Six Saboteurs of Creativity and How to Thwart Them

This is a guest post from Marcia Richards, blogger and historical fiction writer. I am still transitioning into life in England, getting over jet-lag and finding a place to live + starting work. A huge thanks to Marcia and other guest bloggers while I find my feet again. Update to come soon…

Believe it or not, creativity is in all of us. We express creativity daily in the way we do our jobs, care for our children and our homes, and creativity finds its foothold in our dreams.

But, now and then, we sit at our computer faced with a blank page and the words will not flow. We remove distractions, try to daydream, pace the room, pray for a spark of an idea and, still, nothing comes to mind. Our imagination, originality and inspiration must be in the clutches of evil saboteurs. What other answer could there be? We must find the secret to defeat them, but first we must know them.

Fear of failure or success – Failure in the way of losing interest in or not selling your work can bring embarrassment, self-incrimination, and regret. Success can also have its downside. Now, second time around, you must be even better or at least as good as the first time. What if you haven’t got another great work in you?

Criticism – It can halt your creative flow faster than a slamming door. Well-meaning friends and family, critique groups, and editors are the majority of the culprits, but your inner critic can be far more damaging.

Writer’s Block – The inability to compose has plagued writers since the first words were put to papyrus.

Stale Ideas (or none at all) – Not one thought that comes to mind crisps with originality or with any merit at all. Are there any truly original ideas left in the world?

Over-Thinking – This practice puts the logical left side of your brain into overdrive and can result in creative paralysis.

Solitude – Time alone is beneficial to the creative process. Perpetual loneness can crimp the flow.

You recognize these thieves of creativity, don’t you? Knowledge is the key which incites triumph.

Fear of Failure or Success – Gain more knowledge. There may be more you need to learn to finish your WIP. Read Larry Brook’s Story Engineering or another instructional book to brush up on your technique. Get help. Go to a writer’s workshop, consult a trusted professional for advice, or talk with other writers for affirmation that others experience this fear as well. Your inner critic is working overtime and you may believe your inspiration is lost forever. Once you have identified the problem and worked to correct it, give yourself a break. You’ve worked hard to get this far. Take some time to reconnect with loved ones, develop a new pastime, live your life…but don’t think about your writing project. A mental break can be refreshing. Still afraid to move forward? Face the fear. Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ You’ll be hard-pressed to create a scenario that would cause you to shrivel and never work again. Push through the fear to finish your work or begin your next project. We are far stronger and more capable than we may realize. Just ask any personal fitness trainer.

Criticism – It can cause personal and professional growth, if allowed. Look beyond hurtful words and find the weaknesses you can correct in yourself and your work. Develop a tougher shell. The critique may offer new ideas from which your creativity can blossom again When challenged, you expand your thought process. Resist planning your rebuttal when you should be actively listening and considering the validity of the critique.

Writer’s Block – Look for an inspiring place to sit for a bit. For ten minutes, write about what is going on around you. What do you see, hear, feel, and smell? Use descriptive prose, then read it aloud. Images will come to mind, which may inspire new ideas. Change your venue for daily writing, be it a café, a peaceful park, a room at home with your new favorite music or a comfy place to sit. Discipline yourself to write daily…a blog, a letter, an article, a paragraph…write, write, write.

Stale Ideas – Take an old, well-used idea and analyze it. Use the opposite of this idea to create a new one; combine it with another old idea to create a new scene or motive; exaggerate the idea, make it bigger or more intense; or adapt the idea to a different setting. Watch movies, read books and newspapers for ways to modify the stale idea for your story.

Over-Thinking – Striving for perfection is acceptable. Expecting to achieve it is flawed thinking. Over-thinking freezes up creativity. Free-writing, writing whatever comes to mind without thought of self-editing, can melt that barrier. Just begin, let the words stream onto the page. The time for revision is when you’ve finished your story.

Solitude – Endless confinement in your writing space will eventually dry up your inspiration and imagination. Get out into the world, talk to people, go to a ballgame, join a writer’s circle, play with your kids. Interaction with others enriches your life and potentially creates inspiration. Exercise, sleep, and healthy eating creates the blood flow to the brain necessary to think clearly and create new ideas.

Fight off those would-be saboteurs and keep your creative juices flowing freely. The victory is sweet and the rewards are great.


Marcia Richards

Marcia Richards, a veteran blogger, is author of the blog, Marcia Richards…Savvy Ink-Slinger, which offers tips on the writing process, links to fun and informative sites for writers and everyone else and weekly historical articles.

She is creating her debut historical trilogy covering the years between 1917 and 1975. An immigrant Irish family struggles with economic troubles and personal tragedy, while striving to maintain their dreams despite the obstacles. The trilogy highlights three generations of young women each fighting her way to happiness and fulfillment, as fleeting or difficult to grasp, as it may be.

Follow Marcia on Facebook at  and Twitter @Marcia_writer

Image: Flickr CC Pilottage

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  1. says

    Hi Joanna and Marcia, I’ve never had a problem with being creative; my mind overflows with the lava of ideas all the time; I think I’ve always been this way. It may be related to the fact that I enjoy drawing and painting as much as writing.

    When I want a bit of formal creativity I always use mind maps. I try to draw proper mind maps using images and colour although I don’t always use the colour. I think if you only use words you are missing out on one of the most powerful points of a mind map and that is the ability of an image to invoke many more ideas than a word.

    I am just starting a series of posts on scene design and I am drawing a mind map with every post.

    Welcome back to England Joanna and I hope you settle in soon.

  2. says

    I fully agree that fear can be a big problem. I try to remind myself that fear is a useless emotion that can paralyze you if you don’t keep it in check. Thank you so much for the great post!

  3. says

    Thank you for such a great post! I’m really lucky in the sense that I have never suffered from writer’s block, but I do struggle with the balance of what is “enough” solitude for my writing, that will help me to reach my goal page counts yet not completely disconnect myself from society. I guess it’s a balancing act that is constantly needing to be redefined based on circumstances.

    • says

      I agree, Krissy, it definitely is all a balancing act…learning, reading, marketing, writing, family & friends, outside jobs, and everything else that makes up a person’s life. We can only do our best at splitting up our time, all the while treating our writing as work that deserves its own slot large enough to make progress. Thanks so much for your input!

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