In Part One, I discussed the idea that the only difference between creatives and non-creatives or people who are blocked is a psyche filter that has become clogged; a filter that sits between thoughts generated deep within and expression of those thoughts to the outside world.
Below, I offer some thoughts on what I have found effective in unclogging that filter.
Step over it or go around it. Nowhere is it written that you must solve this problem right now. Depending on the nature of the project in which you find yourself stuck, is there an opportunity to simply mark a placeholder for where you’re stuck and move to the next part? Personally, in any creative endeavour, forward momentum is key and once lost is hard to regain. It’s easier to push a car that is already rolling than to get one rolling. A number of my manuscripts contain notes to myself along the lines of [something exciting happens here].
Likewise, for a written work, don’t feel like you have to solve all of the plot details early on. I had one screenplay that required my protagonist be in disguise. I had no idea how to do this logically, but proceeded as though it would come to me later…and it did. If you’re in a good space, the spirits will guide you and you will find your answers. But you have to be open to those answers.
Walk away. For most of us, these are very personal projects the only deadlines for which we hold internally. So, screw the deadline. Walk away from the project for a bit. Go see a movie. Read a book. Listen to music. Go for a run.
The longer you focus on the problem, the more inflamed it becomes until it becomes a creative cancer. Let it rest. Give the rest of your brain something to do. Let it do the heavy lifting for a bit. You may just find that the rest of the brain has ideas your creative centre wasn’t able to deal with and those ideas may just sneak past the filter (so have a notebook in your pocket, just in case).
Move to another project. I think a mistake a lot of new writers make is only having one project, as that blows the importance of the project way out of proportion. At any given moment, I have at least a dozen different creative projects on the go, at various levels of completion. That way, the minute I see the first signs of boredom or frustration with a project, I can move to another one to maintain my personal forward momentum. Perhaps the one thing that clogs a filter quickest is creative fallowness as lack of movement breeds insecurity.
The nice thing about working on multiple projects is that the creative act on one project often stimulates the creative response on another. You may have your answer to project one; you may not just be able to see it until you work on project two. Which leads me to…
Try another creative activity. Creativity breeds creativity. For me, photography stimulates writing (I suspect it works the other way, too). When I’m taking pictures, I am focused on the task at hand, the object on the other side of my lens, but because I am a storyteller, part of my brain is applying context to that image. You may have seen examples of this in some of my other blog posts. It allows me to visually tap into other emotions and contexts not previously obvious in my mind and those may inform my writing dilemma.
The key is to actively engage your brain. If you want to do something more passive like reading a book, as suggested earlier, try reading it aloud. Forcing yourself to actually engage with the written material will stimulate different parts of your brain, including your auditory centres. Responding to the movie screen, however, will likely get you thrown out of the theatre.
Hang with other creatives. First off, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a pity party. It can be good to commiserate and share war stories from the trenches. It helps us to understand that we are not alone and that there is another side to the current blockage. And who better to help you with that than fellow members of the society.
Likewise, simply sharing your dilemma opens the floor to multiple brains with filters at various stages of clogging. Hopefully, around the table, there is enough creative force to blow the walls of those filter pores and clear things out. Yes, it’s your project, but you don’t have to do it alone.
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Then there’s the old pump-priming process. When I was a young’un, to get a hand pump going, you had to pour a quart of water down its mouth. That would settle in the leather valve, way down the shaft. Then, when you first drew up the handle, the closed valve would pull your water up to you, but create a vacuum behind it. Then, on your second push down, the valve would be flooded from below by suctioned water. And on the next pull up, you’d be drawing water from the source.
And that, oh best beloved, is a good metaphor for starting to draw stuff up out of your subconscious. Dump some water down the hole! That is, just start writing, even about the frustration of not having anything to write about. And just see if, around the fourth or fifth paragraph of such writing–my Lord!–something starts to surface! (The idea’s not patented, son. Feel free to share it.) Jim
Love the idea, Jim…thanks for adding to the conversation!
I saw a similar idea in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. She calls it “The Morning Pages.” The idea is to just sit and write three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning. I don’t do it every morning, just when the creative works get gummed up. It either helps discharge whatever stress is bogging me down or lets new ideas fly.
Maybe I should get into this as a daily ritual….
“The Artist’s Way” is definitely a cult classic and a good read for helping one understand the demons of doubt that keep us from writing (or whatever).
I found her book to be much better than “The War of Art”, which was a little too preachy to me and didn’t offer practical advice to get you beyond the blocks.
Your blog would also be considered “pages”…I think the author’s goal was simply to keep you writing.