or pushing through; it’s less dichotomous than that. It’s about listening and focusing and waiting and watching and letting your art take shape with you as an active participant. You’re not simply a spectator, nor are you a taskmaster. You’re a collaborator. A creative.

      1. I can get down with that.  And I can really get down with your attempt to redeem something that is perceived as primarily negative. This is actually one of the reasons I really like your writing.  

        Thanks for the perspective shift Jeff.

  5. @Jeff love that you portrayed blocks as our intuition suggesting we can do better. YES. Opportunity.

  6. I think creativitity, at it’s essence is just a skill that requires practice. Sure there may be a spiritual, mysterious, or magical component to it, but at the end of the day, it’s mostly just a skill.  Having a creative road block is the same thing as a basketball player who misses free throws, just get back on the line and keep shooting until you start making them again.

  7. I believe, for me anyway, that some blocks are created from the impending  finality of our current project.  Whether it’s writing a book or script or anything, we’ve toiled and sweat over it for hours, and that feeling of finishing it can leave an empty feeling in our hearts – like a child moving out of the house.  So we procrastinate – we drag it out, because that way we’re still involved with the project.  It’s almost like we’re worried that once we finish and move on to something else, that we’ll forget about how sweet it once was.

    Of course, we never really forget our first…

  8. I think I really resonate with point 3, ‘they help us discern the right timing.’ Like you mentioned, ideas abound, there’s no shortage of ideas, the hard part is discerning which ideas to write about. Which ideas are worth moving forward with and which ones should be left alone.

    1. Thanks. This was hard for me to put into words, but I knew that it was important. A lot of it is just time and intuition, but eventually as we mature as creatives, we learn what ideas are worth pursuing and which ones need some more cultivation.

  9. Jeff, a very positive spin on a common experience. Seeing my blog views drop has caused some of that fear and trepidation in writing to surface. This has been the week of doubt, disillusionment, despair (man, there are a lot of negative d words in the dictionary–which also starts with d). One obvious missing ingredient in the last few weeks has been humor (and a good night’s sleep). I think the latter is correcting itself and the former is returning. Your blog on blogger’s block is timely and encouraging. Thanks–Tom

  10. Jeff, I really like your point about timing. As a Christian who writes, I’ve experienced instances where a “block” was divine guidance on the timing of a particular topic. This post was very useful!

  11. Fantastic post, Jeff!  I love the idea that some ideas aren’t ready yet.  And that we must wait.  I believe this is VERY true.

    You’ve given me something new on which to reflect.  Thank you!

  12. No doubt, Jeff! Blocks are not always blocks, inspiration might be deceptive. Who knows what is really going on? But, that being said, I enjoyed your argument here and am tempted to point to Deepak Chopra’s use of the phrase “the right season” when it comes to manifesting our desires. If something is not happening, it probably is not the right season.

    Fine work!

  13. To confess, when I get a creative block I simply quit writing. Not a good thing I know, but true nonetheless. Today is the first time in about a week that I’ve done any serious writing. 

    I guess being a painter helps. In creative blocks, I generally switch from laptop to easel. Not every one has that option I suppose. I admire those who can brave it through the creative block without leaving the screen.That being said, I’m preparing a guest post for you. It should hit your inbox shortly. 😉

    1. Not necessarily a bad thing — sometimes quitting is exactly what you should do. Just got it. Looking forward to reading it. You only do quality stuff, as far as I’m concerned, Martyn.

  14. As one who has experienced several significant creative blocks in my writing career, I can say that I’ve come to see them as a gift. An infuriating, crazy-making gift, but still. In my case, blocks have ALWAYS pointed me to something vital I was missing or stepping over in my creative process. Great writing has much to do with the capacity and vulnerability of the writer. You can’t take readers somewhere you’ve never been, or show them something you’ve never been willing to really see yourself. When I’ve experienced a block, it’s most often because there was something deep and vulnerable in myself or in the world that I needed to experience first. My heart often needs to first be enlarged enough to hold a thing before I can write about it meaningfully. And there’s no rushing that process. The trick, I think, is to recognize that these forays away from the keyboard and into scary uncharted places are just as much a part of the creative process as the writing itself.

    1. I agree. I’m learning that blocks really aren’t the enemy; just a part of the process. Thanks for affirming this, Michael, and for sharing part of your own journey.

  15. Definitely needed to hear this today. Writer’s blocks are necessary in the creative process. Simply stated, wow. Thanks, Jeff and all your contributors. 

  16. You said that part of being creative is being able to listen.  I would agree completely.  Whether we need to further develop something we are working on or if we are in a season of preparation, listing is a good thing.  solid stuff as always man.

  17. Great points Jeff! I agree, that these blocks can be good. I feel creative blocks are stepping stones toward productivity.

  18. Wow, Jeff. I love the direction you went with your creative blocks post!  This is great and much needed information. Thank you for sharing many of the posts today & inviting others to join in the conversation! I had a piece on creativity I was previously working on, as I had a specific plan for it, but decided it would be great to add to the discussion today, so here it is:  https://j.mp/BRblog1

  19. @paralysis due to too many ideas — an insightful point not discussed much over this carnival of posts but very true. I get so mentally paralyzed I can’t remember the ideas I had! @maybe we’re not ready: This is difficult for many to accept, I think, but sometimes we’re just not ready. Being ready emotionally and spiritually to embark on a meaningful creative journey is vital because when we write, there is a reader to inspire, challenge, encourage, teach — and we need to relax into the rhythm of  our Creator who set good works before us that were planned ahead of time. I write with stripped down vulnerability now because I experienced deep wounds — it was excruciating at the time, but the mess I went through and the subsequent mercy and private months spent with Jesus and his word produced a humbler, more compassionate person and writer out of me.

  20. This is a great perspective. I’ve never looked at blocks as possible evidence for an overabundance of ideas. It’s also very interesting and comforting to look at some of those blocks as a form of divine guidance encouraging us to pace and/or ourselves. Great food for thought here.

  21. This is a great perspective. I’ve never looked at blocks as possible evidence for an overabundance of ideas. It’s also very interesting and comforting to look at some of those blocks as a form of divine guidance encouraging us to pace and/or ourselves. Great food for thought here.

  22. Writers block hits all writers at one point or another, painters and artists also experience it too. Staring at a blank canvas and not knowing what to paint. The secret is not to beat yourself up over it, it part of the creative process. Best it to write or paint anything, even if it is pure crap, it keeps the creative juices going. And writing, like painting is habit, as addictive as any drug.
    Great blog, by the way. Blogged on the self same thing myself this week at https://wp.me/1q0nb
    Cheers and thanks.

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