7 Tried-and-True Ways to Stifle Your Creativity

Written by Christine Kane

“I’m totally blocked.”

“I’m not creative.”

“I can’t even begin to work on all these ideas I get.”

These statements have one thing in common.

They’re all totally false.

Like it or not. You ARE creative.  You have no choice but to be creative. It’s your nature!

Yea yea yea. I know. It’s WAY uncool of me to point that out.

After all, if you’re really truly creative, then [gasp!] you might actually have to face the unknown and do something about it! Who wants that?

Some people spend years – decades even! – perfecting the art of stuffing down any and all creative impulses, convincing themselves of their lack of talent and ideas.

How do they do it?

Well, let me show you the way!  I’ve been there a time or two.  And here are seven of my Tried-and-True Ways to Stifle Your Creativity

——

1 – Check your email first thing in the morning.

Every morning when you wake up, you have a choice. Do you want to set your day up so that you are a Creator? Or do you want to set it up so that you hit the ground running as a Reactor?

If you chose the latter, then Bravo! Perfect for stifling your creative impulses!

Here’s why!

When you wake up and run to the computer first thing, you shut off your deep creative voices as they come to the surface. You tell them, “No no no! We’ll have none of that! This is more important.”

And by THIS, you mean “Everyone Else’s Agenda.”

When you do that, you tell the Universe, “I’d rather just spend the day reacting, thank you.”

And the Universe says, “You got it.”

Letting the agendas of other people rule your day = great way to kill your creativity.

2 – Worry about results before you begin.

Oo. Now, THIS is a good one.

Spend lots of time obsessing about whether your final product – be it your speech, or your book, or your song, or your business idea – is any good. In fact, if you’re careful, you can burn up as much as 8 hours each day with this thought – all the while getting NOTHING done! Woo-hoo!

When I got the idea for my song, No Such Thing as Girls Like That, I lost a good two days listening to thoughts that said, “This is a lame idea. This topic has been beaten to death. Besides, you’ll never write a funny song well.”

I called my friend Kathy hoping that she would join me as I suffocated my creativity. I told her about my idea. Then I asked her if she agreed it was a bad idea.

Alas, she did not join in. She just sighed.

Then she said, “I’ll tell you what Christine. Why don’t you write it, and then we’ll decide if it’s good.”

Stymied!

An added warning on this one. Friends like Kathy will only try to trick you into actually doing the work! Make sure you don’t call them!

3 – Try to be perfect right from the start.

“Books are not written, they are re-written,” said Michael Crichton.

Don’t listen to him! What did he know anyway?

If you want to keep that creativity at a stand still, then believe this:

Books, songs, paintings, entrepreneurial ventures…

Their creators all get it right on the first try.

In fact, if you ask the creatives who read this blog, they’ll all tell you: Their art always comes out perfectly and fully formed the first time!

And if you can’t figure out how to get it perfect on the first try…

Then…well…there’s no hope.

Go eat some Cheetos and watch Sponge Bob.

4 – Worry about what people will think.

I’ve gotten loads of mileage out of this one.

In fact, allow me to tell you about a review I got a long time ago.

I got ripped apart. We’re talking BAD.

The critic was out for blood, telling her alternative rag readers that I had become the “Critic’s Darling” – but she was here to set the story straight. It was like my own private showing of Mean Girls.

That was years ago.

But even now, if I ever want to stop myself in my tracks and stay paralyzed for hours, I invite that reviewer into my songwriting session with me. “C’mon!” I say. “Tell me what you think of this verse! In fact, tell me what you think of me while you’re at it!”

Let ANYONE have a say about your wild creative side — I’m taking critics, friends, parents, siblings, mentors, bosses, co-workers –- and you’ve got yourself a life-long, sorority-sister, BFF relationship with Paralysis. I guarantee it!

5 – Require a Guarantee.

Do this:

Sit down at your desk. (Or at your piano. Or in your studio.)

Roll up your sleeves.

Rub your hands together and say the following out loud:

“This had better be really good. In fact, this had better win a big huge award of some sort and make me really famous.”

Then begin.

6 – Struggle.

Like you need me to explain this one.

7 – Wait til you’re inspired.

Everyone knows how it works if you’re really truly for real creative:

You wait.

And you wait some more.

You stare at clouds.

Maybe you even eat some bon-bons.

Out of nowhere, the “muse” comes to you.  She takes your hand and leads you seductively to your desk. (She looks a lot like Liv Tyler in Lord of the Rings.)

