by Troels Folmann. August 2013.
Writer’s Block … We all face the wall at various times in our artistic careers. An artistic sort of impotence. The literature is somewhat sparse on the phenomena and how to overcome it. This article explores the concept of “Writer’s Block” and discusses why it is integral to the growth of the artist, while also providing ideas/inspiration for how to untangle yourself from this sticky mental spaghetti.
There are many things that can cause a writer’s block. Whether it be creative challenges, psychological/emotional struggles, perfectionism, anxiety, stress, physical illness, overintellectualization (is that even a word), etc. But regardless of the cause, the end-result is the same. You essentially find yourself stranded in a dead, blank landscape of nothingness. Whenever you try to create something it just stares back at you and mirrors how much you suck. You might even have a glimmer of hope and a moment of inspiration, but 5 minutes later you are back in the abyss, faced with your suckiness.
So what is going on? Why is this happening?
Psychologically it would probably make sense to try and identify the source of your suckiness. But maybe there is something more important going on? Maybe you are facing a writer’s block – cause you want to break your limits? Maybe this is your ticket to do something you have never done – break free from your patterns, your conventions and whatever repeating elements are keeping you back? Maybe a writer’s block is a type of dark inspiration designed to push you outside your comfort zone? The world would never have evolved without it. Everything grows from challenges. The Writer’s Block is just a psychological barrier designed to widen your talent as an artist – and here are some the tricks I use to overcome it:
1. Don’t think – just do
Athletes talk about how they loose their flow/feel when they start thinking. I think the same goes for any type of art-form. The second you start to over-analyze and just think too much – the whole thing falls apart. Try to let go of your thoughts about what your writing should or could be. Let go of comparing yourself with others. Let go of attempting to be someone who you are not. But just allow yourself to work without any thoughts. So essentially just start writing regardless of where it leads you – use your emotions as your steering wheel. It doesn’t matter where it brings you – as long as it brings you somewhere else. An exercise in “follow the stream of consciousness” – without any thinking.
2. It’s just a sketch
The likelihood that you have created a masterpiece is … statistically speaking … not in your favor. I regard 99% of my music as practice/sketches and instead of trying to write an opus – maybe just make something that lasts 10 seconds, but sounds cool. Don’t pressure yourself into something. Be proud when you kill your beloved tracks and accept that you are in a sketch mode.
3. Do anything, but write
I watched a great TED talk recently called: “Sitting is the new Smoking” and I actually think there is a correlation between writer’s block and lack of exercise. So time to show that beautiful belly to the world and work it out. Also do not underestimate the power of sleeping, sex, chillaxing, watching youtube videos of Burning Man and catching up on all the great shows. While it might seem like a slacker attitude – it completely removes your find from the stress and secretly infuses you with inspiration. Free Video Games can be great too!
4. Face the Wall
Go head-on collision with the block. Be relentless and just keep stabbing at it, until you overcome it. This is the most hardcore way of overcoming the block and something I have used often … sometimes it worked … other times I just had to accept the ultimate fate and press “delete”. In hindsight, I am not the biggest fan of this method since you teach yourself to battle your work, which may not be the best long-term strategy. But when John Adams wrote his “Harmonielehre“, it was partially an attempt to overcome a writer’s block – writing freely – combining fragments together to become something new and whole. Beethoven spent over 5 years on his 5th Symphony (<<< this link rocks btw- its a visualization of his symphony and a breathtaking journey into the brilliance of modulating a two note theme). It might seem counterproductive to mention two great symphonies in context to discussing writer’s block, however both of these things were born by facing the wall. Without a doubt, these symphonies involved a demoralizing amount of sketching and rewriting.
5. Mock-up someone else
A good friend of mine (who eventually gave up his music career) would overcome his block by spending time creating mockups of other people’s music. This is a more analytic way of getting yourself out of things. The times I have attempted to do it – I always ended up making something new, since the notion of mocking-up someone else’s music got even more tiresome then the writer’s block itself.
6. But most importantly …
Focus on the flow and ease of things. A writer’s block does NOT mean you cannot write – it just means you cannot write what you want. So instead of battling it – try to identify what comes naturally to you and follow that. There are no ultimate ways of overcoming the writer’s block, but try to find the origin of your happiness and pursue that. Don’t be too hard on yourself – we all suck in different ways. I don’t think that all these methods will work for you, since we all work in different ways. So take everything with a grain of salt – blend it with your own ideas and feel free post below if you have other methods.
And … if you are still demoralized after reading this – try checking out these rejection letters to Madonna, Andy Warhol, Tim Burton, U2 and a bunch of other artists.