Dealing with creative blocks; when things aren't working

SCHOPENHAUER defined BOREDOM as the “sensation of the worthlessness of existence.”

But THOREAU claims: “This reality is always exhilarating and sublime.”

KIERKEGAARD warns of BOREDOM as a “demonic pantheism.”

“Those who bore themselves are the chosen ones,” he writes.

But NIETZSCHE counters: “Is not life a hundred times too short for us – to bore ourselves?”

Later, RUSSELL claims BOREDOM is “essentially a thwarted desire for events.”

Although BOREDOM figures prominently in HEIDEGGER’S philosophy, I refrain from quoting him here as he was a Nazi.

Maybe this should go in process. I find boredom a necessary precursor to creative activity. If I’m excited by something, I’m not going to run to the studio, I’m going to milk the something until it’s no longer exciting. Then, later, when I am no longer excited, when I get bored, I will go to the studio and make something up to destroy boredom. So boredom is required and loathed at once.

Anyone else have thoughts on boredom?

(source of quotes:


Just like pain, boredom is an aversive and unpleasant experience that we need to have in order to truly live well


and as always analysis is equal to paralysis…:slight_smile:


If I’m at home and bored, there’s usually a cure – do something, or stop doing the boring thing. But if it’s not that simple, there’s something else behind the “boredom” – depression, fatigue, etc.

If I’m at work and bored… that’s how I spend so much time on music forums and listening to new music and researching gear :slight_smile:

Otherwise boredom usually feels like the result of being stuck waiting for something beyond my control, and I just have to suck it up or find some way to entertain myself.


Well… I was posting this over in Boredom but that disappeared on me as I was writing it… forgive the irrelevance to where it’s been moved but it was relevant to the thread as it sat then…

Boredom, to me, is the feeling of helplessness when achieving a given outcome seems, at the moment, either impossible or beyond my control, and I am unable to focus constructively on anything else that interests me (often due to a fixation on said unachievable outcome). I’m rarely truly bored, although there are many times when I wish to avoid the incessant microthinking internally-focused chatter via distraction.

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I’m bored when I have no good ideas AND when I can’t read because I can’t focus.

So nothing in and nothing out.

I find that if I make something when I’m like this, I think it’s absolute dogshit terrible. Then I’ll look at it later (like a week later) and find that it isn’t so bad.

I think I’ve noticed this enough times as a pattern that I’m just going to lean into it. I’d rather make crappy things than nothing at all, and that this ‘hard on myself’ energy will still be the source of things…rather than the stopping of things.

Check it out. This is what I made when I felt this way last (recently)…
-no identity
-the only thing was the sun on my face (no ideas)
-identity (the sun transferred it’s stupid face onto me)
-but so tired


I must admit my ‘down’ phases are short and rare - but I did want to share a couple of things that help me:

“Feeding my head” - I definitely need to take time out to consume other peoples work - reading , art etc

Being busy - sounds stupid but the more I have on (that isn’t having to make music) the more music I seem to make. My theory is that it all distracts me from actually thinking about making stuff - I just do it as an instinct (& I did spent a couple of years were I made myself make at least one track a week - a habit that stays with me and has stood me in good stead)

Working though it - it doesn’t matter if it’s shit keep making things and throwing them away - something good will come out the other side sooner or later

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I can so deeply relate to every panel in this comic. Thank you for drawing it, even though it must have been very difficult to do so.


Boredom is the worst. I really really really don’t like being bored. (btw, I don’t consider boredom a creative block…this merge is weird.)

Sometimes though - I have too many things I could do and the choice is overwhelming and leads to absolute lock up that feels exactly the same as boredom.

When someone asks me what my goals are, some percentage of the time I’ll say “being ok feeling bored.” Which is a solid goal…I tend to fill in the boring spaces too quickly.

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WANGH describes BOREDOM as “the unpleasant feeling of concern with the passage of time.”

Agreeing, HARTOCOLLIS writes: “More than any other affect, BOREDOM is experienced as a disturbance in the sense of time, as an inability to synchronize attention with the activities of the surroundings or, in their absence, with one’s own fantasy life.”

In BOREDOM, FENICHEL claims: “The instinctual tension is present, the instinctual aim is missing.”

WANGH goes on to theorize: “The bored person wishes he had something to do but does not know what. The inhibition of fantasy often occurs because of an unconscious fear that fantasy might lead to action of libidinal or aggressive nature – an impulse to masturbate or strike out – which in turn would bring about danger or pain.”

Lastly, BERGLER, in his paper “On the disease-entity BOREDOM,” advocates creativity as an antidote against BOREDOM.

(citation: WANGH, MARTIN. “Boredom in Psychoanalytic Perspective.” Social Research , vol. 42, no. 3, 1975, pp. 538–550. JSTOR ,")

For my 18th birthday, my high school boyfriend somehow got me a signed copy of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. (The book was a plot point in our relationship.) Ned wrote to me, “since I turned 18, I’ve never been bored.”

There are a lot of ways to read his message. My feeling now would be that an accurate reading would say that Ned was being a little bit equivocal. Certainly he couldn’t say that adult life was grand (depression was a big theme in his work), but he didn’t want to be a downer either.

At the time, though, I took it kind of as a personal aspiration—to live my life in such a way that I would never have to be bored. Probably absolute success in this is impossible. In fact, I’ve started to notice (kicking and screaming), that sometimes my being bored, or spending my time idly, is a sign that I’m working on something subconsciously. So I try… sometimes… to not push myself when nothing is coming.