Dreamily, you ask the muse what, oh what, should you write.

And she tells you.  It is like taking dictation. And you know for sure that you are, indeed, one of the chosen few. The ones who are Creative.

That will surely happen if you wait…

and wait…

and wait…

and wait…

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{40 comments ... read them below or add one}

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{40 comments ... read them below or add one}

Mary Ann February 24, 2009 at 12:25 am

Brilliant. Thank you for everything you do!

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Suzanne February 24, 2009 at 12:41 am

Hilarious and very true. I always love the way you put things, Christine. Keep on being ‘naturally, effortlessly’ creative (with all the hard work that entails). You’re very inspiring.

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Estella February 24, 2009 at 12:49 am

Oh my Goodness!!! You have hit the nail so squarely on the head… ouch, ouch ouch, someone is stepping on my toes! Thank you for an insightful and thought-provoking post. Have some changes I need to make to rekindle my “blocked mojo!” :-)

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Emily February 24, 2009 at 1:02 am

Oh, this made me laugh! I have so done all of these at times!

And I really need to watch #2 – that one trips me up the most often. I can be very future/results focused and that really does get in the way.

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Mary Miller February 24, 2009 at 1:53 am

Ahhhhhhhhhh yes!!! I feel like complete years have been lost in the stifled creative foggy abyss. I hate to admit it, but all of the above mentioned “artists behaving badly” suggestions, describe my daily routine vividly to a tee.
Thank you for this wonderful post & HOPE.
PS~I am so excited about tonight’s class!!!

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deb February 24, 2009 at 1:59 am

Wow. Okay. I just said (and did) like….ALL of these….ON SUNDAY! (ha)
Thanks for the reminder.
;-)

All the best!
deb

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nicolien February 24, 2009 at 3:48 am

Brilliant… #5 is the one that kills me every time :)

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Kit February 24, 2009 at 4:02 am

Thank you – that’s what I needed this morning as I was wondering where my creative muse had disappeared to recently – she’s slunk away down the e-mail checking plug hole. Need to re-arrange my day slightly!!!

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Mindful Mimi February 24, 2009 at 5:07 am

Brilliant and very much to the point.
I am fighting these daily :-) And it’s a good fight :-)

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Tracy February 24, 2009 at 8:28 am

Hi Christine,
I am laughing as I just checked my email, first thing after breakfast! I am totally busted. At least I am going to some inspiring sites, rather than CNN or something. I’m off to work on my commission now……Tracy

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Mary February 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

i hate it when you take all my good excuses away ;-)

seriously, this should be on a billboard or something. nice reminders. the one i’m guiltiest of is the email in the morning and i was just writing in my morning pages that i thought it was an energy stealer ;-)

[Reply]

Christine Kane February 24, 2009 at 9:44 am

hi all! I think we are ALL very familiar with all of these! So no feeling guilty! The important thing is to live creative anyway! Thanks for the notes!

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Mary Miller February 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Aha! I read this post last night(this morning-actually) before I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning I went DIRECTLY to my writing ideas (by way of the coffee pot). It felt so good to stretch my creative humor muscles first thing, and actually make writing a priority. I just had to share it with someone :-)

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Christine Kane February 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm

go mary!

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Faith February 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Love it!!! Just bookmarked this one… :) I’m not guilty of all of these — but I am guilty of some…

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Sunrise Sister February 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Great incentive – starting a new project today on Shrove Tuesday – BTW your song re “Mary Katherine and LENT” is one of my ALL-TIME favorites!!!!!!!

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Heather February 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Love this and laughing at myself! Thank you, I really needed it!

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Wendi Kelly- Life's Little Inspirations February 24, 2009 at 5:21 pm

This was great.
I never do any of these.

I am going to write a really inspired comment about this right after I check my e-mail and as soon as my muse helps me with something really good to write, cause…really, it has to be perfect the first time.

oops! :)

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chris zydel February 24, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Thanks again Christine for your fabulous insight into how we trip ourselves up around the creative process!

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chris zydel February 24, 2009 at 6:44 pm

And I swear, i am getting off the computer… RIGHT NOW!

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Wendy February 24, 2009 at 9:37 pm

This, like so many of your blogs entries, cuts right through to the heart of the matter. That’s such a gift – to have and to give.

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Catherine Cantieri, Sorted February 24, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Christine, you always have the best insights into creativity. Another excellent article!

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J February 25, 2009 at 9:52 am

Christine, PLEASE post your call!! I had to miss it. I really, really, really want hear more of your brilliance!

