Art of the Song

The Gifts of Writer's Block and Creative Blocks

Pauses in the creative process bring forth opportunity.

By Vivian Nesbitt | Posted 9/15/07 | Updated 9/23/20

The Muse in the form of John just came into my office to tell me that we need a creativity corner for this week's show. Which leaves the office tomorrow for broadcast on your favorite radio station.

There is nothing like an immediate need and a deadline to detonate a creative block. So here goes. A Creativity Corner for you about just that: my take on creative blocks.

It's a big question: how do you deal with blocks to the creative process. It always comes up. It seems to capture our imagination the most about creativity. The image of Mozart ripping his hair out for lack of ideas, or the starving painter in a cold garret turned to a pillar of salt by the glare of a blank canvas, or the writer in a perfect environment carefully chosen for its quietude and inspiration pinned to the floor having lost another round to a blank piece of paper.

I confuse creative block sometimes as a measure of my talent. If I say that I am blocked it implies that I have had a period in which I wasn't blocked and produced a lot of meaningful work. I honestly shouldn't claim that, based on the fact that I don't have evidence of a previously unstoppable stream of creative output.

What I can claim is that many times I don't know where to start. Or how. Or why. I am preoccupied with important things that need my attention, like a grant application or production schedules or a family matter.

Some folks see a block as a form of procrastination yet I recently read that procrastination can be a sign that I am not really ready to tackle a certain matter. Or it can mean that I am afraid that I might get into the middle of it and lose my way. I might fall suddenly from grace with the muse and be punished by a block.

Or perhaps I lose my sense of why creativity is important. The audition I just had was great but I didn't get the part. The song I wrote is good but the audience talked through the whole thing, just a couple examples of things that cripple me on any given day.

I have learned from so many of our conversations with folks about the creative process that I can transform a perceived creative block into a useful tool by asking a lot of questions. Questions that lead me places I have never visited before. It may lead me to listen to Thelonius Monk because my block tells me I only play with the same three chords in my music and I am bored to tears.

Or recently it lead me to explore what its like to play a truly evil character, when I have only played the good ones. Or it may lead me to learn a new dance step. A Son from the Dominican Republic can really shake up my sense of place and rhythm.

When faced with a sense of creative slow down now I view it as the muse in a different form a different guise, and ask respectfully what is it that I need to learn from you today — and the answer today? Write it and write it right now.

©2007 Vivian Nesbitt. All rights reserved.