Creative Development for Artists, Writers and all Artistic Creativity

Understanding Your Creative Block Through Metaphor

I saw an interesting post about writers’ block over at Whimblog, where artist William H Miller struck a blow against his creative block by making artistic image of it. He used the play on words to make an actual creative ‘block’.

I wondered whether you could take this one step further and visualize your artist’s or writer’s block more metaphorically. It turned out to be something of a personal revelation.

Artists’ Block  Metaphorical Visualization

The key here is not to get hung up on that word ‘block’. So you are aiming not to take it literally, but instead to transform your feelings and experience of the artist’s block as an imaginative, metaphorical visualization.

There are two important gains from creatively imagining your block:

  • It gets you being creative again (I use the term visualization, but you can render your metaphor in your own artistic form)
  • It gives you profound insight into the nature of your block

For instance, when I get writers’ block it typically comes in two distinct forms.

The Build-up of Pressure

My own experience of this one feels like there is a genuine blockage in my creative system right at the moment of production. I’ve had the ideas and I’ve worked on them, developed them, made notes, done research – but simply cannot get started on the actual writing.

There are lots of ways you might visualise this – for me it’s like a volcano (I’ve mentioned this in my very first posting); I’m smoking, growling and popping with ever more intensity – you know how volcanoes can get a tad grouchy before they let loose – well, yes- that’s me. Of course, when the creative eruption finally comes it tends not to be fire and brimstone but a more benign outflow. I’m not sure how to visualize it – sort of flowery and beautiful yet urgent and edged.

Another way I visualise this is like a flawed superhero – Nuclear Reactor Man.

I know this particular writers’ block quite well and these days have learned to accept it as part of my own creative process.

The Living Maze

I haven’t felt this kind of block for a while. A bit nightmarish really, because the maze is shifting and blocking and I’m lost inside it. Although my maze has traditional hedging it’s also made up of faces and noises, buildings and cars and crossroads. The faces are large and oddly, friendly – genuinely friendly – welcoming and warm.

I’ve never visualized this block before – in fact I’m building the visualization as I write and it’s becoming very revealing to me. And that’s the real biggie in doing this kind of artists’ block visualization – you get surprising insights and can make some very useful interpretations of your metaphor. I’ll leave you to make your own interpretations of my maze as I feel it’s getting a little to personal to share – sorry.

Develop Your Metaphor and Visualize Your Resolution

Having visualized your block and taken whatever insights are available, the next thing is to visualize a resolution to it. For me as Volcano Man (yes I have two writers’ block super hero identities) it’s down to giving him time and space to let off the steam of frustration and allow things to bubble and form till he’s ready to blow. These days I can almost enjoy this process – not sure if my other half does though.

As for the maze, I can see it opening up – organizing itself into a more orderly – no – scratch that… the maze isn’t organizing itself, I’m organizing it. I’m picking up the blocks and shifting them around. They’re still there for me, and in my mind’s eye they’re not what you’d ever describe as regimented, but they give me space and a passage through. And those faces are still smiling – even the buildings are smiling.

Everything’s smiling – it’s a happy, messy maze that I see. Yes, it is still a maze, but a maze with open ground and places to rest and be alone to do my creative thing. I actually feel happy with this kind of maze; it’s a maze that suits me very well.


You know what? I said earlier that I haven’t felt this block for a while and now I realize that’s simply not true. With all the events surrounding Lynda’s ongoing illness and trying to earn a living at the same time I recognize that this block is with me now.

Wow. When I began writing this post I had no idea it would be quite so personally instructive.

So What is Your Artists’ Block Metaphor?

So what is it for you? A swamp or quicksand? A river that’s been dammed to form a massive lake of creative turbulence? A pulsating steam engine with a blocked valve? A lung searing, impenetrable smog?

Work your own visualization up and express it in your own creative form – paint, sing, play or dance your own artists’ block. Digitalize it, photograph it, write it.

Do any of those and you get to be creative again! And you get valuable self awareness to recognize the causes and if you want to, deal with them.

Share Your Visualizations

Id love for you to share your own creative block visualizations in the comments below. So please add your version – and if that’s now, in a year’s time or whenever, that’s fine. If you have an image or other representation of your block that you want to share, then put a link or url with your comment.

Let’s find out just how inspiring our artists’ and writers’ blocks can be.

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Here are some of the many posts about creative blocks – please search the site to find more:

Creative Blockages – 7 Killers of our Artistic and Creative Potential
Perfectionism – a Creative and Artistic Straight-Jacket – and How to Escape it
How Life Changes and Breaks can cause Creative Paralysis
Falling off the Horse
7 Tips to Shock You Out of Your Creative Rut

6 Responses to “How to visually dissolve Your Artistic Block or Writers’ Block”

  1. 1 Lynda

    Andy, I really enjoyed reading this post.
    I’m not quite sure how to describe my personal creative block. It’s like being closed in a tight solid box without any way of getting out. I sit in a dark corner trying desperately to figure a way out. Then comes a glimpse of light showing itself through a tear in one side of the box. Very slowly at first the light starts to push through, then like a flood gate opening a torrent of light comes crashing through. Out of my box comes a passionate surge of creativity. It’s a shame I spend too much time in my box, but once out, what a breath of fresh air.
    After reading your post, I think when I get stuck in my box next time I will make it a better place. A place my creative self can explore every inch of the box in a positive way, recognising it as just a part of the creative process. I think the box should be made of chocolate for a start, that way I can make the break through more enjoyable.

  2. 2 Katerina

    Thank you for this. My block is the Hoover Dam and I am standing right at the bottom. If I start writing, the dam will explode and all the water will will pour out and I’ll get drowned – that’s my fear, obviously. I’m safe in the dry at the bottom if I don’t write.

    When I asked myself how could resolve this immediately I saw that ‘I’ was actually a heron who flew up to the top of the dam and above the sparkling water at the top. The heron could land on the water, and play on the surface, even dive for fish, but always had the ability to fly up and away at will. All the water was there for me in that part of my psyche, and also serving a great purpose in providing hydro-electric power. All I had to do was visit on a regular basis, the plant was working well without any intervention from me and all this amazing resource was already there ready and waiting for me to ’see’ it.

    Just got to see if this insight will help me start writing!!! Wish me luck.

  3. 3 Andrew Leigh

    Katerina – Yes, of course I’ll wish you good luck. I hope all goes well for you and your writing. Keep your image in mind whenever you begin to feel the pressure.

  4. 4 leah

    Really helpful thankyou so much, I used this technique while being ill and it worked, I never thought of applying it to writers block.

  5. 5 leah

    Hi update, on how it went.
    I realised my block was in the form of being wrapped in chains or a mummy bandage, so unwrapped me very carefully. next I was surrounded by brick, so chipped away and stepped free. Out side the rubble I was back at school the walls, railings, school rooms and pupils all being barriers, I did not want to destroy the school its where you learn, except that it was at school where my limitations were founded. I have to knock it down I dont need those limitations, from here on in I find my own way. I say goodbye and a big demolition team seal it off to be demolished while I along with expupils watch it become rubble. while tearful I am relieved.

  6. 6 Andrew Leigh

    Hi Leah

    Thanks for the update and enjoy your unleashed creativity.

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Painting, writing, music, photography, digital art, conceptual art, sculpture, performance, poetry, script writing, student art, film making, dance