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Writer’s Block and Curing a Lack of Creative Flow
ALL of us get into a situation…
where the words fail to come or the ideas we are producing lack the spark that was there before – it is a natural part of being a creative person. I am not putting myself in the mix when I talk about excellence and hitting a near-genius standard: my benchmark is lower and I often find the work I am producing at my ‘best’ is pretty similar to an average day. I am exaggerating but it makes me wonder whether, the more we put out and write, the harder it is to tell whether quality is high enough or we are recording/writing for the hell of it. I have never found myself experiencing an all-out writer’s block but I am having moments where the usual stream of ideas – both good and complete crap – is starting to trickle a bit. Maybe it is the time of year and there are not enough news stories to react to. I pull inspiration from events in music news – big events or anniversaries; stars doing something stupid or a topic coming to the fore – but there are other times where I write about whatever feels good to me. Mixing the timely with personal is a good balance when it comes to journalism – the same can be said of songwriters.
It is a time of year when festivals are around the corner and artists are practising and gearing up for performances. They are not releasing as much new material and, instead, are honing their existing stuff and getting ready. That means fewer interview requests are coming my way and I have less opportunity to sharpen my skills and get something on the page. I, therefore, have to look around and seek work in other corners. There is a quiet period now and, for a writer or songwriter, it can be quite frightening. The ideas and inspiration is there somewhere: a bit of a slump does not mean a degeneration of talent or there is something wrong with you. I am seeing a lot of songwriters looking for material influence but discover, when they put pen to paper, nothing comes out. Even if they sit and wait for ideas to come; they are stuck for a start and it can be a struggle. What do we do when we get into that rut and find the normal stream of ideas/lines will not come?! There is an article that questions whether there is such thing as writer’s block?
“…But it’s not quite right to say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. The real problem, as the psychologist Paul Silvia notes in his excellent book How To Write A Lot, is that it’s a description masquerading as an explanation. It portrays a situation – the one in which you’re not writing – while pretending to say why: because of a “block”. But this adds nothing. It’s like saying the reason for America’s skyrocketing defence budget is that America keeps spending more on defence. Or that you’re sleep-deprived because you don’t get enough sleep.
There are, research suggests, many explanations for the behaviour of not writing, including fear of others’ judgments or excessive self-criticism. (Also: do you even want to write? Or are you subliminally trying to please someone else, such as a parent?) Whatever your reason, diagnosing yourself as having writer’s block, rather than just not currently writing, will make matters worse. “Naming something gives it object power,” Silvia has said. “People can overthink themselves into deep dark corners, and writer’s block is a good example.”
The most important step in overcoming writer’s block, then, may be cutting it down to size: grasping that it’s just a situation, not an underlying condition, and that it’s solved, by definition, the moment you write anything. You could keep a dream journal, as Graham Greene did, or do “morning pages”: three pages of whatever comes to mind first thing. Give up writing in binges, and focus on doing a tiny amount, very regularly, including stopping when time’s up. Oh, and stop expecting writing itself to be pleasurable. (I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who claims it’s fun.)”.
I confront the notion there is nothing like writer’s block. Other professions do rely on creativity but even if you are a mechanic or a kitchen designer; there are times when your brain does not tackle problems the same way and you find a lack of energy and ideas. There are other articles that give compartmentalised guides to tackling that nagging beast.
Writing and performance is a lot different to a profession where your mind and thoughts are made to connect in a different way. I am not sure the exact term but it is easy to see how writers are more prone to blocks than people in other fields. One can look at reasons like lacking sleep or stress to explain why the mind fogs and things sort of dry up. There is so much demand on the shoulders of those in the music business, it can be hard keeping the pace up and creating to the same level. There are some great tips when it comes to helping the ideas come back to the forefront. It may sound counterintuitive but spending time away and putting projects in a drawer is a way of recharging and recalibrating the brain. If you have an album due or are fighting to succeed in the Spotify market; it might be difficult breathing and letting other elements of life come through. You can write in bursts and do timed exercises – penning a certain amount of words and then doing the same the next day. You can keep writing literally anything: keeping the pen going, regardless of whether it is nonsense or good…that keeps the mind working and active. Getting away from the desk and embarking on exercise and relaxation can take the preliminary success from the shoulders and mean you are less tense and freer when you sit down.
