Beware the blocked creator

Let’s agree that creativity is a universal human potential. Maybe there are some poor souls who are born without that potential (I’m yet to meet a single one) but they aren’t our concern here. Let’s speculate that creativity is the highest human potential (I believe this absolutely) and that expressing our creativity – whether as an artist, a scientist, an athlete, or any other field of human excellence, is what we are all basically on planet Earth to do. Let’s say it together – creation is what humans were created for.

Let’s just take this all as a given.

Now, how pissed off are people who don’t get to create?

I’ve been a factory worker. If you haven’t worked on a factory line, I’m happy to assure you, it really does suck. If you have, you’ll know that it sucks not for the obvious reasons of monotony and physical labour. Those things are doable in better circumstances. Factory work sucks because you’re trapped as a tiny little cog in a machine made of humans (and machines) and you have absolutely no space to breathe the air of your own creative potential.


Being caught in factory labour is one kind of creative block. A very literal, visceral and harsh one. Others aren’t quite so clear. Counter intuitively, having too much money is a pretty substantial creative block as well. Some of the most dejected, miserable souls I know are trust fund kids, whose wealth places them outside all the pressures of life and leaves them kicking in a void, forever reaching for self-actualisation without the basic fuel that takes us to that goal – life itself.

Too much knowledge is another common creative block. There’s a vast gulf between knowing how something is done and actually doing it. Teachers can become terribly blocked, weighed down with knowledge but without the hours of practice to balance it. But if you really want to get to the route of all creative blocks I can give it to you in one word.


Creativity of any kind is killed dead by fear. That doesn’t mean creators are fearless. Quite the opposite.  Every successful creator, from a stage actor battling to stage fright, to a business entrepreneur facing the terrifying possibilities of bankruptcy and failure, all creators are in a relationship with fear. Creative success means a constant negotiation or outright battle with all the ways fear manifests. When fear wins that battle, creativity ends, and the creator becomes blocked.

“Not everyone is going to applaud when your book is published, because many people wish it was their book being published.”

In our world as it is, fear kills most people’s creativity dead before they even start. Just the thought of picking up a brush or a pen, of singing a song or dancing a dance, raises so much fear in many folks that they never even get going. Do you remember the exhilaration the first few times you did create? That’s in part just plain relief from fear. It rarely lasts. Fear comes back in new ways. “You’re not as good as so and so” or “you’ll never make a living at this” whispers a voice. And there it is again, fear.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, for many varied and complex reasons, the world is absolutely stuffed full of blocked creatives. And the answer to the above question is, they are very pissed off. Whether they know it or admit it or not. And when I say They, I mean You and I as well. We all struggle to fulfil our creative potential, and we all get frustrated, angry, jealous, and sometimes plain destructive as part of those struggles.

So beware the blocked creative in all of us. Not everyone is going to applaud when your book is published, because many people wish it was their book being published. Don’t expect the whole world to hail your business success, because many people will ask, what about all the folks who work for you, are they millionaires as well? In fact the more you succeed creatively the more you’ll encounter barefaced hatred and hostility from other people. Try not to hate your haters back. Remember, they’re all humans with the same creative potential as you and facing (or ignoring) their own challenges.

But most of all, beware the blocked creative in yourself. When your friend has had a great day writing, try not to say any of the snide undermining things that writers say to each other. That epic rant you were going to make on Twitter about how much you hate that guy whose doing that creative thing that is basically exactly what you would be doing if you weren’t making epic rants on Twitter? Maaaaybe keep that inside. It’s just the blocked creator in you, trying to have its say.

Three tips for keeping the blocked creator at bay.

1) Treat everyone like a fellow creator. Because they are.

2) Dedicate time and effort to helping other creators. Not so people will like you, but so you will like you.

3) We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. Help people climb up, don’t knock them down.

PS – buy my book.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

4 thoughts on “Beware the blocked creator

  1. Nicely put, Damien. I’d only add that many people trick themselves into believing that they’re being creative because there are so many opportunities to be an audience for creativity. Watching Breaking Bad and writing Breaking Bad are completely different enterprises. Ultimately, it’s better for your soul to write a bad poem than to read all of Yeats. One of the reasons I can teach creative writing knowing that most of my students will never become writers is that I believe creativity is holy (however you want to define that), that their efforts should be applauded, and that they will eventually find their creative niche.

    Liked by 1 person


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