Work It #10 from A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld
Chapter 10: Break the Blocks to Creative Flow
For this chapter on breaking the blocks to creative flow, I’m giving you three different tasks, because your reason for block may not be the same each time, and also because sometimes it takes more than one method to slip inertia’s grip.
- MENTAL: Quickly take a look at the work you’re stuck on, or simply hold in mind the project you can’t start. Or if you have research materials or other info about the project, put it in front of you. Give yourself the goal of writing one sentence. That’s it, just one sentence. Now get up and do the physical activity in exercise two. Then come back. See if you can’t write just one more sentence. Then get up and do a physical activity. Come back. Write one more.
- PHYSICAL: A study done by cognitive psychologist Professor Lorenza Colzato of Leiden University in The Netherlands revealed that people who exercised four times a week were “able to think more creatively than those with a more sedentary lifestyle.” But you don’t have to run marathons or even leave your house in order to engage in a creativity-stimulating form of exercise. Did you know that simply flapping your arms as though to simulate flying, which also gets your heart rate up, is enough to do the trick? If you can make yourself laugh in the process, even better.
Make sure no one’s around, so you won’t do this halfheartedly. Pretend you’re a bird. Try to take flight. Even squawk. Maybe you’re a chicken. By now, you’re either laughing or flapping, and your heart rate is up. Your subconscious creative trapdoor just swung open without you even realizing it. Return to your desk and write one more sentence.
- EMOTIONAL: You may have heard about a somewhat dubious-sounding theraputic technique introduced in the seventies called primal scream therapy. This therapy emerged from the idea that sometimes all a person needs to do to shed emotional baggage is to have a good primal yawp at the top of his lungs. This couls also include pillow punching, phonebook ripping, and other feats of brute strength. Don’t worry–I’m not going to ask you to do this! I am, however, going to ask you to do a written version of it. Set a timer for fifteen minutes minimum, with no maximum. Whatever works for you. At the top of the page, write what you’re facing, whether it’s inertia or creative block, in as derogatory language as you can muster. “I can’t make progress on my stupid novel.”
Below that, start a list called “Reasons I won’t/shouldn’t/can’t make progress with this project.” In psychoanalysis, this is called the “pro-symptom” approach. Rather than trying to talk yourself into something you don’t want to do, you sympathize with and embrace the discomfort, the part of you throwing its personal tantrum. See how long you can actually go on with this negative sympathy.
When you run out of things to write, start a new list: “Reasons why I should/must/will finish this project.” Always try to end an exercise on a positive note.
For some reason, this Work It exercise feels more difficult than the others have been for me. I’m also incredibly distracted because my puppy is determined to interrupt me this morning, it seems. It’s like he’s perfectly happy to entertain himself until I sit down to write, and then he becomes the neediest puppy on the planet out of nowhere. In any case, it’s time for me to turn my attention to the actual work of this Work It exercise.
I’ve been stuck on my novel, Frost, for quite some time now. I’m supposed to focus on writing just ONE sentence of this work. I have an outline sentence for the next scene I’m supposed to be working on. “Lauren, Tamara, and a bunch of volunteers take to the caverns because Adele doesn’t know about them, and they make the Linothorax in secret.”
So…one sentence in this scene. Let me see. Maybe “As Mack led me into the caverns, I was flabbergasted by the sheer number of volunteers waiting to help make the Linothorax.” It’s not profound, but it is the first sentence I’ve written on this project in about four months, now! That’s pretty freeing.
I’m having a momentary freakout because there’s a spider in my room, and I PROMISE you I just did PLENTY of flailing and other hear-rate raising movements trying to get away from it. I hate hate HATE spiders, and I am 100% terrified of them, and I wish they didn’t exist. It did, however, serve the purpose of getting my heart rate up. On to the next sentence, then. “There were men, women, children, and elders all waiting to do their part to defend each other.”
On to the next part…the emotional primal scream thing. Right now, the thing I most want to scream about is that there’s a freaking spider in my room, and I wasn’t fast enough to kill it, and now I don’t know where it is and I want it DEAD. I can feel things crawling on me. I know it’s just psychosomatic, but UGH.
I seem to be incapable of making progress on this worthless, idiotic novel of mine.
Reasons I won’t/shouldn’t/can’t make progress with this project:
- It’s changed so much over the past 10 years that I’ve been working on it that I just feel like I’m beating a dead horse into an unnecessary grease stain in the annals of history.
- I should be working on my MTE school work instead. I should be prioritizing the moneymaking career over my writing. It’s stupid not to.
- I should be cleaning the house.
- I should be focused on making all the people who are important to me happy before I focus on myself. Me focusing on my writing is selfish and irresponsible.
- I have no followthrough. Everyone knows it. I’ve been working on this stupid project for 10 years, and I’ve gotten nowhere. I don’t even know why I insist on trying to finish it.
- I didn’t want this book to be Christian fiction because I was afraid that would limit its scope and marketability, but the story disagrees with me.
- I need to make so many changes to it that I’m never going to finish.
- I suck at writing “As If” and “SFDs” because I’m a perfectionist who’s completely unwilling to relinquish control of my brainchild. Everything should be perfect and fixed before I move on to the next thing.
- It’s a lousy, stupid idea that nobody but me actually cares about. What’s the point of even putting it out there? It’s completely lame.
- I hate myself for wasting so much time on a story that’s never really going to be successful. I don’t know why I can’t let it go and try to move on. The lives of everyone around me would probably be better if I just let the story die and learn to be a grownup with a real job and steady income.
- If I were any good as a writer, I would already have cranked this book out, along with the two sequels planned for it, rather than letting them stagnate in my head.
- It’s changed and evolved so much that I don’t know how to categorize it anymore.
- I haven’t finished my research, which I need in this next scene. What’s the point of moving forward right now without it?
- I feel like the cathartic value of this novel is gone for me. What’s the point? I’m just wasting everyone’s time.
Reasons why I should/must/will finish this project:
- It has lived in my head longer than any of my other ideas. Ten years is far too much time for a story to be taking up mental real estate instead of living on bookshelves, where it belongs.
- If I finish it and get it out there, that would make the people who invested in Frost very happy.
- I know that there’s an important message in this story for people who share my feelings.
- God wouldn’t have let me spend ten years on a story if I weren’t supposed to complete it and share it with the world.
- There are plenty of people out there who have shown interest in Frost, even in its rough, original state. It’s incomplete and it still has over 4,000 +Votes on JukePop.
- There is a message I’m meant to share in this book, and my soul won’t let me rest until I get it out there.
- I love writing in the same way my husband loves fishing and drag racing. Why should I deny myself something that I enjoy so deeply, and that means so much to me?