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Being Stuck and Unsticking

October 3, 2012

I attended a new meetup group on Sunday on the creative process. The attendees were a mixed bag of artists/crafters.  A common theme I heard during the introductions and subsequent discussion was on being stuck creatively.  We writers have a fancy name for it, of course, being word people.  We call ours is “writer’s block.”

In my experience, the whole phenomenon of stuckness has an emotional kernel. (For us experienced creatives, that’s no big surprise.)  And that’s what I heard from these folks.  One woman, a frustrated jewelry designer, works in jewelry repair, spending her days examining someone else’s broken jewelry for ways to fix them.  A left-brain problem-solving activity.  She says she has no energy for jewelry design when she gets home.

When I worked full-time, I noticed that after a day of dealing with the boss and co-workers, the inevitable conflicts that occur, negotiating about this, compromising on that, and juggling pace and projects, I had little creative energy, too.  Here’s my theory:  when the left brain has been ascendent for so long, it’s really hard to switch gears, especially when one’s mind is exhausted from all the tumult of the day.  The TV and utter vegetation beckon beguilingly.  “…Forget about life for awhile” might be one’s thinking.

After listening to the other experienced creatives talk in this meetup, I noticed a common theme for getting unstuck:  a tiny bit of energy, exposure and movement.  Ironically, like physical exercise, one needs to expend energy to get energized.  One woman said she’d just go into her studio, thinking to spend five minutes making a few lines with chalk.  But, she’d emerge over an hour later, not only having made a significant new beginning but feeling re-energized too.  She simply needed the energy to walk into the room and become exposed to her medium.

When I’ve gotten worried that I can’t write the next part, here’s my process:

  1. Bring up an empty Word page.  Not too hard, right?
  2. Next,  I blurt out my concerns like I’m journaling: “oh, crap, I can’t write” and other assorted whining — just to clear the pipes of emotional sludge.
  3. Then, I start asking questions like “Well, what if I did this?  How would that impact the story?  Would it shut off other plot lines or open up doorways to others?  How about this?”  And on and on.

It’s like an virtual brainstorming session.  That’s how I got the high-level plots for the next three books in my Race the Night series.

No, new ideas?  Write down your dreams.  Even just describe an image or two from a dream.  Then write around it.  There’s a kernel of the creative spark in there.  Then get rid of the dross.  (Remember. Anne Lamott said, “All first drafts are shitty.”)

Or read other people’s stuff, take an idea that intrigues you and give it your own creative spin.  I read poetry, too; vivid imagery always gets my creative juices flowing.

A little energy plus exposure plus movement.  Just having the energy to bring up that blank page, exposing my fears and new thoughts, the simple movement of my fingers on the keyboard and the ideas in my head make it happen.  And it’s so exciting and compelling while it’s happening.  Like drafting new work, this makes me feel alive…and like I’m making my own minor magic.

Hopefully, it’ll work like that for you too.  Or this will spark a process that works for you.  What are your thoughts on being stuck and getting unstuck?

  1. A great post, Deb. Thanks for the tips. I’m glad you were able to get yourself ‘unstuck’. I was in the exact same place and wrote a post on it that you can read here:

    Best of luck on your writing journey!

    -Conrad Zero

  2. Another Great post Deb! I really enjoyed it. I’m going to use your tips for getting going. I’m working on my outline for NaNo and have too many ideas on where my plot can go and feel like taffy being pulled by an octopus, in eight different directions.

  3. Good luck with the outline!

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