The condition of being blocked

I would love to read an account of creative blocks, of “being blocked” when you want to do something original, or engage in some sort of unstructured free inquiry. How have cultures and individuals understood that, what did they did do about it, why did it matter to them? “Writer’s block” is the most recognizable term in this area, although I wonder if it may be on the way to obscurity. I’ve never heard of anyone speak of writer’s block with respect to the ephemeral text-based communication that makes up the bulk of writing today.

Then again, writer’s block (or any other condition of being blocked) never pointed to a stoppage of ordinary communication. No one, for example, gets blocked when talking to a friend, or ordering dinner at a restaurant. This is because an essential part of being blocked is failing to make the leap from spontaneous and unremarkable speaking to an original expression. When a person is un-blocked, he or she still communicates when the cues from the environment and social world fall to a minimum.

But if someone simply can’t, for whatever reason, continue to speak from the other side of that transition, if he comes back with nothing to show for it, or if the attempt is so painful, interrupted, and shaming that it creates a negative feedback loop–producing ever-more dirt, gravel and sand when only the hint of something precious would make the effort continue–then I would call that person blocked.

I think a wider, cross-cultural account of this phenomenon would be worth studying, because I have the sense that it describes something much broader than a condition of artists and self-described “creative” types. The “many people are too distracted” argument gets a lot of attention; the condition of being blocked is really just a description of distraction from the other side.

See also Working while blocked

Tags thinking writing creativity art distraction