Creative Blocks & Solutions
Updated: Feb 27, 2018
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First off, today I’m talking about writer’s block, some of the causes and some ways to work through it. I’m in no way a health professional so when I get to those points, remember that if you think you need further assistance, go see a health provider with your questions. For that reason I’ll be pretty general in what I have to say.
Secondly, writer’s block or creative block, is real. I’m talking about writing a lot, but this also applies to people who make any kind of creative content whether you paint, make corporate artwork, or design book layouts. We’ve got similarities in running into stumbling blocks.
Now let’s dive in.
A slump in productivity – or writer’s block – can be caused by medical conditions or their treatments. Since this is a huge area with too many possible illnesses to talk about at once, I’m going to keep things general and give out only a few examples.
Illnesses can cause a lack of focus, extreme fatigue, changes in thought processes, and of course the obvious issue – pain. Treatments can also have these unfortunate side effects making concentration difficult or causing so much lethargy that there’s no energy to sit up and get to work. Carrie Fisher was a great spokesperson about her mental illness and drug addiction. She openly discussed going through electro-convulsive therapy and the condition that left her in. Memory loss and relearning things she used to do were setbacks because of her illnesses and her treatments.
I have three primary suggestions for handling your work load when health is the cause for a declining moment:
See a professional.
Consider documenting or journaling even in a spreadsheet or checkbox type way to make notes of good days with high productivity and bad days with low productivity. Maybe you can see that something like cold weather affects arthritis and you figured out ways to help your joints feel less pain. If that works to get you back to your project, then you can begin to find patterns.
If you’re working through a limitation that is health related, it’s even more important to stop comparing your output to others; and if there’s a concern about employers or clients and having to miss deadlines, be open and communicate often with them.
Moving on from health issues, let’s address the elephant in the room: writer’s block is not a myth. It is not the same thing as feeling lazy. Most people probably have lazy moments, but that’s not an equal way to explain other problems.
In 2015, Susan Reynolds from Writer’s Digest Books explained the simple truth of the matter:
“The very nature of the art of writing incorporates uncertainty, experimentation, and a willingness to create art from the depths of who we are. Writing is a mentally challenging occupation, which requires more hard-core, cognitive expenditure than many other lines of work.”
Now I’ll rundown categories that aren’t health-related which I think other experiences can fall under when analyzing creative block: distractions and external stress; lack of sleep; feeling uninspired; and fear.
Suggestions to combat creative block:
Remove distractions – turn off unnecessary stimuli; prioritize and address urgent matters first; work in a well-organized environment; also be comfortable (whether it’s your chair or your clothes, discomfort is a huge distraction).
Figure out why you aren’t getting enough sleep and see what steps you can take to make that better. To a degree, this also falls under the health concerns cause.
Lack of focus or concentration – there are games and apps specifically designed as brain exercises to help people of all ages increase their focus. There are also specific types of meditation, called “dharana” where you could concentrate on one thing. Examples would be walking but counting your steps; sitting and breathing while counting your exhales; or watching a candle slowly burn.
Change of scenery – I love taking walks, but I also have a complicated relationship with nature because of sensitive skins, allergies, and phobias. If you love nature, then by all means, get out for a few minutes. If that’s not available to you because you either can’t leave your workspace or because you don’t have the kind of outdoor environment you find motivating, then figure out ways to set up a mini-oasis.
Absorb inspiring content of the same genre or mood even if it’s in a different medium. Let’s say you’re working on a short story about a crime in the mid-18th century. Look up fashion, music, and artwork of the era. Dig to find something not well known. Find works by women, indigenous people, or people of color that were hidden because they weren’t allowed to have their names on anything. Uncover the significance of why those artists were compelled to make their work during troubling times. This kind of research can even lead you down a proverbially rabbit hole where you spend far too much time. Use what you learn from it and maybe even you’ll come up with a new character or new piece to your story.
Crowdsource possible solutions – get online and ask people what your character should do or how to “kill your darling” favorite scene because it created a loophole in the plot. Having interaction with other people could energize you back into your work. Plus, it’s not a spoiler asking such questions because you aren’t going to guarantee that their way is going into a final draft. Now if you happen to be more private, then take the question to one trusted friend or to a small art group.
Accept that failure is part of any process. Whether it’s writing a novel or cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, things are going go their own way and not according to your plan all the time. All people have earned their success will say that failure and rejection were part of their experiences. It’s a journey. Accept rejection the way actors have to going to casting call after casting call. Feelings of security, love, and belonging are right in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Accepting facts, for example – rejection or failure, and having confidence are also human needs. You want your work to be loved and you want to feel accepted. Who doesn’t? That makes the success an even bigger impact on your life when it happens. Fear of success also exists, but that’s a time to analyze the fear the same way. Talk to everyone that would be impacted by a missed opportunity or by a huge success. Don’t go through it alone.
There are multiple possibilities about you could be experiencing a lack of creative output. That doesn’t make you less than talented. There’s a saying that you should only compare yourself to who you were yesterday, but as you can see, there are plenty of reasons why the human experience and our productivity ebb and flow. If you’re putting out less than yesterday, the only person who can take the action to finding out why is you. Once you have done that part, then you can begin to pick and choose what solutions to try. Don’t forget: a day of rest (or however many days your body needs) is still a plan of action if done so with thoughtful purpose and mindfulness.