The best cure for writer’s block? Stop thinking of it as a barricade, and think of it more as a path. I find that most people who deal with writer’s block think of it as a physical block that has to be broken down or overcome when it’s better to approach it as a figurative block.
Imagine your creative flow as a road. Perhaps it’s pretty steady at the moment and everything’s going great. You’re writing up a storm and the printer is spitting out pages, but suddenly you reach a brick wall. You’ve lost your momentum and you’re perplexed or perturbed. Now most writers will just stare at that wall and bash their heads against it until it gives way, but perhaps choosing to turn left or right would be more beneficial.
This is where the figurative block comes in. Perhaps you walk down a block or two, and you find a road that leads you back on track beyond the dead end, or maybe it takes a few or a multitude; regardless, at some point you should find your way, even if it means going all the way back and starting over.
What is it that you’re exactly doing walking up these blocks? You’re having an experience. It could be taken quite literally that you’re going for a walk through town (perhaps to get groceries or just have a breath of fresh air). Maybe you’re watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to music. Or perhaps you’re taking big steps and going on a vacation or extensive adventure. Walking down these roads could be anything (heck, even eating can count), but what matters is that you’re broadening your creative horizons by having experiences to draw from. At some point you’re going to find the right road that leads you back on the right track, or sometimes on a new, more inspired path altogether.
To put it plainly, writer’s block comes about from a lack of inspiration. Rather than sit at your keyboard and question your talent, why not take writer’s block as an opportunity to indulge yourself in leisureness or activity? Why not let your mind rest up as well as absorb more ideas? There’s no need to fret, because the fact is inspiration doesn’t magically come about by staring at a blank page; it comes from living and being active. See the world, find a story, and make yourself hunger to fill that page, because you just can’t force-feed inspiration.
A lot of artists I’ve known throughout the years suffer from the same form of creative guilt as I do. This guilt is that little voice inside of you that says:
“Daniel, you haven’t done any writing today or yesterday! You’ve been working on the same story for a month now! You gotta do something big and monumentous! You have to prove to everyone that you can do it! You gotta drop everything and write for 4 weeks straight, never stopping and not talking to anybody! Everyone is going to think you’re some sort of hack if you don’t deliver some sort of product, and FAST!”
As great as these intentions are, this usually leads to something I like to call “breaking the dam.” It’s a creative act that seeks to do something REALLY BIG, and ALL AT ONCE, like some sort of creative hiroshima massacre.
Sure you got everyone’s attention with your huge explosion of creativity, but this doesn’t give you a good foundation to build on. Instead it gives all artists a false sense of accomplishment.
Please learn from my mistakes, and know that leaps of absurd ambition do not equal productivity… or product. Haven’t you ever heard anybody say, “quality, not quantity?”
I know there is a lot to be said about setting high goals for yourself, and I’m all-for people trying to pursue their dreams. I also understand that there are some artists who can’t help but get a flush of inspiration. This is an enviable aspect of the craft. Yet it is an aspect that is strengthened by a routine, rather than a stand alone occurrence. But if you ‘break the dam’ on your craft… yes you will be doing something big with your life, but at the end of the day you’re left with a broken dam. You’ll be drowning in your own flood waters, and you won’t have any energy left to pick up the pieces.
Try to build a foundation for yourself – brick by brick; a great cement dam that holds back the demons of guilt and doubt. You need to be prepared for failures. I’m sure everyone has heard the bedtime story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady wins this race. Don’t tucker yourself out and feel depleted every year. If you do that you won’t get anything done.
Famed director Stephen Spielberg made several made-for-TV movies, and TV-Specials before he even attempted an ambitious project like JAWS. Learn from my mistakes. Please. Small ‘doable’ actions have gotten me further than I ever thought possible.
Practice some self discipline, and map out a plan of action for yourself before making any drastic decisions. Then put your plan into action, and by all means PACE yourself.
Just try to be a doer, and NOT a doer-all-at-once.
- Daniel J. Pike
“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
— Stephen King (On Writing)
I have the utmost respect for Mr. King. That man has more novels in him than almost any other author. Like King, I whole heartedly agree that ideas spring from nowhere, or the sky. I like to believe in Julia Cameron’s idea, author of The Artist’s Way, when she says, “…ideas come from the great creator”. Call it God, inspiration, nature, or whatever you like, ideas spring out from the empty vacuum of nothingness. Someone or something, is tuning us into the realm of imagination, where dreams are screaming to be written.
For me, writing is as close to me as my faith. I practice it daily. It brings me closer to creativity, and it nudges me back to matters of personal faith. Wherever ideas come from, and I’m sure there are no right or wrong answers, we must be thankful that ideas DO in fact come to us.
The problem we artists suffer from, is when these ideas become plugged like a blocked pipe, or a dammed river. We become furious with ourselves that we can’t hurdle the foreboding nothingness of the blank page. We must accept that creative blocks happen, and they are often frustrating or very personal.
For me, writing is like stigmata. It seemingly springs up out of nowhere, and is sometimes very painful. Ideas can be infuriating, but they can also be empowering. It is an ethereal, sometimes spiritual aspect that brings me down out of the clouds, and onto the blank page of my story. The water starts to flow from the tap. The river breaks the dam and becomes a rapid downhill adventure, until the very last page.
Whatever is blocking you, I hope some of the tools presented on this blog, will help to unravel the knots in your story, and your soul.