Smashing the Block
Today, I will teach you how to build a sledgehammer. Don’t panic, it’s a metaphorical one! This lesson is designed to help you obliterate the dreaded blocks that can stop your creativity in its tracks.
Any creative person knows the dreaded feeling of the blank page. Whether it’s the first word of a new song lyric or the first line of a drawing, that step can often be the hardest to take. And even when you’ve taken that step and made leaps and bounds into your masterpiece, the fearful Block can still rear its ugly head. Some people are tempted to sit at their computer or desk and simply stare at the page, willing themselves to work. This is a strategy that rarely produces results! But there’s a great trick you can employ to get yourself going again.
Before we look at the activity, I want to take a moment for you to think about things that create the Block for you. When you feel it coming on, it’s important to address any practical, solvable problems that might be causing it first—for example, removing distractions from your space or getting something to drink so you don’t become uncomfortable. If it’s impossible to remove a physical factor that’s stopping you from working, then it might be time to admit that this isn’t the right moment to work on your project. If, however, you can remove all “real” barriers and you still find yourself staring at the dreaded white paper, try the following.
Open an entirely separate document, or get a new page out to write on. This is not your project. It’s important that you acknowledge that from the start. You are now officially working on something else.
Time yourself for 60 seconds, and empty your head by writing all over the page. If you feel like drawing, then draw. If you want to make a list or write in full sentences, do it. Whatever comes to you about how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking, put it down on the new page.
Take a breath. Get up and walk around. Disappear for five minutes and make a cup of tea. Do not engage in anything else that might distract you during those five minutes (e.g., no chores, no checking your phone, no chatting to other people). But let your brain have five minutes off doing a mundane thing, like fixing a drink or jogging on the spot.
Now turn your page of scribbles and nonsense over to the other side (or scroll down the page), and keep it with you as you return to your project. For the next four minutes, time yourself to do something that contributes to your project: a sketch, a plan, a few lines, a few lyrics—anything. If any unrelated thoughts pop into your head, write them on your scrap page, then keep going.
This exercise is designed as a kind of mental reset. If you imagine that your brain is a frozen laptop, we’re basically turning the power off for a few minutes and letting it all restart. The miniature Brain Dump allows you to let go of some of the scramble that’s blocking you. The walk around gets your circulation going, making you feel energized while your now-empty head slowly refills in a better order. And the enforced four minutes of project time shows you that you can make a contribution to your work now, however small.
Most people I’ve tried this technique with are able to carry on working with their project after the block. And if they discover that they’re blocked again, they simply repeat the process and carry on. Activating both brain and body together does wonders for your productivity because when one thing stagnates, it can lead to other systems shutting down. Try the reboot for yourself. If you’re open and committed to it, you’ll see great results!
Tomorrow, we’ll step out into the wider world again by looking at collaboration and interaction with other creative people.
See you then!
Though Jeff Goins’s advice differs from mine in some areas, I really like his hard-nosed approach to what doesn’t work against writer’s block! Compare and contrast opinions here.
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