Can limitations and obstructions push us forward in our creative work?

Some — if not all — forms of creative expression have built-in restrictions, walls beyond which we’re not supposed to tread. Whether it’s the fixed number of lines (14) that make up a sonnet, the rules of tonal harmony, or the need for some light source in order to take a photo, we often think of these as obstacles to creativity.

Of course, we also have to deal with more prosaic obstacles every day: the bad internet connection that prevents us from drafting a new blog post. The lack of funds to invest in a new musical instrument or camera. The hectic schedule that leaves us with too little time to explore the work of new writers and artists.

But obstacles also force us to focus and prioritize. Sometimes, they help us discover in ourselves talents and abilities we hadn’t known we possessed. Drew Dernavich, a prolific cartoonist who publishes regularly at The New Yorker, recently made this very point in his Discover interview:

I always feel like limitations or restrictions, even if they’re self-imposed, are a satisfying challenge for an artist, any artist, even if you’re a writer or a musician. I like the idea of saying you can’t use color, or you can’t go out of this box, or you can’t use a certain word or image. I like that creative tension.

For this week’s challenge, tell us about a time when you had to deal with an obstacle in your creative process, whether it was a bad case of writer’s block, some rigid rules you had to work around, or some other limitation — financial, technical, mental — that set you back (bonus points if you share or link to the work in question!). Did you manage to transcend the obstacle, or was it too much to deal with at the time? More important: what did you learn about yourself and your creativity in the process?

I look forward to your responses!

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  1. I’ve worked with obstacles all of my life. Some were difficult. Some were impossible. Others brought the best in me.

    Twenty-five plus years ago I signed up for a writing class. The class cost $35 and because there were so many of us we each had only two opportunities read. Unfortunately, we scheduled them on signup night. My first read was ten days, on a Thursday night at eight o’clock.

    I spent ten days kicking the can down the road, as it were. Thursday was stuck in heavy traffic when I realized the bewitching hour had arrived. The pressure was on. Mentally, I roughed a character on the spot while stuck in traffic.

    My character, Zeke, was a renegade mechanic-pilot employed with a crop-dusting firm. Because a company aircraft had suffered engine failure some 300 miles north of the hanger Zeke had to gather some tools and race to the site, fix the airplane, and get it aloft before the farmer’s attorney arrived.

    The story became interesting when Zeke had to land in a small town along the way and taxi up Main Street to buy fuel.

    Long story short, it created a spark. I enhanced Zeke and his rough personality and before the year was out I was associate editor at Ag-pilot, a position I maintained for more than a year.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Presidential elections will be held in the Philippines 11 days from now, the website of the Commission on Elections was hacked, therefore, it is still down because election officials say it is still unsafe; and with it, the “Precinct-Finder” upon which more than 7 million first-time voters rely to locate their voting precinct, is also down.
    Obstacles at:


    Hope we overcome the obstacles!


  3. Obstacles – there have been many for me through the years. I have been doing quantitative work for 30 years, and every time I created something for the company I worked for, I was told: You can’t share that knowledge – it is proprietary information and it is now a competitive advantage for us.

    Fast-forward through half of a lifetime. At the age of 49, I decided I had enough of being told the same thing over and over. So I started a WordPress blog.

    Within the context of this blog, I was also conducting a scientific experiment. It took me 2.5 years of hard work to conclude the experiment. That was a few months ago. Now I am writing about what I learned. I am blowing down all the obstacles. I found a way to do it.

    Today I published the first in a series of articles that will discuss what I learned from my blogging experiment. The first topic is fascinating and it demonstrates how my blog readership spread around the world in a short amount of time. If you are interested in learning more about this work, please visit my blog at: https://3danim8.wordpress.com/.

    The first article can be accessed here: https://3danim8.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/the-3danim8-beap1-visualizing-geographical-blog-expansion/




  4. The most taxing obstacle I face, is blending my creative expression to fit on a consistent system. I know I am not the only one, but whatever project I think up, I become extremely critical and less motivated to continue.

    When I choose to work on something I believe is going to be great, the more time it takes. Funny enough the way I combat this is through scheduling. I have forced to have a timeline on whatever project I work on, regardless if it’s “good enough”, I set a deadline and stop on the deadline.

    I started doing this a year ago and it continues to evolve how I approach my work. It’s is still a struggle, but less of a headache. The biggest difference however, is now I change, fix, and think what’s next for it long after I have originally “finished” it.

    Thank you for your prompt, it is insightful and inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi, this is my first day on WordPress and I’m just trying to work it out! This was the first post I looked at – I’m really impressed! Well, I’m in year nine at high school and the biggest challenge for me is the way that school stifles creativity. I find it so frustrating that even if I write an amazing piece, it is not viewed as ‘good’ because I didn’t go by the rules of what the piece was meant to be. I find that I write best when I have no expectations!

