Busting the Blocks

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Synopsis

Plenty of things can keep us from making meaningful work. Here's how to bust through a few of those blocks.

I find them everywhere: scrawled on the back of envelopes, on Post It’s. On the edge of napkins and in my day planner – both the written calendar and the digital one. Computer files and scraps left in paper files.

Pieces and piles of ideas -- the lifeblood of creativity. They are also the very thing that sometimes keeps me from creating anything at all.

There are whole days that I feel trapped by them. Rather than feeling inspired I’m anxious. Desperate even. There are so many ideas to cover, that I don’t even know where to start. I can never do enough. What if I pick the wrong and miss something better along the way?

When I’m in this mode I can convince myself that the search for The Best Idea Ever is more important than creating anything at all.

It can be like this, right? Sometimes we can get so caught up in the so-called creative process, spinning and chasing leads, and learning techniques, and gathering materials, researching, deciding, thinking, that we are blocked from doing any tangible work.

We spend forever on the little thing, ruminating and wondering without finding any real clarity or vision. Without discovering a starting point.

Or maybe we are creating, but the work feels more like assembly-line art without meaning or inspiration. That’s a block too. An overall dreary, stuckedness.

Creative Blocks

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why creative people don’t create. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to overcome these kinds of creative blocks and get back to doing the work that matters.

Block: Don’t know what to create. This is what I’m talking about. So many ideas, we don’t know where to start. So we don’t. We sit ruminating over the ideas we scrawled weeks and months before. “I could pursue this…” or “maybe I’ll look into this…”

Block Buster: Pick one. Seriously, just pick one. Write it. Paint it. Cook it. Do it. No matter how drab the ingredient or subject becomes, no matter what else comes into your life 15 seconds after you’ve started developing this idea, hang with it. See it through. Often when we are feeling blocked, we simply need to get our bodies and brains creating again. The act of doing that matters more than the idea we are developing.

Block: Work is unclear. Muddled. Unfocussed. Instead of creating anything solid, I’m winding around the ideas, repeating and never getting close to anything meaningful.

Block Buster: Go Back and Regroup. During this block, we might even look really busy, but the work is arduous and miserable. There is no flow. No direction. Probably because you aren’t ready to produce the work yet. When I hit this place it’s because I don’t know my topic well enough. I’m trying to do too much with too little. Go back, refocus your mission, goal, vision. Pull the final details, materials, facts together. Then take another run at it. When we feel unstructured and unfocussed, structure is usually the antidote.

Block: Look at me, super busy, but not getting anything done. Working away, busy, busy, folding the laundry, Facebooking friends, taking inventory of my pens (seriously, I love office supplies), cleaning my nails, writing a To-Do List. Doing it all. Except for the work I really need to be getting done.

Block Buster: Break it down. Often the task we ought to be doing, feels too big. We are overwhelmed by its size or complexity, so we put it off. When you catch yourself in this cycle, back up. Pull out a pen and paper and start making a list. Pick the one big thing you need to get started on, and break it into steps. List out every little thing.

Thinking about writing an entire book, for example, had me pretty freaked out. So, I started by listing the things I needed to do for the first chapter of Imperfect Spirituality: “Find quote to open chapter. Write opening paragraph. Find expert about imperfection. Study notes in file.”

Break down the complex job into simple, little pieces. Then do one. And the next. And so on.

Creativity expert and author Scott Berkun says that by boiling things down help us see where we need to go, identifies which pieces should be priority and makes it seem doable.

Ten Minute Rule

Finally, the best block buster for any one of these situations is to simply do the work. Really.  My favorite trick is to approach the hardest projects with a 10 minute rule. “O.K.,” I say to myself, “I only have to write for 10 minutes. It doesn’t even have to be good writing and no, of course I don’t have to finish the project today. Just 10 minutes.”

Then I get going. And a funny thing happens, by the time the clock ticks down to zero, I’m usually enthralled by the work. On the rare occasion that I am not, almost always, the process itself has triggered something; some inspiration or solution to the creative logjam that makes going forward feel a whole lot easier. Block busted.

Tags: creative block, creative process, creative thinking, creativity and productivity, focus, polly campbell

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