Tag Archives: creative life

Writer’s block is a myth

blank-computer-screen
The New York Times obituary of Joseph Mitchell heralded his work writing about average and eccentric folks, which he did well… until he didn’t. According to the obit:

If his name is not as widely known as it might have been, that is mostly because for the last three decades of his life, he wrote nary a word that anybody got to see. For years, he would show up at his tiny office at The New Yorker every day and assure his colleagues that he was working on something, but that it was not quite ready…. Whatever it was, nothing of any substance emerged from his typewriter after 1965 and his friends came to think of it as an exceptionally bad case of writer’s block.

The piece goes on to say that his editor suspected that he was plagued by perfectionism. After all, the janitor at The New Yorker cleaned reams of copy out of his wastepaper bin.

It’s tragic, really. If you haven’t read Up in the Old Hotel*, do. It’s a carefully-curated collection of his work profiling unexpected characters. Mitchell sucks you in, grabs hold, and doesn’t let go until the last page.

So, what happened? Was it the infamous “writer’s block” that did him in?

I think not. I think writer’s block is a construct–a concept invented to allow talented writers an excuse for not doing the work. I think feeling stuck and stressed and overwhelmed and unmotivated occurs naturally in any creative profession. The fear of failing, of being ridiculed, of pouring your heart, soul, time, and talent into something that might be torn apart? Well, it’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

Crazy enough, perhaps, to stop writing altogether.

I’m guilty of this. I have a big project, a personal one rather than a client project, that I’ve backburnered time and time (and time and time) again. My reason excuse could easily be, “Oh, man. I’m just blocked on this one.” But I know that’s not the case. I know that this is a personal project, and it means a lot to me. I know that, by writing, I risk criticism, ridicule, and burning at the stake.

Okay. Maybe not. Definitely not. But it feels like that, so I don’t write.

So, what does a writer do to overcome this? Well, first off, stop calling it “writer’s block” because you’re letting yourself off the hook.

Then, set yourself a good, solid goal. Note that I didn’t say a big, lofty goal. Just a good, solid one. Like, tell yourself you’re going to write 250 words toward your project each day. That’s not much–one page, double-spaced. You can do it. Heck, you could probably do more, but that’s not your goal. Stick with 250. Hit that word count, then save and close your document.

Do it again the next day and the next day and the next. Before you know it, your project will be up and running, sprinting toward the finish line.

Don’t let yourself claim a case of “writer’s block.” Do the work. Keep at it.

Now, I’m off to do my 250 for today. Happy writing!

10 ways to get out of a creative rut

It happens. We all get stuck. It doesn’t matter the task, either. You could be painting scenery for your child’s class play, arranging columns and rows in your department’s budget spreadsheet, or writing the next great American novel.

It happens to me once a week. I’m plowing through client projects, updating social media campaigns, crossing tasks off my to-do list. Then suddenly I realize I’ve been watching bees buzz around the flowerbed outside my window for the last 20 minutes.

How do you know you’re in a rut? It’s hard to maintain focus. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s hard to keep your butt in your chair. It’s easy to find lots of other things to do (“That’s right! I’ve been meaning to rotate my mattresses!”) that have nothing to do with work.

Okay, so you’re in a rut. Now what?

Here are my 10 ways for getting out of a creative rut:

  1. Allow yourself to set the project aside. Even if you’re on deadline. Even if your kids will be home from school soon. You’re not getting anything done staring at it. So allow yourself to put it down. I can’t tell you how often I used to force myself to work (“You WILL sit here and write this copy!”) even though I wasn’t actually getting any work down. Put it down. Walk away.
  2. Stroll around the block. Don’t think about your project. Focus on the sights and sounds of your neighborhood. Somewhere in the back of your mind, when you’re moving instead of thinking, your mind is working on a solution to whatever got you stuck in the first place.
  3. Snooze. Set your alarm for 30 minutes to recharge. If you wake up and still can’t focus, pull those covers back over your head.
  4. Call that family member who loves to talk. You need to call your mom/uncle/grandma/sister anyway, so do it while you’re already prepared to procrastinate. Bonus: If your mind starts to wander, you may just hit on the next big idea to propel your project forward!
  5. Visit Cute Things Falling Asleep.
  6. Do the opposite of what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to paint, pick up a crossword puzzle. If you’re trying to write, pay some bills. Exercise a different part of your brain to give your worn-out side a much-needed break.
  7. Tap into your inner child: blow bubbles, color with crayons, cartwheel across your backyard, braid your hair, ride bikes.
  8. That kid from high school you were jealous of/in love with/afraid of? I bet that kid has a Facebook page. You have permission to scroll through all 652 of his/her pictures.
  9. Write a love letter to your significant other or your cat or yourself.
  10. Eat a snack full of protein (or chocolate).

And if none of those work? Take the rest of the day off! You need a break!

Image: bulldogza