There were three years in my adult life when I stopped writing. In fact, it seemed there was no choice in the matter. I’d spent many an evening staring at a blank laptop screen, desperately willing the lightening rod of brilliance. But it left me high and dry. Writer’s block had taken me hostage, and the more I struggled, the tighter it held on. I began to wonder if perhaps writers were born with only a certain number of stories to tell, and my well of ideas had run dry. I decided to move on, convinced it would be best to leave storytelling to those with the ideas. Little did I know how far from the truth that was.
Creative blocks can plant their seeds of self doubt in anyone. Combine that with the fear of the unknown, and we begin to wonder where it’s all going, or if the fruits of our labour will be worth the effort. For some, this force paralyzes momentum altogether. When fear tempted me with a detour, I didn’t understand these feelings were meant to be challenged and overcome.
Seeing a creative project through is an act of courage. You have a plan, but no concrete guarantee of how things will turn out. Referring to her own process, Margaret Atwood once explained, “It’s like going through a tunnel that’s dark, but at the very end of it, you can see the light.” Here are the tools that will help you keep faith in that light when it hasn’t yet appeared.
Spontaneity Is Overrated
Develop a routine, and build boundaries to protect it. Don’t skip out on sessions when you’re not in the mood. Waiting for the mystical force to hit can work for some, but for most of us, impulsiveness doesn’t mix with long term creativity. Aim for the type of discipline that’s similar to factory work, where you add one piece at a time, and gradually breathe life into it. Plan your daily word count or content goal before you begin. The more complete your preparation is, the less likely you are to hit a block.
You don’t have to finish what you’re doing in one session either. Allow yourself to wrap up while you’re in the middle of a portrait or chapter. When you return midway through a scene the next day, resistance won’t be able to dig its claws in. It also gives the sense you don’t have to begin anything from scratch. In the early days, I had no routine to speak of. That’s what made it easy to walk away. When I wasn’t in the right mindset (which was most of the time- let’s be honest), I bailed. It took a while to realize a structured plan would save me.
The Wastepaper Basket Is Your Friend
Allow yourself to create work that isn’t great. You can always go back and fix it later, or even throw it away if it’s going nowhere. Sometimes you have to create things that aren’t much of an ego boost in order to finally strike gold. The trick is to create a no-judgement policy for all first drafts, which means telling that inner critic, “I’ve got this. You’re not needed right now.” I recently wrote a couple articles and a short story- which weren’t published, before finally landing a magazine article that struck a chord with the publication’s audience. If I hadn’t gone through the process with other pieces that didn’t see the light of day, I may not have gotten to the gold. Give yourself permission to fluidly move through your routine, no matter how crummy you fear the result might be. The goal is to stay in motion.
End The Social Madness
Social media presents great opportunities for like-minded creative souls to connect and support each other. Unfortunately, it’s also been a source of extreme anxiety for many. It’s only human nature to question whether you’re winning at life when you see curated posts of others’ career highlights. But if comparison doom scrolling is affecting your creative flow, consider a strict social detox. When you view the number of followers or likes of others as a poor reflection of yourself, not only does it feel awful, you’re also suffocating the sacred space your ideas need to grow. Keeping score only reminds you of all the things you are not, not all the things you are. This literally kills productivity. If you’ve fallen into a funk like this, put down the phone immediately. Pull out a pen paper and make a list of all the unique gifts that make you who you are. This will reboot your mind back to a state of growth and possibility.
Find Your Comfort Zone
Creation is an act of problem solving. At times, it’s like a labyrinth we’re plotting our way through. It’s no wonder we may hit the panic button, as we anxiously search for a trap door or hidden latch to resolve the scene. But sometimes a little bit of a calming ritual can go a long way as you work things out. I have a friend who needs candlelight and classical music in order to do her best work. Personally, I find music too distracting. But I must have my Ikea portrait of Audrey Hepburn, my favourite movie star, above my desk, and my kitten (who goes by the same name) close by to keep me company as I write. Experiment and find out what relaxes your mind and restores calmness as you create.
Those years ago, when my logic said writing wasn’t for me, my heart knew better. Somehow, I found myself back reporting for a daily newspaper. As creativity forced its way back into my daily life, I decided to try again, this time a bit older and wiser. In building a routine and keeping my eyes on the road, I gradually found my way back. Artistic roadblocks can feel like the enemy, but they can also make us stronger and more sure of what we want. Sometimes you need a few dark nights with your creative soul in order to know the joy it can bring.