This article is intended to provide insight and support to anyone who struggles with creative blockage or difficulty in their creative process.
There are many ways we can experience creative blockage, confusion or disconnection. Whether it be a total disconnect, where we feel completely cut off from our creative energy, or perhaps the difficulty lies somewhere within the creative process itself. This could take many shapes. For some, they may be connected to their creative energy but struggle to make it past the stage of inspiration. They may have beautiful dreams and ideas yet these inspirations never get to see the light of day. Ideas are of course non-physical so no matter how many ideas we have, without taking concrete action to bring them to form, they will remain intangible.
Creative blocks can arise for some of us when it comes to sitting down to concentrate on our ideas. We may have spent some time fleshing them out, yet when it comes down to really concentrating on the creative process, we can't seem to get ourselves there. For others, there may be a general feeling of 'what's the point' present when they entertain the possibility of exploring their creative nature. This, I feel, can be an expression of a deeper wound that tells us our voices don't matter. This deserves attention, tenderness, and acknowledgement as for many of us the creative blocks we experience are related on a deeper level to safety and self-worth.
In many ways, the core pieces that we can look at in gaining creative confidence and unlocking our creative potential really circulate around believing that our voices matter. This can (and possibly will be) a topic for another article as there is just an incredible amount of depth we could explore when it comes to valuing our voices.
Another massive creative block that we may face as humans is the expectation to create something that's "good." How many times have you gone to start a project and felt crippled by the pressure to create something good? One of the reasons this can be so crippling is because classifying what is "good" in terms of art, creativity, and self-expression is really a subjective experience. When we can release the judgements and labels of 'good' and 'bad' we can open up to a whole new realm of freedom within our creative lives and processes.
The final block I'll mention here is a famous one: when someone has decided "I'm just not a creative person."
Let me start by saying, everyone is a creative person.
Our culture has reinforced the idea that only some people are born with creative gifts, that only some are blessed from birth with artistry. This is simply not true.
Here are the reasons why:
Firstly, you come from the same source of creation as everyone and everything else. That source of creation is both creator and created; meaning, that the very substance of existence itself is creative energy. There is no universally possible way that you could not be creative, because you are living, breathing, walking, Creation.
Secondly, our psyche is like a diamond. There are many facets of expression that are available to us. When we live in a societal structure that encourages and socializes people to be one thing, we inevitably disown whole aspects of ourselves and our nature. It is common for people to feel disconnected from their creativity or to feel as if they simply do not possess any at all. Often this can be a result of becoming overly identified with the mind, intellect, and rationality. We could also think of this in terms of left-brain dominance.
The identity of the rational mind, which has been largely conditioned as the 'way to be' in our society, has certain qualities. The rational mind values logic, reason, strategy, control, and what is known. Psychologically when we identify with a certain set of values, there is an inevitable disowning of the energy that opposes this set of values. So the child who gets raised to absorb the identity of the rational mind naturally suppresses the parts of themselves that are more creative, imaginative, and non-linear.
This doesn't mean that this child was born without creativity, it means that the personality the child was shaped to take on suppresses that side of the psyche. What is wonderful to know is that everything we disown remains within us. It lives within the land of the unconscious where all parts of us that have been deemed unsafe or unsavory by the personality reside. Once we know this, we can begin our process of excavation.
This point I'm making definitely calls for some reflection as this is a huge area that holds people back. They don't see themselves as an artist. They don't see themselves as creative. This is simply because they are identified on some level with something that seems to oppose it. What I'm suggesting here is not to throw out the rational mind but rather to begin exploring balance through unearthing some of that creative, right-brain energy that exists on the other side.
Thirdly, You are already creating and you may not even recognize it. Even if you are someone who has been primarily identified with seeing the world through only rational, logical eyes, and perhaps demeaning anything of a more artful, intuitive nature, you are still expressing yourself creatively in your life. With every choice you make, you are creating. We tend to think of creativity as an activity that results in certain physical outcomes like a song, a painting, a play, etc. While it of course can be this, creativity is also the act of creating that we are doing in every single moment through the choices we make and through what energetic qualities we embody beneath those choices.
