The agony of creative blocks and how to remove them

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I always know right before I am about to slip into hell.

The day starts out innocently enough.

I brew a strong cup of Peet’s French Roast. Then walk outside barefoot to get the paper, stopping to smell the fresh air, and see the bright sun peeking up from behind the Superstition Mountains. The stillness of the morning makes everything feel fresh and new.

My kids start the early morning downstairs in their jammies, and they have a droopy gaze from just waking up. They plead for me to come over to the couch and snuggle. As they press up against me and bury their heads under my chin, their hair smells sweet.

As the coffee kicks in, I think about the work I need to get done that day.

I may need to write a part of my new book. Or course materials for a class I am teaching. Or a sales letter for a new product.

There are always little things to do, like guest posts or book blurbs.

The list feels feasible. The day stretches out in front of me like a slow summer day. Peaceful, open, expansive.

After dropping off the kids, I get into the office and settle in.

I check email, open Hootsuite and look at my Twitter stream. It feels good to connect with my community and catch up on the prior night’s missed replies.

The hour starts to slip away.

I want to get started on my to-do list, but I know that I still have plenty of time. So I keep surfing around, and get a little inspiration.

A TED talk might fire me up, so I watch my favorite.

Feeling good, I start to open Google docs to start writing.

But before I get more than a few words on the page, I realize that I never got back to someone interested in hiring me to speak.

So I switch over to email and find and respond to the inquiry.

More emails have come in, so I take care of the urgent ones for a few minutes.

It is now about 11:15.

A coaching call is coming up in about 45 minutes, so I realize I don’t have enough time to really get on a roll and finish a project.

And I start to feel slightly sick inside.

Trying to shake it off, I busy myself with a bit of administrative work, none of which is on my critical and important list.

The coaching call comes and goes.

I am hungry, so I head out to pick up some lunch.

I call my best friend, and get inspired talking about a new future project.

It is now about 1:45.

I suddenly feel the pressure of the end of the day coming. No longer an open, expansive stretch of time, the day has turned into a vise, and it begins squeezing my head.

I start to feel desperate.

And think “Jesus Christ, woman, by this point in the day, Chris Brogan would have written five blog posts, created a new product and landed a huge sponsor for one of his projects. Why can’t you get your work done?”

Like a moth drawn to a camping lantern, I am pulled into a new tab of the endless Internet.

Suddenly, I have to see the 60 Minutes expose on the Three Cups of Tea scandal.

It leads to more videos and news stories.

I turn to Twitter to drum up some conversation. I want to feel better.

Then, I just want to laugh. So I go to gofugyourself, or catch up on shoewawa’s Ugly Shoe of the Week. The Bloggess’ hilarious and sometimes profane posts can keep me distracted for an hour.

If it gets really bad, I will follow random links on Twitter  like Kate Hudson Hates Her Big New Pregancy Breasts.

And if there is food anywhere in the vicinity, I will suddenly need to eat it. Old jelly beans, leftover muffins in the office kitchen, ANYTHING which will dull the pain of realizing that I am slipping away into the void.

And I think “This day is gone. I am gone, and I didn’t get a damned thing done.”

What has happened is that I have been defeated by what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. The insidious, sulfer-scented dragon of a beast whose sole intention is to suck all the intelligence, creativity and goodness out of my body and heart.

All that is left is a defeated shadow of my real self, with a stomach ache and sugar hangover. Longing to go to sleep to start the day over again tomorrow.

Resistance is fierce, and there are days when it kicks my ass.

It doesn’t have to.

Productivity hacks among you could identify dozens of critical flaws in the way I start my day. You are probably right.

But the bigger picture is that I need to learn to study the beast of Resistance, and adjust my creative process so that I do not experience another lost day.

Today, Steven Pressfield releases his new book, Do the Work. I had the incredible honor to interview him, and talk about his deep insight about how to overcome Resistance. Where his masterpiece The War of Art helped to clearly explain what resistance is and how it stops you from doing your great work, Do the Work is the How-To manual for how to overcome it. I cannot recommend it enough, and will prescribe it to all my new clients. Get it here.

Listen in here to our 30-minute conversation. (Download link here)

Resistance is as real as the shadows cast by the sun at high noon.

It is part of the creative process. It doesn’t have to defeat you. It won’t defeat me.

