I don’t know if the feeling I have right now counts as writer’s block, maybe it’s just down time.
This is the feeling anyone creative is familiar with. It’s expansive and opaque, and feels a lot, I assume, like you’ve stuffed your skull full of laundry. Affectionately known as writer’s block, drawing a blank, the creative wall; it’s the end of a road, for one reason or another. A brief trip to the planet Google suggests that people have broken down writer’s block into no less than ten categories. In short, calling a lack of creativity a writer’s block is about as thorough as diagnosing a pounding headache as sickness thumps.
According to the sources, these are the different forms of writer’s block, more or less. I cherry picked these lists to give you the ones I come across personally.
1. Having no idea what to write about.
2. Not knowing where to take an idea
3. You don’t have the words to say what you want, or you don’t know how to say something originally.
4. You get distracted by friends, kittens, or a burning desire to knaw your toes off.
5. There’s too many ideas in your head, but they’re not sustainable.
6. You feel unmotivated.
7. Nothing you write seems good enough, which, similarly, leads into a feeling that…
8. You’re afraid you’ve hit your creative peak a long time ago and now you’re slowly spiraling down into a pit of mediocrity.
Now, I’m writing about writer’s block because that’s what I’m experiencing right now. My dog is trying very hard to regain my attention by throwing a piece of rubber that used to be a soccer ball in the air. Poor dude works so hard to rip my attention away from this computer screen. That last sentence proves how uninterested in what I'm doing at the moment.
So what you’re seeing, by the end of what you may not be able to call an article, is my attempt to push through it. I'm not sure how well it'll work, but I need to know that I can force my way through it like a boxer with blood in his eyes. I’d like to attack the problem more psychologically; the internet is drenched in snake oil cures for creative loss. Let’s face it, the fear of never finding that spark again is terrifying, because a lot of us creative types are pretty sure without that talent, we’re basically useless.
One site suggests that a lack of creativity comes from a sense of apathy, another suggests it’s stress or anxiety. Research indicates more creative problem solving tends to happen when we’re tired, hence the trend of creative types also being night owls. After browsing the many theories available on the topic, I have come to one conclusion.
After giving myself some time to winch out what appears to be a bit of muffin (which should surprise no one) from below my key, I set a timer. Timers have always been helpful for me in getting over the creative hump, because I’m not allowed to stare blankly. Even if I do, it’s not for very long. If you're wondering why the fuck limiting yourself is helpful, it's because I use the timer as a sort of force-element of novelty. I think somewhere in Psychology 101 there's a section about chunking and committing things to memory. I don't know if approaching an uninteresting task is any different in terms of commitment.
I’m not sure what research supports my own theory of writer’s block, but I bet there’s some out there. Also, fair warning, everything from here on out is speculation and I haven’t done any research. It’s my thought vomit you’re taking as advice here.
I think that by nature, humans are near-addicted to novelty. It has some type of evolutionary logic, which you may see as something of a trend in my conclusions about human nature. By constantly seeking out things that are new, we’re often rewarded with better ways to do things. The first person to explore a cave was eaten by a bear. The second one learned how to kill a bear, had a warm place to sleep and eliminate sexual competition.
I guess I’m just anticipating some kind of argument to my own logic, but I hope you see my point. Without trying something new, nothing is gained. Even failure has some value, though maybe not to you. Creativity is based on trying new things, or being forced to try something new after the accepted methods don't work. I think a lot about failure at this point in my life, because I’m not experienced with success. I don’t like admitting that, but I do, and admitting that gives me the freedom not to dwell.
Back to writer's block.
I think this creative rut we often find ourselves in comes from the honing of raw interest. We start doodling because it’s new, therefore we enjoy it. After awhile, we focus, we have a task and we decide it’s in our best interest to be good at it. The discovery phase waxes until we consider ourselves talented, in which we face a waning of interest. Whether or not we also wane in talent is something up for debate, but not something I have enough opinion on to address right now.
So what do we do when what we love becomes the same old, same old? Can you cheat on your creativity? Absolutely. When I have difficulty writing I tend to turn towards art or music. Music holds a special place for me, actually, simply because I’m not very good at it, and by actively not pursuing it, strange as that sounds, it’s always fun. The same can’t be said for my other creative endeavors.
Maybe the cure for writer’s block is novelty, maybe not. According to one neuroscientist, our stressed out brains will actually shut down the non-essential areas of our brain where creativity, sex drive and digestion all live and focus more energy in our limbic system, which is dedicated to running for your life.
We all tend to agree that intelligence and mental illness are brain buddies, so maybe it’s just a simple matter of brain chemistry. Maybe we shut down our own abilities simply because we become refocused on surviving in our anxious, depressed and otherwise fucked up minds. If that’s the case, could it actually be that happy people would be the more creative, instead of the long held assumption that happy people are dumb and ruin everything?
I don’t know. Anyone creative takes a sense of satisfaction, maybe even happiness, from what they do. Honestly, that makes me think yet again of the idea of novelty. Doing the same thing over and over is tedious and by definition not a lot of fun, but we’re also given the slightly flawed assumption that doing things over and over makes us better at it.
So what are we supposed to do, should you trade off enjoyment for talent? Are these things mutually exclusive, really? If it’s not true, and you should only pursue your creativity if it makes you happy, I guess the answer to writer’s block is pretty simple.
Calm the fuck down and enjoy yourself.
Seems like it addresses most of those dissected categories of it, anyway. I don’t know if it’s as easy to apply that logic when you sit in front of your blank canvas, admittedly. It’s that whole Buddha logic we all find so frustrating in its simplicity. So maybe, by framing it a little differently, we could think of conquering writer’s block this way; if it’s not enjoyable, and you don’t have to be doing it right now, then stop doing it. I don’t know if I believe in barreling through writer’s block by sitting down and madly smashing the keyboard until what should be beauty comes out. Maybe that works for some people, but even if it did, I wonder if that would only serve to leave me more frustrated later.
Gosh kids, I never end these with the neat packaging I want to. If I accomplished anything though, it’s that I persevered through my block. I don't know if this is the most inspired thing I've ever written (it's not), but I made it. Hopefully you can find a reason to make something out of your laundry-brain, too.
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.