So, everyone's creative. Let's talk about ways that we can heal, strengthen, and deepen our creative lives.
In The Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares five phases of creation:
As you look at these 5 phases, identify where you experience the most struggle.
Phase 1: Inspiration
For those of you who feel completely disconnected from your creativity, you may obviously feel like you never even get to the first phase which is inspiration. I would encourage you to start to pay attention because you probably do receive some level of inspiration. It may not be specifically related to something you would classify as creative – it could be a business idea, a way of improving something in your life, or a new way of doing something in your work.
Start paying attention to these, even if your mind wants to censor them. Make a point to write them down. The act of writing down an idea may seem like no big deal but it's actually an important step in bringing the intangible into the tangible, the formless into form.
The creative streams within us need to have pathways in order to flow. The choice to devote time and energy to your ideas will help to create pathways for your creative stream. So, every time you take that 30 seconds to jot down the seemingly random idea that just popped in your head, you are opening your stream.
Let's talk about some of the different places that we tend to feel blocked or stuck in our creative process as we explore the remaining four phases.
Phase 2: Concentration
Concentration is a struggle for a lot of us. Of course there is a major prevalence of ADD and ADHD in our society to consider. If we look at all of the stimulation we have been surrounded by since childhood, it's not hard to understand why concentration would be lacking. Something else important to note is the connection between a dysregulated nervous system and difficulty concentrating. Chronic dysregulation of the nervous system (which much of our society is currently experiencing) can have major impacts on our ability to concentrate and our levels of energy.
The patterning and baseline of our nervous system is the foundation for how we feel in our bodies and how we meet the world. It is the level to which we're able to feel safe, connected, and trusting with ourselves and others. As our society lives in states of chronic stress (chronic fight-flight-freeze), most people are living without the stability and coherence that are nervous systems are meant to be in. And this has all types of side-effects, including fatigue, poor memory, low energy levels, and difficulty concentrating among others.
The way to address this is to meet ourselves in the body, devote time to somatic work and bringing regulation to our nervous systems. So when it comes to improving concentration, explore the state of your nervous system as a pathway to create coherence and safety from the inside out. (This is one of the core pieces of my work as a coach + mentor – assisting others to restore and regulate their nervous systems. If you are seeking support in this area, you are welcome to reach out to discover ways that I can support you in a 1:1 setting.)
While prioritizing the care of our nervous system will support our ability to feel clear and concentrate, there is also a need to just show up anyway, even if you feel all over the place. Some of the barriers we face need to be broken through simply by us choosing to do the thing that we're resisting. This means that we have to make the choice to sit down and at least try.
Creativity requires concentration, period. It requires time and attention and focus being given on a regular basis, preferably everyday. That doesn't mean you go from 0 to 100. It doesn't mean you push yourself to an extreme straight off the bat, but it does mean you choose to start and make a small commitment to build upon. This could look like devoting 30 minutes per day to sit down with your ideas, remove distractions, and focus.
Even if you have to move through the land of foggy confusion, stay with it. Depending on where you're at, you may start even smaller, with 10 minutes or less. The point is to commit to a small goal that is achievable and then over time see how you can begin to build and extend from there.
Learning, trying, and experimenting are part of the process. Sometimes this looks like choosing to stay when you get that feeling of 'being stuck' and not knowing where to go next. Sometimes it looks like sitting with the uncomfortable feelings that live beneath that being stuck. Sometimes it looks like making something that objectively totally sucks but it allows something to get out of you to create space for something else.
A lot of us tend to wait until we are inspired to take action. However to truly resurrect our relationship with our creative selves, we have to be proactive in giving this part of us space. Chances are you have more than a few projects that you want to work on. Chances are that you've been coming up with reasons not to. If this is the case, concentration may be the missing key to your creative success.
When it comes to phases 3 through 5, these will be much easier once you master concentrating on your ideas and spending time writing them out, drawing them, or however else you bring them to life. To me, each phase feels like a different flavor, a different facet of creative energy.
Phase 3: Organization
The third phase of organization can sometimes feel as difficult, if not more, for people than concentration. The organization phase, at least in my experience, requires a lot of cognitive effort in combination with our creative energy. Depending on what the creation is, it requires that we see our work from multiple angles: the big picture and the overall message, as well as the little picture and the micro-perspective of each piece within the creation. This phase can feel the most tedious yet it can also be one of the most rewarding.
