Eight Variations on Being Blocked
first published June 2018
When we talk about creative block, I wonder if we all mean the same thing. Here are eight ways different people might describe their creative stuckness.
1. Nothing feels authentic, I don't feel connected to what I’m doing. I feel cut off from myself, and what I’ve been trying to do just doesn’t feel connected to my values.
2. There’s no cohesion or clarity in the ideas. The structure isn’t working, it isn’t precise enough, and at the moment it’s full of contradictions.
3. The way I’ve always gone about things isn’t working; it’s as if I’m disconnected from my history and all I’ve learned and I’ve lost my bearings.
4. I have no sense of new possibilities; the ideas that are coming to me don’t seem to be forming any pattern, and I can’t move forward. I have no vision of where I’m going.
5. There’s no way this will connect with my audience – I don’t even feel sure who my audience is. I don’t see any point in making work that no one’s going to relate to.
6. I’m not getting things done; I’ve been wasting time on strategies that don’t work; nothing’s been ticked off my ‘to do’ list, the way I’ve been going about things has been ineffective and inefficient.
7. The problem is physical or practical. I need equipment or training to build my muscles, or time to research the history of how this has been done before. Everything’s on hold because I don’t have the resources or energy.
8. I want to test out my theories in the world; but things aren’t going well, somehow. I like jumping into a new environment, just trying something out and seeing what happens, but at the moment everything I try seems to end up as a damp squib.
Susan Cain’s Ted talk and book, Quiet, where she wrote about living as an introvert in a world of extraverts, brought the public’s attention to some of the differences between those who are energised by time alone, and those who are energised by being out and about in the world. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into creativity, he revealed that the successful creative people he had interviewed held a balance between introversion and extraversion and many other polarities.
What if the problem with creative block is that the terms we use to identify it are part of the problem?
I wonder if those variations on being blocked are better tackled at face value, or if we might look at reframing the problem in terms of one of the other statements. For example, rather than continuing to ask ourselves, “who am I”, we might put ourselves into a strange environment and learn more about ourselves and what we value from our responses to the new situation. Rather than doggedly working through a to-do list, we might spend time journaling or meditating to find out what actually holds meaning for us, and what is mere busyness for its own sake.
In the first example the problem is framed in introvert terms and an extraverted solution has been suggested; in the second, it’s the reverse. The change is from going inside ourselves for answers to looking out towards the world; or from searching for a solution outside ourselves to looking within.
In their podcasts and articles, the creators of personalityhacker.com use the *Myers-Briggs test* - a psychometric test - which they’ve developed to help “to understand what drives you, [which] is key to getting where you want to go.” They provide in depth information on how we can best work with both our introverted and extraverted sides. You can find out your type, and through delving deeper into the information they offer – specifically on the ‘car model’ - you can work out what strengths you are likely to be under using, and also where you might tend to get stuck in comfortable habits that don’t support growth or creativity. (A lot of their content is free.)
I definitely feel some resistance to shifting out of my preferred state, but as I've been looking back through my work - for a future retrospective - I can see that where the big creative movements have taken place, I had changed gear from my preference and created more of a balance, however temporary, between looking inside and looking outwards. We need both.
*The Myers-Briggs test was developed from Carl Jung’s ideas about the thinking/feeling, the intuition/sensation, and the extraversion/introversion polarities. Myers and Briggs added the polarity of judgement/perception.
Image: 'Mirror, Balcony Door", acrylic on canvas, 2005, Elise V Allan.