I bet every Cerberus, the mythical multi-headed hound guarding the gates of the Underworld, except in this case it keeps vigil over a well of inspiration. “No trespassing. Beware of mutant dog. Muses, keep out.” The monster doesn’t have to be a canine though. In your case it may be a multi-headed fire-breathing dragon or a multi-headed unicorn, if you’re into horseback riding. Unicorns and dragons are such a cliché, I would like to nominate them for a symbol of any block that has to do with creative expression.— from a student working on a school paper to an accomplished master of the art — can confess to have been depressed, intimidated, or even enraged at least once in his or her life by a blank page. This nasty phenomenon, the paralyzer of thought, the loser of productivity, the miss-er of deadlines, the knott-er of stomach, the bringer of misery, and destroyer of hope is known as . Just writing about it gives me the willies. It’s like
You might assume that creative block applies only to writers and artists, but I would argue it affects a much broader range of folks. It’s odd, however, that no one ever talks about plumber’s or engineer’s block, whereas writer’s block is unparalleled in its notoriety. I wonder why.
Now, back to the multi-headed beast. Each head signifies something that stands between you and the creator you were born to be. May I present the heads: fear of failure, lack of confidence, high expectations and obsession with detail. I’ll talk about each of them in detail later.
So, what can you do to get rid of a formidable fire-breathing unicorn or a pesky barking dragon blocking your path to expressing yourself on paper or, more likely, on a computer screen? Trying to kill it probably wouldn’t work: clichés and myths die hard. I suggest we try taming it. As a fan of Ceaser Millan, the mighty dog whisperer, I want to believe that even the most aggressive dog can be rehabilitated, so why not the multi-headed monster? All you need is a ton of patience and a load of calm assertive energy of a pack leader. Some treats wouldn’t hurt either. This brings us to the writer’s block taming strategies.
The fear-of-failure head is in cahoots with high expectations and thrives on different sources, one of which is comparison. You’ll never get anywhere, if you compare yourself with writers who’ve already made a name, or worse, with literary titans: “I’ll never be another Dostoevsky; I’ll never write another War and Peace or Hamlet; and I’ll never get an inch closer to writing another Great Gatsby…” Another great source of discouragement can come from your own mother, father, teacher, your favourite writer or anyone else of consequence. You can hear your mother saying, “Dear, do something useful with your life, will you? Stop dreaming, girl (boy). You want to be a WHAT? Let’s face it, darling, you’ve got no talent for THAT.” But that is not your mother talking. Guess who? Correct, it’s the fear-of-failure head disguised as your mother’s voice.
This head needs a strong leadership; therefore, to tame it you need to master that calm assertive energy of a pack leader that I mentioned earlier. Breathe deeply and stay focused and relaxed. You can even use a mantra, if you know one. Or you can create your own, something like “no one expects a masterpiece from me. The world doesn’t need a second War and Peace,” or better “It’s not about what I have to say; it’s about how I say it. It’s not about big profound ideas; it’s about connecting my ideas in fresh and unique ways.” Or you simply stop listening to all that inner noise, quit questioning about your talent and keep plugging along. Whatever your motivation to write, if it’s there, that’s enough for now.
As I recently discovered working on a number of projects at work and my writing course assignments at the same time, mantras and affirmations work well most of the time, but they are of little help when a deadline is looming over your head. No doubt, deadlines cause stress, yet, in moderation, they can bolster your confidence and creativity by creating a sense of urgency. When in excess, they can be detrimental. So do what you must to survive the deadline and then continue with affirmations when everything gets back to normal.
Along with getting into the calm-assertive-energy state of mind, try lowering your expectations. You’ll feel better almost instantly — guaranteed. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. And if you don’t produce a masterpiece right here, right now, so what? As long as your writing has a point and, hopefully, some value to others, you’re on the right track.
Now let’s talk about the head called lack of confidence. It is the weakest of all and is easily tamed using treats in the form of paragraph prompts and
Unlike prompt , free writing has no limitations whatsoever in terms of content, length, and organization. Write whatever comes to mind. If nothing comes, write about it: How does this ‘nothing’ feel? What does it look like? What colour is it? What shape is it? I bet you’ll write a full page before you even know it.
Free writing is great. It can defeat even the ugliest and most stubborn writer’s block and help discover ideas you didn’t even know you had. But here is a word of caution: free writing is a tool, make a good use of it, go ahead and indulge yourself, experiment and explore, but don’t mistake the tool for the. Your free writing is for your eyes only, you can take all kinds of liberties with it; the finished piece, however, is for the whole world to see, and a little responsibility on writer’s part goes a long way.
Next on our list is obsession with detail, or perfectionism. If you tend to agonize over every sentence or paragraph in your first draft, you are inviting another obstacle into the. What does it matter if a particular sentence is perfect, if it turns out later it doesn’t belong with the rest of the piece? Moreover, a “perfect” sentence or paragraph is harder to kill. So, resist the urge to obsess with detail, at least when writing a first draft. Get it all out on paper first, and only then flesh out the details.
I used to think that writing was supposed to come easy and take a perfect shape right off the bat, and that was a sign of a Writer. Imagine my relief, when I read in one of my favourite writer’s books that writing doesn’t come easy to him and he often has to work hard on his sentences to make them effective.
I hope by now you feel less intimidated by that blank page staring back at you. Think of it as an invitation to explore the nature of your own mind and get to the heart of hearts of the human condition called creativity.