Creative Blocks from A to Z: Knowledge

Young man playing piano in houseEditor’s note: This article is the 11th in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at the benefits and drawbacks of knowledge.

The verdict is still out regarding the precise nature of the relationship between knowledge and creativity. Some believe that information and expertise on a topic helps us develop new and improved ideas, whereas for others, the less they know about something, the more likely they are to generate truly innovative concepts.

When dealing with creative blocks, knowledge can be a helpful ally. However, there comes a point when excessive reliance on things we already know can hurt us or keep us stuck. Let’s look at how to use knowledge in helpful ways, and how to be aware of the ways it can hinder us.

Knowledge as a Helpful Tool

I once worked with a published novelist who had been feeling stuck on her new novel. During our work together, we explored how the recent loss of her sister had triggered feelings of depression, how she was conflicted about her identity as a writer alongside her identity as a mother and a wife, and, finally, how the pressure of her previous success felt paralyzing.

Progress was slower than what this woman had hoped for. She was consistent with her “writing appointments” but did not seem to develop ideas that resonated.

A few months into our work together, we began to shift the focus of our explorations outward; in other words, we identified external sources of knowledge and information that seemed to make an impact on her creative ideas. She was asked to spend some time between sessions researching favorite writers, re-reading influential novels, and reading up on literary trends. She highlighted parts of her prior writings that still resonated and joined online forums where she could exchange thoughts with other writers. The idea was to utilize knowledge as a sharpening tool that would stimulate new ideas and perhaps gradually overpower the feeling of being “stuck.”

Knowledge as an Obstacle to Creativity

A jazz musician approached me because of his difficulties becoming focused and motivated enough to compose his new piece. Despite the decades of experience he had writing and performing, he described feeling intimidated when he sat at the piano to start writing. He reported feeling detached from the work, uninspired and creatively stunted.

There are times when being educated and experienced on a particular topic can prove to be the spark you need to keep going, but at other times, knowing too much can lead to repetition and stagnancy rather than novel ways of thinking.

Initially, we explored his feelings toward his music, some background facts on his composing history, favorite jazz songwriting techniques, and his vision for what he wanted the final product to sound like. In retrospect, it seemed like we spent too much time on what he thought he should do based on his past experiences, his extensive knowledge of the jazz scene, and a somewhat rigid idea of his expected outcome.

After weeks of struggling with this impasse, he began to attend sessions feeling more creative than he had felt in months. He started guitar lessons and challenged himself to write folk-rock songs—a genre he had no prior experience with. In doing so, he began to notice a newfound enthusiasm and drive for songwriting. He had temporarily quieted the part of his brain that was so knowledgeable about a particular type of music, to the point of hindering novel and innovative writing possibilities. Through his guitar playing, he was able to remove himself from the boundaries set by his past experiences.

These examples illustrate the relationship between knowledge and creativity. It is important to make sure you are keeping an eye on the role knowledge plays in your creative work. There are times when being educated and experienced on a particular topic can prove to be the spark you need to keep going, but at other times, knowing too much can lead to repetition and stagnancy rather than novel ways of thinking.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maura

    Maura

    August 21st, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    Knowledge can be great, no it is great, but there can be those times when it can sort of get in the way and block that creativity.

  • jacob

    jacob

    August 21st, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    In my case it is always about not measuring up to past accomplishments. I have done a lot of things that I am very proud of but then when I go about to start something new there is always this nagging thought that maybe this time I won’t be the success that I have been before and that thought always kind of frightens me. It’s like I have this fear of not being able to live up to my own expectations that I have of myself and that potentially others have too.

  • Yuri

    Yuri

    August 22nd, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand how being knowledgeable about something could then cause this kind of block?

  • Gene

    Gene

    August 24th, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    I love the thought of simply trying something new for a bit that can kind of free your mind. I think that any time you can take a step away from that which is most familiar, then that encourages (makes?) you open up a different part of your mind which could in turn get those creative juices flowing again!

  • felice

    felice

    August 24th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    If I have to schedule in a time to do things then the chances are pretty high that there is going to be too much pressure for me to feel like I can get anything accomplished at all. MY work way is a little more free flowing, that’a how I am the most productive. If I pencil in the time or make it like it has to be done, then you can forget it, because that is a sure way for me to get bogged down in over thinking it all.

  • Grace

    Grace

    August 25th, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Sometimes it does take stepping outside of your comfort zone to gain a little perspective and look at things in a different way.

  • Mary

    Mary

    August 27th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    I would love it if I had the ability to make more time and take more time to use what I know for good instead of letting the fear of it all just hold me back. I let the little things get in the way of the big picture, so that even when I have the best intentions to use my knowledge for the greater good, then there is something there that always holds me back. Myself I guess.

  • Mason

    Mason

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    it would have to be burnout to know this much and still feel like it has become a stumbling block

  • Naomi

    Naomi

    August 29th, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    I would have to say that sometimes regardless of how much you know, there are always things that can cause these sort of mental blocks in your life. It could be indecision, it could be that something totally separate from your work has occurred in life, or it simply could be that you are trying to for some reason talk yourself out of being a success. No matter what it is, to fully be your best these are all things that you have to face so that you actually can continue on with that success in your life.

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