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Missy February 25, 2009 at 12:46 pm

“After all, if you’re really truly creative, then [gasp!] you might actually have to face the unknown and do something about it!”

you nailed me with this statement… facing the unknown, being expected to do something big/perfect/impactful—it’s all paralyzing!

and #1 creates enough busy work for most days to prevent any possibility whatsoever, thanks for the reminder!

[Reply]

Will Sparks February 25, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Rub your hands together and say the following out loud:

“This had better be really good. In fact, this had better win a big huge award of some sort and make me really famous.”

I tried doing this. I couldn’t get any work done. I was laughing too hard!

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Melanie February 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Thanks, Christine. My problem is #1. That’s how I wake up in the morning. I check my e-mail…and Facebook, news, and anything else I feel compelled to read…THEN start writing. Inevitably, this leads to fretting about how little time I have to spend on what I truly love doing.

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creativevoyage February 26, 2009 at 7:04 am

Fantastic ! Now to follow them myself… but switching to nearly news free radio station has helped me enormously.

Christine thanks for posting the link to the talk as it started at 1am UK time and I coudn’t keep myself awake !

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Kristen February 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm

“Why don’t you write it, and then we’ll decide if it’s good.”

That is so perfect! I think I’m going to print out that statement in a big bold font and tape it to the wall over my desk.

Thanks for the great post, Christine! You hit the nail on the head seven times in a row with this one. :-)

[Reply]

Michelle February 26, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Wow! I’ve been falling prey to number one for a while. But, I am happy to announce I have changed my morning routine. I start with my morning pages (four days and counting…) Thanks for the great tips!!

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Elina Trevisan February 27, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I find it incredibly ironic that I found this after getting straight on the computer after waking up. These are all really good, and #1 was especially helpful. Thanks!

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Gayle March 1, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Very well-written and insightful. The humor adds the final touch. Thank you for sharing.

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Lexi Sundell March 7, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Truth be told, I have actually been too busy painting to get around on the internet much lately. But I came here today and found this post.

What a riot! I love it!

Keep up the good work…

[Reply]

Jose Semidei March 10, 2009 at 12:35 pm

My wife just sent your blog to me, and after reading it, I was a bit confused as to what your message was. So, I had to re-read it and now I get what you are saying. I am not a man of a highly extensive english vocabulary and I had to look up the definitions of some words to make sure I understood what you are saying.

Ok, so basically you are talking about 7 ways to screw up my creativity. ‘Screw Up’ is a term I understand better than ‘stifle’. As a graphic designer, my creativity comes from anywhere and I do not allow anyone to sway my impulses, regardless of what they say. Some of your pointers here are valid, I agree with you. I believe that no one has the right to censor, or conspire against the rights of an artist and their freedom of expression. But sometimes, when things are put this way, the way that you wrote it… it seems to be a bit more difficult to grasp only because, the more seriously you take things… the harder the rules become (to quote A Toute Le Monde by Megadeth).

The more you read ‘insightful ways’ to better yourself, you will always find yourself asking… ok, umm… am I doing this the right way? Did I read the motivational message correctly? Am I really not supposed to ask for opinions? Should I focus on what is right for me at the moment and not worry about the outcome?

Creativity is a two edged sword… those that are done for sheer pleasure and those that are done for monetary compensation. What I do for the fun of the art is done without the worry of what others say and I never ask for opinions during their development… BUT when it comes to what I create for money, well… I HAVE to ask for opinions because it is what is paying my bills and it is how I get the job done right.

Yes indeed, no one is born an expert, but the outside opinions, regardless of how critical they may be… will eventually make you a better professional. Just take the darned comments with a grain of salt and move forward.

Bravo on your post, though I do not ‘entirely agree’. :-)

Have a great day.

[Reply]

SG May 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Nothing else to say. Just thanks! You’re such an inspiration and I wish I could attend your seminar! But I’m not from the States and I don’t have the money :(

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Roxanne October 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

Just what I needed to hear today!… seriously, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, getting up, checking my emails, calling friends or thinking about it… I have a big “thing” comming up & a painting on the easel, or rather a sketch for a painting on the easel. I’m negotiating my time & always running out of it…. and I know how to work arount that, but I’m stalling….. well I like to paint in blocks of time, 6 – 10 hour blocks & that’s very limiting. That’s not likely to happen anymore & it’s probably a good thing because I’m trying to develop a more disciplined but flexible approach to painting that’s more productive…. but it’s taking a little getting used to.
Thanks Christine

[Reply]

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