Monday, March 9, 2009

Conquering Writers Block

I was recently asked how I personally deal with writers block/creative struggle. Here is an answer I wrote a couple months ago to the same question on Mahalo Answers:

I believe that writer's block/artist's block are real issues and not just excuses to not work on a project. When someone finds a "hiccup" in their creative work, I believe it stems from over thinking/over working on a project, concept, etc. I agree with what the others have written about taking a break from, or working through these moments as good solutions - rather than completely abandoning a project.

A good example of "writer's block" is the film, Adaptation, written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Nicolas Cage's performance as Charlie (and Donald) Kaufman really illustrates the difficulties and frustrations writers (and in my opinion creative people) go through.

It's definitely a psychological thing - to burn out, doubt ones ideas, get stuck, be indecisive, etc.

There are several different solutions I have for myself when I'm creatively blocked:

1) Stop working on the project and sit in silence somewhere peaceful, letting my mind wander. I can't tell you how many times this has worked for me to break through the barriers. Sometimes there is just too much noise going around in my head, but if I am still for awhile the ideas flow. Definitely my #1 solution.

2) Take a break from the project and play music. I play piano/guitar, so sometimes just zoning out on playing music helps me get my brain back on track.

3) Talking about the ideas with others. Sometimes hearing other people talk about what I'm trying to do inspires a new idea or confirms an old one. This technique has helped me quite often.

4) Sucking it up and pushing forward. Depending on the project, sometimes I just push through the "block" and hope that eventually I'll get to the good stuff. This is hard to do, but it has worked on some occasions. Mostly on writing projects.

5) Reviewing old work or others work as inspiration. Darcy mentioned this one, as well, and it's worth writing here again. Sometimes I have found pieces of gold in old pages/old music that bring new roads of creativity. Same with others work. Seeing/reading/hearing what others have produced can be refreshing and reset a one track mind that doesn't seem to be going anywhere that it needs to be.

6) Running. Rather than sitting still, sometimes going for a long, hard run empties the brain and lets the creative juices flow freely again.

Hope these help! Saying you have writer's/artist's block is only an excuse if you let it be an excuse. But recognizing and finding solutions to these blocks can help you become a better writer/artist.

Only you'll know the truth as to why you're not working the way you want.

How do you deal with a "block" in your creative flow? Share it here on the Dealio.


  1. I was just thinking about engineering/technical creativity block on my way home today and I remembered this TED speech about writer's block. At around 12 minutes, she talks about creativity coming from a "genius" that acts through the writer.

    So, #7: Blame your genius for your writer's block.

  2. Agree with all these techniques. Sometimes I find that rewriting the previous sentence, and free-writing gives me the best material. Your head can get in the way, so stop thinking and just write.

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  4. I'll sometimes take a 20 or 30 minute nap on the couch and get up to attack the problem. My guitar is also an option.

    Another solution that I've found very successful is to open another document (presuming you're "writing" on a computer) and spilling all my thoughts into that document in whatever order they come out. Often my writer's block is the result of not being able to discursively organize all the thoughts I'm trying to put on paper, and this helps just get things on paper so they can be organized later.

    A third option that I've started using more often lately (especially in finishing the article I recently completed) is to stop typing entirely, open a program that will digitally record speech, and then to talk at the computer as though I were teaching or talking with someone else. (Often I can verbalize my thoughts orally even when I can't put them on paper.) Then I go back and type out what I've said (if the program you use can slow the audio down, it's easier); often it's way better than I could have written otherwise (once it's edited, of course).

    Again, the problem I'm usually having when I have writer's block is translating a "mosaic" of thoughts to a linear, discursive line of text. The latter two solutions are the best I've found for doing that kind of translation work.

  5. what program do you use? that is a brilliant idea - reminds me of being John Malcovich :)