Here’s something that I’ve been struggling with for always because I, like a normal human being, struggle with the dreaded Writer’s Block from time to time.
Writer’s Block (I capitalize it because it’s its own entity at this point that shoves my head down in a cotton-filled well where I can neither think nor create) can transform into something even nastier when unchecked – Creator’s Block. Creator’s Block is something that we all grapple with, whether we call it that or not. Most often, unless we’re just inhuman, it nails us to the floor and doesn’t let out of its choke hold until one day it just vanishes.
I’ve been struggling with Creative Block for some time now. My hands won’t draw the way I want them to. My eye can’t draw the line on a piece of paper. My brain suddenly forgets color theory and wordsmithing entirely. On one of my works that I’ve been cranking out a chapter a week for over a year, I’ve barely been able to cobble together a chapter before the date I need it posted. Thank God it’s almost over, but still. It’s a hell of a thing that we all deal with.
My own personal ways to get through Writer’s Block (and subsequently, Creator’s Block) come down to having a variety of outlets to get out that pent up frustration. (Sounds sexual, right? It doesn’t always have to be, but if that’s how you deal with it, go get some.)
I also strive to have a variety of outlets for myself in every creative pursuit. I know that not everyone has (or wants) to crank out drawing after drawing or painting after painting to help yourself conceptualize who you’re dealing with and where you want to go; for example, I drew these little doodles to help myself visualize the main character of my current novel project. (Forgive the literal phone pictures. I couldn’t be bothered to clean them up in Photoshop.)
What I do when I get Stuck is use those other outlets to help get some of those creative juices out while staying relevant to the task at hand.
While I know this isn’t exactly the most feasible for everyone as mentioned above, I also have someone I can talk to about all of my projects that encourages me and offers constructive criticism. I know that we, as human beings, don’t always want constructive criticism, but when you’re stuck (really stuck), constructive criticism sheds light on where you went wrong or where you need to tweak.
I recently read a book by Laraine Herring called On Being Stuck: Tapping into the Creative Power of Writer’s Block (around $17 USD at retailers), and it’s honestly been the most helpful writing (and life) advice I’ve ever seen. While she focuses on journaling the writing experience and we all know that doesn’t work for everyone, I still find her questions helpful and interesting.
Herring’s advice centers around being kind to yourself and working through your Writer’s Block not by treating your Block as a person, but she suggests treating your Writing as a person by having conversations with it and asking it what it needs from you and what you need from it.
The book offers questions to ask yourself and your writing in each chapter, but they are, summarily and simply, asking the questions you would ask a dear friend if they were struggling with such a thing like Writer’s Block. She also suggests making a judgment free time sheet to keep track of your time and fit writing into your preexisting schedule rather than having to move heaven and earth to create a new schedule. She suggests getting in touch with your writing by having your own space, as Stephen King does in On Writing.
This particular help book is more than just a list of quick tips. It’s a path to loving yourself and your writing and the relationship the two have together, no matter how complicated it is, and I highly recommend reading it to get the full effect because, for once, I simply cannot summarize what a joyous and liberating text this is.
Herring and I agree on many things when it comes to the creative process – it will do what it wants when it wants, but that’s no excuse to let your work fall by the wayside until inspiration strikes again. She emphasizes, continually, the importance of momentum.
I, for one, need about an hour before I’m thoroughly into The Zone, but some people may take longer than that. Some people may be able to click into a zone in ten minutes, and that’s fantastic! Go you!
But an important thing to do, Herring says, is to keep track of what you intend to do and what you actually accomplish (oh! And. Do this without judging yourself.) This will show you your goals and what’s actually feasible for you. Sometimes, it shows you areas where you struggle and flourish.
Another point is to use your Block as a building block rather than a stumbling block and look over what you’ve written or works you enjoy, making notes on bits that surprise you or entertain you. Rather than trying to edit your whole shebang right then and there, go through and find parts that you like or even love. Herring says that this is one of the best ways to see what you think you’re good at – one of the best ways to prove to yourself that you can, in fact, do this.
Writer’s Block is a thing that everyone faces and struggles with from time to time, but it doesn’t have to control your experience.
Perfectionism, procrastination, and fear can overwhelm you when you’re writing, but working with and through those things will help you be a better writer every time. Sometimes, you just have to ask yourself why you’ve balked. Why you’ve stopped. Why you’re blocked.
Work with it.
Work through it.
Know you’re not alone.