It is tough getting into the groove if you have a rather static and unmoving creative space. Customising an area so that it impacts and promotes creative fertility is a good measure. Getting into a routine where you can do the same thing every day and keep disciplined retrains the mind and can unlock what is hidden away – that flame that once burned but has now retrenched. It is frustrating, to me, suffering from lags and struggling to keep up the pace and standard I am used to. External factors can create issues and impact on your writing environment. Whether you are experiencing problems at work or going through a breakup; it is natural those type of things will leave their mark. Songwriters rely on certain tragedy and upset to provoke ideas and lead to terrific music. For journalists, it is not only a source or scrap of an idea we are looking to: the content has to be interesting, relevant and readable. It is ironic that, since starting this article, I have found ideas for other articles that I will carry out next week. Maybe that is a way of overcoming a specific dry spell: write a short story or yourself; pen something about your day and turn that into a tale…keep going and do that several times through. If that does not work then think of another approach. The mind is like a muscle that can atrophy or sprain. You need to massage it and find ways of bringing it back to full health. Stress is one of the biggest reasons why artists and writers reach a brick wall and cannot get through it.
It can be unproductive working through the storm and writing half-arsed sentiments. Rather than write mediocre content for the sake of keeping busy; eliminating those deferential isotypes is a much more prudent long-term solution. Tackling the underlying cause, even if it takes time and money, can pay dividends down the line. Little adaptations and tweaks can make a big difference. Playing music – if you are used to silence or T.V. – can help; drinking less alcohol or allowing yourself an hour a day to get in the sun or watch a comedy…that can relax the body and, with it, the stresses start to melt away. Sometimes, for people like me, the cause of writer’s block can be idiopathic. We are not sure what is causing it and, for that reason, it can be hard to diagnose and cure. What to do when the engine starts to flag and provides no warning or resolution?! To me, at least, there is this standard I need to keep and a level of work that needs to be produced. That is another point to consider: does the fact you are producing less or not to the high standard of before constitute writer’s block? The bigger you get and the more ambitious your horizons are, naturally, there will be dips that occur. One is unable to plough like a machine and keep cranking an endless production line of songs/articles out without some fatigue or bad days – even machines break and slow down, you know!
There is a stigma around writer’s block and, in an industry like music, the competition is fierce. Everyone is expected to be endlessly visible and have this never-ending capacity for work and quality. The more we expect of creatives then that will lead to burn-out and needless stress. If you are not comfortable shouldering so much work and feel the pressure is too much; loosening that grip and working to your own beat can often be a long-term fix. We assume we always need to be putting it into the ether and pumping work out: it may seem damaging to go against the grain but working to a more pragmatic mean. If you have tried all the ‘solutions’ – it is worth reading the articles sourced – then it might be worth conferring with someone in the same position. That sort of compatible and judgement-free dialogue can get to the root of the issue or, at the very least, find ways to move through and break down the drought. I want to leave with an article I found in The New Yorker that looks at writer’s block and the internal/external pressures we digest:
“It may be that learning to do creative work of any kind—not just direct imagery exercises—may help combat writer’s block. Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist who is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of “Wired to Create,” says, “When one feels writer’s block, it’s good to just keep putting things down on paper—ideas, knowledge, etc.” In 2009, Kaufman co-edited a volume called “The Psychology of Creative Writing”; during that process, he became convinced that allowing for error—and realizing how nonlinear a process creativity can be—was an essential step for overcoming blocks in writing. “I think one must trust the writing process. Understand that creativity requires nonlinearity and unique associative combinations,” he says. “Creative people do a lot of trial and error and rarely know where they are going exactly until they get there.”
That, in the end, seems to be the main message of research into writer’s block: It’s useful to escape from external and internal judgment—by writing, for instance, in a dream diary, which you know will never be read—even if it’s only for a brief period. Such escapes allow writers to find comfort in the face of uncertainty; they give writers’ minds the freedom to imagine, even if the things they imagine seem ludicrous, unimportant, and unrelated to any writing project”.
The good thing to realise is writer’s block/lack of creative spark will come to an end and it is important to realise that – rather than let it obsesses you and feel it is the end of the world. One of the most effective short-term solutions is to keep writing anything that comes to mind. Keep the fingers and mind nimble and thinking. If you cannot think of ways to remedy the burden then look at the internal and external factors, physical and psychological, that might be playing a role. Think about the last time you wrote/wrote well and what was happening. Examine the events following that and see if there is a correlation between that business-as-usual-buzz and the unexpected sensation. It can be scary to think you have hit a bad patch and this might lead to permanent emptiness. Even if you are experiencing temporary downturn then have no fear: it will end and, with patience and motivation, you can turn it around. It can seem impossible to regain that productivity but, if you stay strong and think ahead before you know it, you will…
BE right back on the horse.