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41 Responses to “The agony of creative blocks and how to remove them”

  1. Eyrie says:

    […] soul. Her words, like a mirror, showing me what I had become An eagle, masquerading as a chicken. Letting the resistance win and becoming […]

  2. […] first heard about Pressfield’s book in Pam Slim’s blog post on creative blocks. Not only did Pam’s blog post strike a nerve, so did her interview with Steve Pressfield […]

  3. […] communities.We share an unhealthy love for our iPhones. And occasionally spend hours lost in an Internet haze, instead of working on important projects. Our undeleted gmail message counts sometimes approach […]

  4. Hi Pam!

    Congrats from Brazil for your wonderful blog! You keep people inspired!

    I’m writing to ask: how have your productive life been since you read Steven’s books about Resistance?

    I read his two books and also Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box”. The three, together, simply show me the way from thinking to acting. I could finally understand why and how I couldn’t just DO THE WORK despite people saw me as a creative and energetic person.

    What about you?

    Best regards!


  5. […] 7.  Education – There are a lot of things to learn before starting a business.  While you have your job, learn as much as you can about business.  Learn how to blog.  Learn how to build an online community.  Learn how to write great blog articles.  Learn how to set up a blog.  Learn how to get over creative blocks. […]

  6. […] on how to transform companies by applying design thinking in their everyday work processes. The agony of creative blocks and how to remove them | Escape From Cubicle Nation Pam Slim relates the details of a low-productivity day she had and shares an interview she recorded […]

  7. Pam, this was brilliant. So wonderful to hear your deeply authentic voice.
    Go warrior Mumma, I’m blowing the winds from over here in London as you plan your afternoon:)
    Thank you

  8. I am able to justify so many things to myself as “work” but I have two sets of eyes: beginning-day eyes and end-day eyes. The end-day eyes tell a bigger truth.

  9. Brad says:


    I can’t tell you how much I needed the insights of the “Do the Work” book. I’ve been stuck in a wicked funk for months and the quick read, to-the-point style of the book was exactly what I needed to get me back on track. Thanks for sharing your own thoughts, struggles and resources with us all. It DOES make a difference!

    All the best,

  10. […] you’d like to hear more check out this interview from Pam Slim at Escape from Cubicle […]

  11. […] and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario […]

  12. Debbie says:

    Amazing. I came across your blog/this post while avoiding doing my own work. The sad thing is these types of days are typical rather than exceptions. Knowing I’m in good company helps somehow. I will read the book. Thanks!

  13. Lisa Evans says:

    Over the past two days, I’ve read several reviews of Steven Pressfield’s new book and I have to say, yours was tops when it comes to explaining “Resistance”. The War of Art is one of my all-time favorite books and I’m excited to dive into his latest and get my butt kicked big time.

  14. Erik Proulx says:

    How did you get inside my brain again, Pam?

    It’s easy to let “The Resistance” gobble up our day. It’s gobbling up mine right now.

    But I think that just as important as fighting it, we must also take note and feel proud of the work we have done. Writing a book, writing a second book, keeping a blog, coaching clients, inspiring others…these are all things that deserve a self-pat on the back. Guilt is just one more emotion that gets in the way of doing the work. And that’s one that you definitely need not feel.

  15. […] and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario […]

  16. Denise Green says:

    I would reply…but I’m desperately trying to make the most of the morning while my brain is still fueled up (also on Peete’s French Roast) and my hubby is dropping my off girl (YAY!) 🙂

    Some of the experts featured in the movie The Secret note that the Movie left out one important step: work your ass off.

    Just ordered the book – thanks for the tip.

  17. I get up an hour before anyone else in the house and just write. Don’t open my email client, don’t open a web browser. Just me, a coffee and a word processor. That way before anyone else is up, I’ve already done something. And that sets me off for the day.

  18. Whoa! Are you trying to sabotage my day with all those juicy links??

    I was delighted to find that Do the Work is free as a Kindle download and I can’t wait to listen to your interview with Steven…after I get a big chunk of work done. 🙂

    Thanks for this great post!!

  19. fas says:

    That is a hectic day. What about checking mails on the go? That would save some time.

  20. M. A. Tohami says:

    I frequently experience the same resistance. But I tend to finish the important tasks, when I’m committed to a certain deadline.

    William James said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

  21. […] and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario […]

  22. Nicole Gruen says:

    Pamela – you described some of my days! I am so happy that you have to slay the dragon as well sometimes. I will slay mine tomorrow. I hope.