I have found in life, admittedly with a good dose of zen and taoism in the mix, that sometimes it is the right thing to do “nothing”…

Wu wei, the way of non-action…

Fields must lie fallow or they stop producing…

I often play guitar best when I haven’t picked it up in a long while…

Without negative space there is no positive space…


Feel free to take years or even decades, if that’s what it takes. I’m nearly 45, been making music since I was 14. In that time, the creative urge and muse has come and gone more times than I care to remember. Sometimes captured successfully, more than often not, but it has never stopped knocking at my door. In the times where you feel pressured to make music/finish tracks, try very hard to take a step back and ask yourself if it’s what you really want to be doing right now. Forcing things is never the answer.

I know I’m being a little cryptic, but am genuinely trying to express what it has been like, in my case. It’s a never ending battle between creative inspiration, musical chops on a real instrument, and the technical know how (computers/machines/techniques) to be able to accomplish what you need to. It’s very rare, for me, that all those things line up in the same temporal/geographical phase space. :slight_smile: When they don’t (i.e. most of the time), I content myself with real life, and listening to music, which is the fountain of all musical inspiration, for me. The last three years I’ve also taken up an acoustic instrument seriously, for the first time ever. It’s really the best thing I have ever done, as far as music goes.

Hopefully helpful, I understand the pain, believe me!


I feel this post. Doing nothing as necessary precursor to activity. I’ve had similar experiences with instruments – periods of intense engagement followed by detachment and re-engagement can energize a relationship with a piece of gear.


Off-topic, but can you recommend a good translation of Zen koans (Wumenguam)? I’m a novice and accidentally purchased “Unlocking the zen koan” trans. Thomas Cleary which is horrible. Cleary tries to explain away all the magic. No fun.


I wish I could recommend a koan book, but I haven’t looked at any for a long time…

My friend David Rothenberg takes a nice approach with his Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes

Related thread: Influence of Zen

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This, 100%.

It took me a long time to get there - which is also a ridiculous thing to say because there is no “there” (only a series of heres and nowheres) - but I’ve embraced the Tao more and more over the years. Attempting to stay present - overlooking the things from the past which I can’t change and the worries about the future which I can’t affect - is key for me. I have a world of things going on in my personal life - I have 5 children, all of whom have very clear challenges that affect us all, from my eldest daughter’s rare life-limiting heart condition, to my eldest 2 sons’ autism and many others in between, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything that happens. Clearing space for what is happening now has become paramount.

I digress, though. The thing that helps me in terms of creativity is being able to constantly access the joy of noise - whether it’s via cracking open some cassette shells and experimenting with tape loops, playing around with iOS apps wherever I might happen to be, or doing strange things with synths and guitar pedals (or all of the above) I’m constantly surprised by and in awe of the possibilities that music presents. Sometimes, the “best” way to get somewhere is not to know where you’re going in the first place. I don’t mean in a cryptic “the journey is the destination” sense, I just mean: maybe just make whatever it is you want to make and build a store of whatever these things might be - whether they’re a few seconds or minutes or hours - and don’t worry too much about sculpting a release from them. When the time is right for you to do that, chances are that you’ll probably know it and be able to figure out what to do with all the things you’ve got. Also, though, sometimes they’re not “for” anything other than just to experience at that moment - to learn something or express something, perhaps, or… not.


“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”


In his novel OBLOMOV, GONCHAROV writes: “As soon as he had got up in the morning and had taken his breakfast, he lay down at once on the sofa, propped his head on his hand and plunged into thought without sparing himself till at last his head grew weary… Only then did he permit himself to rest from his labours and change his thoughtful pose for another less stern and business-like and a more comfortable one for languorous daydreaming.”

Less rosily, ELPIDOROU relates: “The BOREDOM prone individual often and easily finds herself to be bored, even in situations that others, typically, find interesting and stimulating. Furthermore, she regularly becomes incapable of maintaining sustained attention, and interest in one’s activities, she lacks excitement for, or can find no purpose in, what she is doing, and she easily becomes frustrated, restless, or weary by either stimuli-poor or challenging situations. BOREDOM proneness is associated with a plethora of significant bodily, psychological, and social harms. BOREDOM proneness is positively correlated with depression and anxiety, anger and aggression, a lower tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking, a propensity to make mistakes in completing common tasks, poor interpersonal and social relationships, lower job and life satisfaction, problem gambling, and drug and alcohol abuse.”


Boredom/monotony and boredom proneness are associated with heightened levels of distractibility.

Boredom proneness is inversely related to the level of enjoyment that is derived from engaging in effortful cognitive activities.

Boredom severity and boredom proneness are mitigated by the ability to use covert processes to keep oneself entertained and stimulated.

Boredom proneness and boredom severity are associated with higher levels of negative affect, including depression and hostility.

Boredom/monotony and boredom proneness are associated with higher levels of decreased persistence.

Boredom/monotony and boredom proneness are associated with higher levels of restlessness and a need for change or excitement in some people.

Boredom/monotony are associated with reduced motivation and feelings of apathy in some individuals.

Boredom proneness is associated with reduced sociability in some individuals.

Boredom proneness is associated with poorer peer relationships in adolescents.

Boredom proneness is associated with increased interpersonal sensitivity in some individuals.

Boredom proneness is associated with reduced impulse control in some individuals.

Boredom proneness is associated with alcohol dependence in men.

Boredom proneness is associated with pathological gambling and susceptibility to heroin use.

excerpted from:

Todman, M. (2003). Boredom and psychotic disorders: Cognitive and motivational issues. Psychiatry, 66 (2), 146-67. Retrieved from