Photo by Cindy Loughridge
Do you have to complete a piece of writing but are putting it off? A report, a blog article, or a letter? Are you finding that the moment you sit down to write, your mind seems to go blank? Crap! Writers block! What can you do about it?
Although, the term writers block is popular, this feeling of blockage and mind blanking is not specific to writing, but of any creative feats. Other examples include, brainstorming for a new business, dancing, musical performances, music composition, painting or photography. I’ve personally experienced this during my photography work, blanking out as I stand in front of a client waiting for me for direction. I call these Creative Blocks, where your mind just comes up empty and you feel lost. It’s purely mental.
Through practice and observation, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting past these blank moments, and this article shares some insights for unlocking your creativity. Throughout the article, I will be using writing as the example, but keep in mind that it is equally applicable to any creative activity.
Creativity & Mental Blocks
Before digging into how we can unlock these creative blocks, here are some observations on the subject of feeling mentally blocked.
- The more we Think about it, the worse it becomes. The more we think about not knowing what to write, the stronger the feeling of not knowing what to write, the harder is it to come up with creative and original content.
- Creativity is a miraculous interaction of the mind and spirit. Regardless of how we label it, I believe it is inter-linked with spiritual realm of things (not religion). Talk to any exceptional artists and they’ll explain that the creative space is comparable to that of no-mind spiritual state. My brilliant cellist friend once explained it perfectly, “that place in you which is infinite and unexplainable and nothing physical can compare to that space. When I am in that place, all thoughts clear out. It’s just me and the field of infinity.“
- We all have the capacity within us to access this place of infinite creativity. However, what may be blocking us is our mind, our thoughts, the inner noise created by ourselves, consciously and unconsciously.
- When we are working in that creative space, we are experiencing flow. We feel happy, content, and passionate. Time just flies. Think of the last time you were deeply in joy with writing, creating something or deeply immersed in a project. What did that feel like?
- There is no such thing as “I am not a creative person“, it may only be the case because we keep telling ourselves that. Creativity is something that can be cultivated. We are born with access to the creative space, some of us may be more in-tuned to it, but it is never too late to get in touch with that side of ourselves.
- When we need to produce something creative on a deadline, we may succumb to fear and start to procrastinate. Our thoughts get in the way sometimes, because we are afraid that we won’t be able to produce quality result in time, and so we push it away.
How to Overcome Writer’s Block
From my experience as a writer, I’ve learned that unless I was exceptionally inspired to write about a particular topic, I will experience writer’s block every single time. Sitting in front of a blank screen, my mind chatter would fire off random and discouraging thoughts. Ones like the following:
- How should I start the article? Errr.. I donno.
- How to structure the body? Can this article be as good as the last?
- Crap, I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel very good.
- I think I’m gonna check email. And to get a drink after that. I’ll delay this a bit more.
Can you relate? If so, you are not alone. It is quite normal to hear mind chattering. As widespread and as ‘normal’ as these self-destructive thoughts, they are not the problem. The problem is when we start to believe in these thoughts.
The secret to overcoming writer’s block is simple, and that is to just do it. Literally!
Here’s a simple stepped process that I follow when doing any sort of writing:
Step 1: Awareness - At any point during the following steps, you may be interrupted by your mind chatter yapping in the background. When you hear him or her, just say, Thank you for sharing. And continue on with what you’re doing.
Step 2 – Topic Selection – When selecting a topic, always choose one that you align with, closely. Preference goes to topics that you are personally experiencing now or in a recent past. Being able to emotionally connect with what you’re writing about is the seed for inserting that passion into your writing. Passion adds energy into a piece of writing and makes it come alive. If you do not connect with the available topics and you don’t have alternative options, visualize what it would feel like to be passionate about that topic.
Step 3 – Brainstorm & Capture Random Ideas – Spend 5-10 minutes to list out everything you can possibly talk about for this topic. List out all ideas, thoughts, sentences that come to you. List in bullet points and do so as fast as possible. Do not judge the thoughts that come to you, write everything down. No editing, just listing. Don’t worry about spelling, structure, or grammar. You can always delete them later. The point of this step is getting as many ideas down as possible. Also, this step helps you to get into the flow and rhythm of creative thinking.
Step 4 – Roughly Organized the Flow - See if you can move some of the thoughts from last step into meaningful groupings. It doesn’t have to be perfect or finalized. This step helps you to organize your thoughts a bit and starts to create a sense of logical flow.
Photo by Katsuaki Shoda
Step 5 – Jumping Over the Block – Start writing your opening paragraph without too much editing. Your first attempt might suck, and you will hear yourself shouting that in your head. Ignore them and continue to write without caring about how it sounds. Don’t bother erasing, just keep going. If you want to rephrase a paragraph, just write it above the old paragraph without removing the old paragraph. No perfection here, we’re just getting thoughts in paragraph form. Don’t worry about tweaking, do that later. The point of this step is to create the article flow.
I’ve found that often time, we get stuck at properly re-wording a sentence. In the end, we’ve spent so much time tweaking every detail that we still don’t know how the writing will flow. The important point here is to just write and get your ideas down in paragraph form, regardless of how sloppy or casual a paragraph may sound. You can always come back to perfect the paragraphs later, or re-write them once you have the important ideas down.
Step 6: Going with the Flow – After doing step 5 for a while, you will find an emotional connection with your writing. For me, this typically takes about 3-5 paragraphs of just writing without editing, at which point, words and nicely phrased sentences would flow out of me, effortlessly. Now, follow that flow. Either continue to write the rest of the article draft, or go back to re-phrase previously written paragraphs.
