So you’ve just gotten your first writing job, or maybe you’ve just started a public blog.
Or maybe you’re seeking an innovative marketing spin for your company.
Or you are finally sitting down to tackle that novel that’s been mulling around in your head for years.
When there is pressure to write (create), we all (at some point or another) experience performance anxiety. Yup, we all go ‘soft.’ It happens to everyone, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing back to your brain.
1. Move! You don’t need to go crazy with a heavy workout. In fact if you are gone from your desk for too long you might go back. So put on your favourite song and dance around your house like crazy for 10 minutes.
2. Listen. Pick a song that affects you, lie down, close your eyes and just listen. I happen to be obsessed with Joanna Newsom because she has all this floaty ethereal harp music and some amazing compositions, but most importantly her lyrics are entirely poetic and bizarre and amazing. I can’t help but be creatively inspired when I listen to her. “Only Skin” is probably one of my favourite songs, ever, for this reason. It is (a rich and delicious) 16 minutes long.
3. Grab an old journal and leaf through it (books work too). Maybe what you grab will be an ancient, musty-smelling diary from high school, the one where you rambled forever about that one boy with the long blonde hair who must totally dig you because he always stares at you in Math class. (NB: this never really happened to me—I was pretty invisible in high school, but it could make the start of a good story.)
4. Make noise. Grab that dusty guitar, tune up the piano, try to make something of that. It’s likely that you have an instrument of some sort lying around their house, even if it’s just a shaky egg, or your kid’s xylophone. Write some silly little haiku about how it feels or sounds.
5. Stop thinking, start feeling. I don’t mean ‘feelings’ like in your heart (necessarily), I mean in your body. How do your fingers feel (not) tapping on the keyboard? What position your legs are in? What did you last do that was physical? How did it feel? Who were you with? OK, now my mind is going into the gutter, but that’s not where it started, I swear!
6. Laugh. Watch a dumb Youtube clip and write why you think it’s funny. I absolutely love this clip from Anchorman. It makes me want to write about how I am learning to laugh about my own tendency to be overly emotional. Maybe Will Farrell isn’t life-changing for you, but the idea is that even a 30-second clip could pull you out of that headspace of ‘pressure’ enough to have something shift in your brain.
Smoke a Drink a glass of wine. I don’t want to give the impression that alcoholism is good, but if you do drink, a little glass of wine (or two) probably can’t hurt. Remember to edit in the morning, though (per Hemingway’s advice: “write drunk, edit sober.”)
8. Start a new conversation, or find an old one. Topics, themes, metaphors can spring from anywhere. Could be a funny text someone sent you, an e-mail from a lover years ago, a Facebook message thread with a work mate, or the cashier at the grocery store that made you smile (or growl).
9. Accept the fact that what you write might suck. I’m pretty sure that your creations don’t (or won’t) actually suck, but your anxiety is likely based on the idea that others won’t like what you do, right? Well, what if it totally doesn’t matter that you might suck? What if you are just writing because you love it, so just doing it is what counts? Is it possible to believe this? Can you grab this idea and write with it?
10. Watch this Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she mentions the concept of removing the ego from the creative process. It’s a pretty cool idea: what if this isn’t about ‘you’ at all? What if it is some kind of strange spiritual calling, and in that sense you are more like a conduit, rather than a producer/director that controls everything?
Really, you just need to do something else, pretty much anything will work (the weirder the better) as long as it’s interesting enough to get you out of your own head for a good 10 or 20 minutes.
Whether you’re poised at the keyboard or not, practice finding a fresh perspective. Practice thinking differently about the creative process itself. Practice not thinking much at all.
What do you do to work through creative blocks? Feel free to share your own tips in the comment section.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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