Writer’s Block-ed – Part Two

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.

If you think screaming at the gods will help break your writer's block, give it a go! (Photo taken in Hope, BC, ironically enough)

If you think screaming at the gods will help break your writer’s block, give it a go! (Photo taken in Hope, BC, ironically enough)

Writer’s Block-ed – Part One

Anyone who has stared at a blank page or screen and been incapable of adding words to it understands the living nightmare that is writer’s block. The whiteness of the sheets or the blinking of the cursor mocks you as you struggle before it, desirous of wondrous expression but incapacitated and mute. You feel incapable, devoid of ideas, and worry that your creative ju-ju will never return.

But are we correct in feeling this way? What is writer’s block?

To my mind, the only difference between creatives and non-creatives is a willingness to create. We all have it within us; it is just that some of us move unbridled to the fore while others linger back. It is as though there is a psyche membrane or filter that separates us, or perhaps, to be more granular, it separates thought from expression.

Think of any filter in your house. The air filter in your car, for example. The filter keeps particulate matter—dust, dirt, debris—from damaging your engine while still allowing air to reach the combustion cylinders that convert fuel to power. When that filter gets clogged, however, less air can reach the cylinders and therefore the car underperforms or does not run at all.

I think the psyche filter works similarly but with a twist. In creatives (and likely in children), the filter is clear and wide open, allowing thoughts generated deep within to pass through freely and find expression in the outside world.

In non-creatives and people experiencing writer’s block, it is less that the pores of the filter have become clogged, so much as the pores have shrunk to microscopic size—a self-clogging filter, if you will. This prevents almost all of the generated thought from reaching the surface to be expressed.

You are generating ideas, but for whatever reason, your filter is keeping you from letting them free.

Alternatively, the filter works more like the car filter in that your psyche requires stimulating input to convert brain energy to creative power. In creatives, the filter lets in everything (or a large part of everything), whereas in non-creatives, again, the pores are too small to let anything more than the rudimentary information needed for survival enter and so the creative engine stalls.

In either case, the capacity to generate thought and to express those thoughts is the same in both groups of people. It is the nature of the filter that distinguishes us.

I wish I could present you with the secret answer for unblocking that filter when it becomes troublesome, but the working mechanisms of each filter are unique, yours attuned to your psyche.

In Part Two, I’ll offer some thoughts on what I have found effective in dealing with a clogged filter. They don’t always work, but by having multiple outlets, I hedge my bets that something will work.

The following gallery explores colour at one of my favourite buildings in Montreal, the Palais des Congres.

Sloppy Seconds™

Do you have trouble coming up with original ideas? Do you think you suck because your ideas blow?

Well, worry no more. Let me introduce you to Sloppy Seconds™, the concept that’ll put spunk back into your body.

Sloppy Seconds™ is all about taking what somebody else started and going one step further for a bigger finish. It’s about taking the worry out of satisfying those opening urges and putting all of your focus on the climax. Ideas that will send a chill down everyone’s spine and get them crying out for more.

How can I enjoy Sloppy Seconds™, you ask? Well, let’s get the ball rolling.

You know that feeling when something is on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? Well, let somebody else swallow the responsibility of getting things started. Let them put it out there and once it’s on display, grab hold of it, take it all the way in, and make it yours by adding that special little something you have inside you.

If you do that, you’ll find everyone leaves satisfied, and if you go at it long enough, perhaps even sated.

And who knows? When you’re done with it, someone else may come along and make it theirs with a sloppy third. The more people who pile on, typically, the better it gets and the more fun everyone has.

So, the next time you find yourself frustrated, blocked, unable to get things started, give Sloppy Seconds™ a try. Your hands may get tired, but you’ll have a smile on your face.

Sloppy Seconds™: Coming to a location near you.


BTW: This is talking about brainstorming…you know, starting with someone else’s creative idea and then adding your own personal spin to get a story started. I’m not sure what you were thinking about.

Tach-ing out

I do not take drugs. Well, okay, the odd Extra Strength Tylenol. But hey, all the kids with headaches were doing it.

Anyways, it is my understanding that cocaine brings the sensation of clarity and sends your entire being into a state of overdrive. Your engine doesn’t idle. It runs at full speed and if you’re lucky, you’ll never shift it from neutral to drive or you’ll explode into a wall.

Whether it’s true or not, that’s what I feel like right now, in the creative sense.

Everything about me is running at full speed and then some. Every sense is attuned to the universe and picks up every scintilla of stimulation, translating those sensations into thought and eventually into word.

And while I embrace this period of unbridled energy, particularly after a couple of months of intellectual torpor (or at least that’s what it felt like to me), this constant revving of my creative engines has its problems.

Am I making sense? The words flow out so quickly and the paper cup overflows so easily that I don’t leave myself much time to analyze what I am writing to determine if it isn’t just the word “banana” over and over and over again. (Or the word “over”, for that matter.)

Can I finish anything? Because I find so much joy in the creative process, I worry that I jump from project to project without actually completing anything. Building the seminal moments and scenes for my next screenplay are so much more fun than actually writing 110 pages of dialogue that I am seriously running the risk of waking up two weeks from now surrounded by ideas for 68 movies, but no actual scripts.

How quickly can I become ambidextrous? I have two hands, why can’t I write in two notebooks or on two laptops at the same time? I want to believe that it would cut the noise down by 50%, but something tells me that it would just feed the monster, which would expect 4 times the output. If my toes weren’t the size of rhinoceros heads, perhaps I could up my output even further.

And even if I can finish all of the projects that are exploding out of me, how do I keep them from just hitting the bottleneck of “So, now what?” It took me years, and a very caring friend, to help me deal with the backlog of comedy sketches I wrote during my time at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre and since then.

Must pull my head out of my laptop long enough to transition some of these projects from Word and Final Draft documents into actual films and television shows. (BTW, “pull my head out of my laptop” reads a little weirder than it sounded in my head.)

Oooooh! The ideas are only 30 seconds apart! Must remember my breathing exercises.

Oh god, my creative water broke! Quick, someone get me a notebook, a pen and two Extra Strength Tylenol!

One week in

Well, it’s now been a full week for my new blog, and I wanted to thank everyone for their interest and support.

36 of you, in fact, have gone so far as to sign on to follow my blog, which is quite thrilling and humbling…I shall try not to disappoint.

I don’t know where I am going with this blog, but I know it will be an adventure, and I very much look forward to hearing your feedback. Not just your likes (which are lovely and appreciated), but also your thoughts and impressions on what I have written or photos I have posted.

Do they stimulate ideas, do you disagree, do you have suggestions on improvements?

I want to hear it all. I want to engage, not just entertain or bemuse.

Let’s have fun!