This process often will encourage experimentation to feel out different ways of bringing things together. If we are not present within this stage, it can feel totally and completely overwhelming. You may have moved through intense concentration in getting all of this creative energy out, and now it needs to be harmonized and brought together in a more structured way.
The organization phase calls on different cognitive capacities and invites us deeply into the true vision of what we're creating. If you are enjoying your creative process, as we should be, this phase can actually be quite fun. If you are willing to slow down, be patient, and really be with the creative process in it's entirety, you can see the organization phase as a kind of art form. It also feels VERY satisfying to the mind.
This phase allows you to fully receive your own work and view it as it's all come together which supports further refinement and detail to come through as the picture becomes clear. The organization phase may also take immense concentration yet this phase feels ultimately feels focused on structure, order, clarification and translation of vision. The organization phase feels like the bridge between the creator and those who are intended to witness, receive, or experience the creation. It gives the necessary bones to hold the body of the creation itself.
Phase 4: Implementation
The fourth phase of implementation feels like another place that many of us can get stuck. The implementation phase can feel so vulnerable and exposed because it is the outward birth of a creation that has previously been gestating within us. We have given so much time, energy, and concentration to arrive at this point in the creative process. There can be a sense of grief that arises here as there is a pivot from within to without. We could liken this to the baby in the womb that makes its entrance into the world. This is the ending of the gestation phase and the beginning of the life of the creation in the world.
For many of us, this stage of the process is where our fears really come up – when we really get serious about sharing what we've created. Here we may experience imposter syndrome, fear of failure, deep vulnerability, and also a fear of actually succeeding and being fully received in our work.
The parts of us that would rather stay hidden and small may become very loud at this point. This is purely because these aspects of the psyche have learned that smallness = safety. Pay attention to what arises for you as you get ready to implement, i.e. put out your creation because you will learn a lot about yourself and where you have felt held back in your creative expression.
These are excellent opportunities to meet ourselves with deep support and compassion, offering strength and support to the fearful parts of us, letting them know they're safe while we forge ahead into the unknown anyway. That's the thing to remember, too. It's not about waiting until you don't feel any fear. It's about working with the fear and choosing to go forward anyway.
A friend shared an acronym for fear with me that spoke to me so deeply:
I think some of us have this idea that there will come a day when we all of the sudden feel ready. There is an assumption that there will come a time when we are fearless. As such, many people wait and wait for their whole lives for the dissipation of this fear and it never comes. Fear is a natural part of the human experience. It is not about waiting until you are void of fear, but as the popular saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway.
In the words of Terence McKenna,
"Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a feather bed.”
Phase 5: Sustenance
The final phase of creation is sustenance. When I read this in The Women Who Run With Wolves, I was struck by it. I had never thought about sustenance being an essential part of the creative process. The way I've interpreted this final phase is two fold:
Sustenance is the process of continued watering and care of our creations. It is the continued nourishment of and relationship to what we've created. I think of this like a garden. The garden must be continually watered, pruned, and tended to in order to support the life of all that is growing within it.
Sustenance can also be the sustenance of ourselves after completing and releasing a creation out into the world. This may look like rest, self-care, solitude, play, or so many other things. The sustenance of ourselves is what will allow us to maintain a healthy creative stream that we can continue to create from.
Especially if the creation is an ongoing experience, such as an online course or a group immersion, sustenance feels like the attentiveness of checking in. Where is their water needed? Where is their renewal needed? Where is there pruning needed?
This concludes the five phases of creation as taught by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Wherever you find yourself in this process, whether you're struggling or soaring or somewhere in between, trust yourself.
You are where you are for a reason, even if that reason is just to witness yourself as you break a cycle, or make a choice you've never made before. I hope deeply that this article has helped to offer you at least the reminder and the assurance that you are creative.
Our creative essence is our birthright to experience.
If you do anything in this life, devote to unearthing this.
Devote to watering this.
Devote to nurturing this.
This is why we are here.
Thank you for reading and be blessed you wild, creative soul.