Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Nine Fresh Ways NOT to Suffer Creative Block

Learn to pass through, over, or around your creative blocks.

Writer's block

Ever feel stuck creatively? Whether you prefer to call that sensation of stuckness a block or something else, you may be able to get unstuck by altering your perception of what's holding you back. It's often related to one fear or another.

Thus, Tip #1: Instead of picturing whatever you're afraid of as a brick wall or something solid you have to break through, re-vision it. Maybe yours is a low fence that you can climb over. Or a limited wall that you can simply walk around. Or consider this quote from Irish writer Brendan Francis Behan:

Many of our fears are tissue paper thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.

Picture your wall as being as flimsy as a soap bubble. Just walk forward and go through it. You will barely feel the slightest resistence. In other words, sit down and write something, anything -- there no more block. Artists and writers and those who counsel them have come up with many ways to banish blocks. Here are some that may feel new to you.

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8 More Block-Breakers

1. Face the fact that maybe it's not actually a block. "Often what I write is crap, so that's not writer's block, that's writer's crap. You know what I do? I take long showers, sometimes three hours long. It's really helpful," said novelist Gary Shteyngart. 

2. Come at it slant-wise. "I figure writer's block is a signal to stop working on something straight on and go at it sideways for a while. Mostly the new ideas some from patiently waiting and revolving the thing in my head," said Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife, in an interview.

3. Write a complaint letter. "If you're stuck, you might try having your character write you a letter--possibly complaining about the story, or about the other characters. If your character doesn't have anything to complain about, you're making his or her life too easy, and the story will be boring," suggested author Margot Livesey.

4. Make peace with the process. "Can you learn to love what you're struggling with? At the very least, can you make peace with it? Because it's not going to go away. You're not going to reach some point in your life when you start writing things flawlessly. It's not like one day everything you write will be published instantly. And you will probably always struggle with what it takes to start and finish a new project, too," said Sarah Selecky.

5. Surrender to what's next. "What is the next right thing to write? What is the next step in this character's arc? The actual next step, not the step that you believe will get her to the next place you feel she needs to be. By writing small, by staying in intimate contact with the words on the page, you'll maintain a place of flow," wrote Laraine Herring in The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice. 

6. Decide that your existence matters. It is possible to minimize the sort of existential anxiety that leads to writerly anxiety, claims Eric Maisel's Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians & Actors from America's Foremost Creativity Coach. Maisel suggests you give yourself back control of your own life's meaning. He says to tell yourself, "I am going to do my darnedest to make personal meaning by investing meaning in my art, in loving and being loved, in ethical action, in all sorts of meaning opportunities . . . even as I know full well that the facts of existence can knock me down at any moment . . . I can only do what I can do--but I will do that!"

7. Raise the challenge. Some of the greatest joy in creativity comes from the incubation stage, according to studies described by Sandra W. Russ in Affect & Creativity. So give yourself a problem to work on. Your subconscious, as it goes about trying to solve it, may supply you with enough excitement to get you back to work. Experiment to find the optimal arousal level caused by curiosity, without getting yourself so anxious as to remove the pleasure (and the flow) and thus your motivation.  

8. Collect compelling images. Many writers say their stories and novels began with a single oddly seductive image. Children's author Joanne Rocklin wrote in her anti-block blog: "It begins as an image or character trait, something quite rudimentary, story-wise. One Day and One Amazing Day on Orange Street began with my love for my backyard orange tree. I began describing it, and what I wrote that first day eventually became, after many drafts, a chapter near the end of the book. The point is just to begin writing. You'll find out where you are headed much later. . .

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry

Follow me on Twitter @bunnyape

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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