Step 7: Keep a Scratch Pad – As you come up with better ways of re-phrasing ideas, take your old wordings and paste them into a separate file known as the scratch pad. For example, I keep a file on my laptop called “blah.doc” which acts as my scratch pad of random paragraphs and sentences during writing. As useless as they may seem, they can pose as a pointer to the original idea. Even if the original phrasing is rough around the edges and not presentable, keeping the words mean no ideas are lost.
Step 8: Rephrasing & Trimming the Extra Pounds - Go through the article several times. At each sentence, ask yourself whether you can better phrase the sentence using less words? Add clarifying sentences only when you feel that it adds to the article. Do paragraphs sound verbose and not add value to your writing? If so, cut it out.
Tips for Unlocking Creativity
In addition to the steps above, here are the habits and tips which have helped me get more in-tuned with my inner creativity:
- Follow Your Heart – Being inspired and passionate about what you’re creating is like swimming with the waves, they help push you in the direction you want to go without too much extra effort. Equally, when you’re creating something you don’t have much passion for, is like swimming against the waves, you can get back on the shore, but you’ll have to work a lot harder, while spending more energy doing so.
- Tell the Truth - If you aim for truth without letting your ego take center stage, you will find that brilliance results as a side effect to your efforts. Practice candidness and speaking honestly, your authenticity will shine through and people will know because they too can feel it. Here’s a sweet quote you might like:
- “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” ~ C.S Lewis
- Keep a Notebook at all Times – Always carry some form of paper and pen with you. You will never know what strokes of inspiration you’ll encounter as you enter the realms of everyday life.
- Writing Down Ideas - We tend to get creative ideas during the week at times when we are not in front of the computer. Make a habit of writing everything down in your notebook, everything from inspirational quotes, to ideas that strike you, to personal thoughts and observations. For example, for this blog, I keep a doc containing a list of topics for future articles, and I add to this list whenever I feel that passion kicking in my heart about some new topic.
- Inviting Creativity – When we get ideas, often our mind is so loud that we don’t notice them. Even when we notice these ideas, we start judging them. We would come up with reasons why they wouldn’t work. However, when we do this, we are really sending messages to our unconscious mind that we’re not interested in receiving notices of creative ideas. And we stop receiving them as often. Make a habit of seeking creative ideas, and create a space that welcomes them without judgment when they come, noting them down and give gratitude for having received them.
- Give it Time – Send out a clear intention on what you would like to create and think about it over the next few days. You’ll find that once the intent is sent, you’ll start receiving related ideas at random times. Make sure you write everything down as it comes. You’ll be thankful you did.
- Establish an Enjoyable Routine – We are creatures of habits and we are strongly subjective to associations. It’s a good idea to create a routine or ritual around when you write or do anything creative. With time, your mind will associate the routine with falling into a creative space. My personal routine is: having hot tea, listening to ambient music without singing, and having a blanket or my little dog covering my lap. It’s true! :)
- Meditate - I cannot emphasize enough the benefits meditation and spending alone time for gaining mental clarity and easier access to your creative space. There are some fantastic guided meditation audio at Zencast, free of charge. For starters, just start with 5-10 minutes of silent time every morning with complete focus on your breath.
- Practice, Practice, Practice - The more we do something, the better we get. Period. Not only do we get better, it becomes easier, or rather, we adapt to it. The more opportunity we spend in that creative space, the easier it will be to fall into it next time. It’s like anything else.
Photo by Katsuaki Shoda
- Exposure - If you want to be good at something, expose yourself to it as much as possible. If you want to become a better writer, read powerful and inspirational writing, often. If you want to be a photographer, check out publications from photographers whose work you connect with, or inspires you. Find someone with the kind of results you want, and model the positive traits they have. Assimilate these traits and develop them into your own style.
- Remove Distractions – There’s nothing like being interrupted while you’re in the zone. Once you are interrupted, you need to spend extra time in order to get yourself back in that state again. If you’re about to get in your creative zone, it’s a good idea to get rid of all potential interruptions. Turn off the TV, put your phone on mute, don’t answer the door, put pets in another room, let your spouse known what you’re up to, etc.
- Just Be Yourself - When you try hard to sound good, you’ll come off sounding unauthentic, and people are sensitive to that. Don’t try to be anything, just BE. Be in the moment as you are, right now. And from where we are, see what unfolds in this moment.
- Cross-train - Think of the creative space as an infinite field of energy and intelligence. The activities we consider to be creative endeavors, such as writing, drawing, dancing or playing instruments, are simply tools that give us glimpses into that space. And when we practice other creative activities, we access different channels to the same stream of energy. Try doing something creative that frightens you or you don’t have much experience with. Go dancing or take a salsa class if dancing isn’t your thing. If you don’t think you’re a good writer, write a personal letter to yourself, make it introspective and intimate. If you feel that the best you can draw are stick figures, you have to check out this book: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and workbook. Phenomenal book on developing the creative side of your brain.
What do you do that makes you feel creative? Got any tips for how to get in touch with this beautiful state we know as creativity? See you in the comments below! Talk soon.
Other Articles You May Like:
- 9 Ways of Cultivating Creativity
- 7 Habits of Highly Innovative People
- Your Guide to Get Spinning in the Idea Tornado
- The Secret to Self Loving
External Resources on Creativity:
- Book: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
- Book: The Myths of Innovation
- Web: Thinking Like a Genius
- Interview: with Chuck Close
- CopyBlogger: 10 Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking
- Skellie: 110+ Resources for Creative Minds
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