I Have Writers Block
A 5 step process on how to combat a creative block, from someone who’s right up against the wall.
Everything feels heavy. Insurmountable. Avoidable. It would be most wise to stay in bed. This is how my mind and body feel when faced with the prospect of writing. Creative block, to me, feels like a quirky cousin to depression. Tormented by the black dog of an idea or existing project - "Pointless to even start. Already written it? Well it’s gruesome - don’t even look at it."
This odd, slimy and suffocating self-sabotage tends to start small. Little errors become raging signs of inadequacy. Biro pens feel like lead weights. I am simultaneously drawn to bed and drawn to despise my own slothery. And with a national lockdown, it’s hard to find balance in it all. With very little in the way of social or physical distraction and a seemingly infinite amount of time ahead - I can't delude myself that I'm simply too "busy". I juggle the ideas of “not now” with “well, what else?”. I am either guilty or gritting my teeth. It’s a white knuckle ride of shame, silliness and sheer avoidance.
So how to break free?
Here’s some ways I’ve been experimenting with taking a few bricks out of the wall, plus some tips from the experts. I hope they prove fruitful for you, as well as me...
1. Take a break
The thing you're trying to do? The painting, the play, the design? News flash - it should be enjoyable. It’s so easy to forget joy when it comes to creativity, when we sit down and chain ourselves to a desk or scream internally at the mechanics of our brain to GET MOVING. I’m going to put something in big letters for everyone, and for my self ok.
IT’S OK TO NOT DO THE THING
Whatever it is. Writing, reading, creating. It’s ok. I’ve just taken 6 weeks off. It was supposed to be 4, but after 4 I still felt like a slug in a pile of treacle. So instead of dragging my head up off the keyboard to look at the glowing screen, I shut it. I left the room and shut the door. And guess what. I didn’t burst into flames. It was hard...but I didn't.
Guilt is never a good place to work from. Guilt is the quiet suffocator of joy, and we started doing these things for the joy. So try and teach yourself to work from joy again.
Feel it in your body, notice when you feel sparky or inspired. I realised i feel sparky after reading, for example. So I've upped my reading time. If it’s for 15 minutes or 15 days - fantastic. If it takes another 2 week or 2 months to get some spark back, as it can with all the shit going on in the world right now, THAT’S OK.
In the immortal tweet-words of Glennon Doyle:
I have not written a word during the quarantine. Just a reminder to worried artists - there are times for creating and times for becoming the person who will create the next thing. For many of us, this is a becoming time. Rest and become. Love you.
2. Take The Pressure Off
On one of my lockdown rambles, I listened to the wonderful writer Matt Haig talk some lovely words. What really struck a chord with me was his work environment.
He writes in the living room, feet up on the sofa, kids running around, maybe even the TV on. I was shocked at hearing this. It stopped me in my tracks (much to the annoyance of the person behind me).
We can become so conditioned to associate creativity with work. With the sterile, office-like, hushed tones of productivity. We forget that sometimes that’s just too much.
Matt talks about how he needs it not to feel like work. He needs to feel like anything is possible - like he’s comfortable and relaxed. Sometimes we just need to take the pressure off and loosen up. Break routine, have a cup of tea whenever we damn please. Matt even suggests shutting his laptop if it isn’t flowing and whacking on an old hollywood film. Just beautiful!
3. Seek support and advice, inspiration
I sometimes find my biggest blocks come with larger projects. Seemingly insurmountable mountains that I have none of the right kit for. I’m looking at Kilimanjaro with a baseball cap and a crunchie bar.
This is where reminders are really useful. Libraries full of finished books. Galleries full of huge tapestries. Game of Thrones - people made that.
It’s possible! Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it. So open up. Talk to your friends, family or anyone who gets it. Listen to writers on podcasts, watch indie films and perhaps a behind the scenes documentary or two.
It might just remind you that all things are actually possible.
4. Drive the car (fear, take a backseat)
What have I been avoiding for 6 weeks? Editing a novel I wrote. I finished the first draft, kicked back and smiled in a smug and nonchalant way.
The hard works done, I said, this is a walk in the park.
I was wrong. So wrong.
For this is where the fear seeps in. The terror and utter panic that, now more than ever, the prospect of people seeing it, that's a thing.
Will anyone like it? Is it a pile of irredeemable rubbish? What’s the point?
Things can get existential really quick when fear is in the driving seat.
But fear, he ain’t qualified. He hasn’t even passed his theory. So it’s very important to turf him out the front seat, Not out the car entirely, for that would be really unsound. But just into the back. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert:
“I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or big adventure. It goes something like this: “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
So have a little chat with your fear, and get back in the driving seat!
5. Find Flow - not too easy. Not too hard
Steven Kotler is a performance expert. He writes books about how people do things like set up Apple and land on the moon. Usually, that kind of stuff isn’t my bag, but I heard an interesting concept of his that I think is so important here. It’s about Flow.
You know the state you are in when you suddenly come back too. When you’ve been writing or drawing or rehearsing and then you resurface. Sometimes 3 seconds has passed, sometimes 3 hours. It’s flow state - when you are working on something in a perfectly aligned and focussed way. The holy grail.
So how do we access it? According to Kotler it’s all about the level of the task. Too hard and we don’t even start. We catastrophise, we do anything but, we will even clean the toilet before even approaching the thought of starting. Too easy and we just won’t be interested. You’d rather look at the way your pen looks in the sunshine than at the thing you’re supposed to be doing.
So find the sweet spot. How can you break down that mammoth beast of a task into manageable chunks? How can you make that mundane easy thing more of a challenge? How can you spark yourself into action?
I can happily say I write this a few weeks ago, and since implementing all of the above am feeling so much better, and have even started the edit process. We got this!
Until next time!