Writer's Block - getting started

Part Five:

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Continuing in my series of blogs about stress and writer's block, today I am moving from perfectionism to understanding creative block. So what the hell is Creative Block?

It's all down to the neurons!

Strictly speaking, creative block probably arises as a result of the pressure we put ourselves under through procrastination and/or perfectionism.

But, there are other factors at play, and creativity is a complex issue.  So, in true Stress(ed) Guru style, let’s simplify and understand.

By creativity, particularly as writers, we mean the process of generating ideas, characters, plots, themes, creation of narrative, dialogue, poetry, paragraphs, sentences and individual words.

So it’s everything then?

Yes and no.

Howay man! Can’t you be a bit more helpful than that?! 

Alright, alright, I’ll explain.

There is the task of writing.  The process of writing or typing one letter after another and bringing the ideas, images and intentions to life is one that can often feel very much like a task, a chore – hard work.

But underneath that task is the creative process, and, whilst they often operate hand in hand, they engage different elements of brain function and are therefore sensitive to different disruptive factors.

In order to bring the ideas to life, they must first be ‘created’, then the ‘task’ of writing takes place.

To illustrate, let’s use the often cited ‘left and right’ brain analogy.  Before I do, I will say there is a lot of misunderstanding about this, but for the purposes of this blog it helps to use the simple analogy (just keep in mind, that the mind is far more complex and not so easily compartmentalised).

Left for logic, language and the rational; right for creative, musical and the irrational.

Imagine the processes of task, logic, and rational being distinct from the creative ‘bigger picture’.

When we set about the ‘task’ of writing, we rely on the left side – our language and logic side – to do its thing, but in order to be successful it needs to communicate with the creative and irrational side for the source material.

Problems arise when we put ourselves under pressure – pressure  to write; to complete so many words; to do so before such and such a time, and so on.  This pressure, whilst familiar to our left brain which has evolved to become a more dominant force, has a pretty disruptive effect on the creative side of our brain. Such stress can effectively block our creativity and lead us to stare blankly at a screen for hours on end or move into procrastination mode.

So why is it that when I have a looming deadline I can suddenly pull out all the stops and produce 1000’s of words and complete the manuscript/project/report/article?

In fact, this is not your creative process kicking in.  This is your left, rational brain, saying ‘let’s get this done’, taking over and driving production.  The fact is that the real creativity probably took place days, weeks or even months ago and has been sitting idly in smoking jacket and slippers, admiring its nails, hoping nobody discovers it and decides to drag it kicking and screaming into the real world. I can sympathise.

So the key to overcoming creative block (we’ll be looking at tips and tactics next time) seems to be separating the creative process from the actual writing, and separating the writing process from the editing. As each stage of the writing process progresses the creativity involved lessens, and the logical task completion stuff kicks in. By separating the stages we can maximise the success of each.

Next time we’re on to tools, tips, tactics, strategies, action plans, policies, manifestos, to-dos and all the rest to help us to deal with:

Creative flow

The writing process

The editing process

If you’ve got any of your own suggestions pop them in the box below and I’ll feature them all in a future post.

Keep an eye out for the next blog.

Dave Algeo
Motivational Speaker on resilience and men's mental health. 

Asking yourself 'is this it?'  Have you got to a point in life where, despite working hard and building a 'great life' you still feel there's got to me more?  Here's a short video with three tips to help you get back a sense of hope and direction.