    Thank you, your prompt has really given me a good first impression of WordPress!


  6. My hearing problem was the biggest obstacles for me . It has made me quite isolated in last 50 years , however after my retirement suddenly , i discovered that , there is a solution and that is writing ( and reading) blog . So i have opened the blog recentlly


  7. https://xhorxhinabami.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/obstacles-of-a-twisted-writer-in-college/

    Obstacles of a twisted writer in college
    I am in the bus, leading to a new destination, to fulfill my life. I would have said to create it, but then it goes against my ideals: “You don’t start living when you become 18. A new beginning comes only after an end, so you just moved to another chapter. Nothing ended for you to start something new, you are just moving on.” Plenty thoughts invading my mind while I try to dry my tears of homesickness without even crossing the center of the city yet. “I will drag myself out of the nostalgia of the naive girl away from home for the first time by writing. Writing has helped me deal with harder struggles before, it will help me again.” Yeah, you semi-optimistic little mind of mine, when will you stop lying to yourself? Who would have thought that you could be so twisted and hard to deal with!

    -Most of your assignments will be essays, -the first words I remember being told to me when explaining how the college works.

    -That is amazing, writing is my passion, writing is my life,- my little mind smiled happily, and that smile appeared in my face too.

    “You have to be that transparent, don’t you? Showing every little emotion or thought. Jump to conclusions without broadly thinking. Don’t move your muscles sweet face of mine, but how can you, like you control your own muscles! Don’t jump into conclusions my strange mind, but how can you, like you control them! Why can’t you be on my side, just once Brain? But how can you, like I control you!”

    Plagiarism, in text-citation, works cited, paraphrase, quotes, examples, testimony, statistics… list of words that I used to find magical, as they made an essay make sense, be fulfilled. Without them an essay was as a home without love, just another house, a meaningless building, words thrown from heaven into a blank paper, fulfilling with emptiness an empty sheet. “You jumped into quick conclusions again, didn’t you? This isn’t high school.” Surprisingly I hated high-school, so much meaningless home-works, so many lost teenagers who were overwhelmed with life without truly living it, but I loved the essays. I could write about the system, about the selfish politicians who gain power and wealth in the behalf of innocent citizens; about the hobo that entered the bus and scared the hell out of us, but I felt sorry about and regretted of being superstitious about before I learnt his story; about same sex marriages; about my perception of supernatural and religion; about everything that I could think of. I remember that I could sit in the back and write in my notebook trying to finish that novel I started when I was 16, and about to lose my sanity, while the teacher explained the supply and the demand. If I only knew that I would be dealing with them again in college, I would have left my characters sleep for a moment and pay attention, but although I didn’t I had a better idea of applied mathematics in economy than of academic writing…

    -Why do I have to write my ideas the way she wants me to? I want to write about the right of abortion, not about linguistics; I want to write about the right of expressing thyself, not about lies; I want to write about solitude, and lost friendships, and universe, and life…- and I kept complaining and complaining without realizing that I was indeed writing my ideas, in the professor’s way though, but still my ideas. Complaining and complaining and I lost the track of time, I lost myself in the middle of the words never spoken and never written. I put myself in a writer’s block, struggling to find the right expressions. Using different online tools to find the right synonym, the proper citation, the accurate source. I cried myself out of solitude and failed miserably, I laughed my way out of sadness and I failed even more miserably. Complaining about the constrains that were being put into my art, trying to deal with life on my own, I almost ended up in the bottom, without a way out to the top. Failing to deal with the mood swings when the only thing I needed was to grab a pen and a paper and write my heart out, as I did when my grandmother died when I was 10, or that summer of the first “platonic love” when I was 14, or that year when my family was falling apart when I was 16, but I failed doing it now when I was losing myself at being 18. I failed, because I lost the awareness of my being, not because of the academic obstacles put in front of me from my professors.

    Maybe I am dragging myself out of the block lately by writing what I feel, maybe I am still failing miserably, but summer is coming, and I will fall in my sweet summer sadness and the happiness of writing will keep me alive.


  8. I have always had an interest in photography and classical Indian dancing. My main obstacle was encouragement. My parents were from a background in which these forms of “extra-curricular” activities were considered “extra-terrestrial”. Our weekends were mostly spent on going to social gatherings and dinner events. My parents figured that we should seek fun in what they considered fun.

    How did I overcome this? I never did. Kids with families like mine will never be able to explain to their parents that they have interests of their own. Eventually I was able to do the things I liked, of course that was when I got a job and made my own buck. But still, I think if my parents had encouraged me a little bit, I would have been much better at it than I am today.


  9. I am a youngster and I really believe that obstacles force us to go ahead and find an unknown talent.


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