  23. Lisa says:

    Pam, Loved your set up article for this interview. You really nailed the emotional experience of a day at “work” for an entrepreneur when stress and resistance intensifies and begins to steer our day.

    I was JUST this morning giving a talk on Secrets of a Stress Resilient Mom….and so very many of the same principles apply to heart-centered entrepreneurs in how we experience and manage stress. And how a stress metabolism feeds on noisy chaotic foods– which in turn keeps the cycle going. It’s always fascinating to me how deeply connected our many ways of nourishing ourselves are to doing our great and heart centered work in a powerful way.

  24. Tina Forsyth says:

    been there done that, LOL… good to know i’m not alone. Amazing what we can find to distract ourselves with throughout the day.

  25. Debbie Weil says:

    OMG Pam, I feel as if you just peeked into my life and perfectly described one of my HORRIBLE days – !! Can’t thank you enough for so eloquently describing it (down to the stale jellybeans). You are a wonderful writer and an inspiration.

  26. […] and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario […]

  27. Thanks Pam. You two are a great team in this interview. I love these interviews best when both parties have so much to offer. It is cute how you rushed to “ship” this podcast without going back to edit out the phone call interruption. It seems to match the tone of the call–it is far better to get these out than to get them perfect.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Daniel!

      And thanks for catching that I uploaded the wrong file! I actually DID edit the interruption out, but in my haste to publish the podcast, used the wrong file. Oh well, it did lend an organic feel to the conversation, didn’t it? At least that’s my story and I am sticking to it 😉

  28. […] and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario […]

  29. Thank you Pam and Steve. I found this interview very informative and educational. This gives me the tools to keep going! I appreciate it!!:-)

  30. Dave says:

    Your day illustrates why I concluded there was no way I could do my own business at this point in my life. I would awake at 5 or 6 and have 3 kids dropped off at school/daycare by 9am and it seemed like no time before I was picking them up again. I felt overwhelming pressure to produce and when things went awry or if there was some doctor appointment or kid event, it “destroyed” my day and I felt guilty about thinking about it like that. Then I beat myself up mentally for not being better at time management!

    I think the key is to have a vision of where and why you are going. I found that when we really want something, we do find a way to align all the pieces and get there. Still working on that.

    • Pamela says:

      So true Dave! Juggling the parenting is really tough, especially when the kids are small.

      But it is possible — and I think Steven really nails how to be effective and not get stalled in the book. I am taking it seriously.

      It doesn’t mean I won’t have more days like the one I described in the future — just hopefully less. 🙂

      And in the big picture, I often think that I will never regret lingering with my kids a little longer in the morning, or taking the time to encourage someone on Twitter or Facebook when I needed it. Sure, I may produce 30% less than someone else in the course of my lifetime, but it isn’t a contest, is it? 🙂

  31. Julie says:

    Oh. You mean – it happens to you, too?!
    The part about berating yourself, thinking what Chris Brogan would have already achieved by that time had me laughing out loud!
    I got the free Do the Work Kindle edition this morning… but yeah, reading is my resistance. So I’ll get to work now. Thanks for the pep talk!

    • Pamela says:

      Of course it happens! Not every day, thankfully, but enough to really take Steven’s advice in Do the Work seriously. Enjoy the read!

  32. It’s 10:06 a.m. and I’m about to listen to the recording of you and Steven Pressfield. That means at 10:36 I’ll be back to focusing on my to-do list. Promise. No excuses!

  33. John Uhri says:

    For those who hoped to not get sucked into random web surfing, we wish you hadn’t put all those shiny links in your post 😉

    Should one read War of Art before Do the Work, or is there enough of a summary in Do the Work to get started there?

    • Pamela says:

      I know John, I did have an evil chuckle while inserting those links. 😉

      Do the Work has a great summary of The War of Art at the beginning — read it first, then if you want to go back and add War of Art to your library, it is a great addition.

  34. We’ll still need you, Pam!
    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention & for this interview. I’ll have to listen to the bulk of it later – right now you’re both making me think Listening now IS my resistance. xxx

    • Pamela says:

      Good for you for getting your work done and celebrating with the interview Mahala! 🙂 Despite days like this, work does get done. All part of the big, messy, beautiful thing called life. 🙂