So many of the books written on the creative process try to convince you that there really isn’t such a thing as “writer’s block”. They’ll quote established writers from Ernest Hemingway to Stephen King, Agatha Christie to Joan Didion. All you need to do is show up every day, and just start writing. Sometimes it’s just crap and ends up in the trash, and sometimes there is some good in there that’s worth mining and exploring further. And I believe this to be absolutely true. Louis L’Amour advises “The water doesn’t flow until the tap is turned on.”
And there are many things you can do to stimulate the creative juices…establish a routine, take a walk, switch to a different medium, or read the work of others you admire. I’ve written previous posts about how to get that creative spark lit, about reinspiring yourself and training your brain to know when it’s time to get going.
But sometimes you hit that wall. And you hit it hard. You stare at that blank screen or page, you’ve tried all the tricks, you’ve rearranged and poked and prodded, you’ve begged for cooperation, you’ve paced and squeezed, and nothing. You can type words on the page. They’re flat and uninspired. There is no flow. You have no interest in what you’re writing, and neither will your readers.
I call this condition “creative constipation”. Forgive the analogy, but no matter how hard you squeeze, nothing is coming out. It can be traumatic when you write original content for a living, but there are times when you cause more harm than good by digging for gold in a mud puddle. It can also be tricky knowing the difference between “I don’t feel like working today” and “I can’t find the words”. Only you can tell the difference. When you’ve tried your best, when you’ve reached down to your very soul, when you’ve pushed yourself to your limits, and still nothing, it’s ok to just admit it’s not working right now and go do something that makes you feel good.
Taking the pressure off and walking away from the performance anxiety relaxes those overworked creative muscles and allows them to loosen up and recuperate. Writing every day without a doubt strengthens those muscles, and I’m a firm believer in pushing through most blocks. But just like any kind of exercise, knowing when you are doing more damage by pushing too hard can cause irreparable harm. It can make you avoid it because of fear and anxiety. It can keep you away for too long. It can make you question your abilities and your strengths.
Sometimes journaling (for your eyes only) can help you discover an underlying reason why things aren’t working. Are there distractions you need to attend to or feelings that you’re not addressing? Are you just feeling burned out?
Let the light back in and give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Fill that creative well back up again. Relax your brain. Read magazines. Plant something. Watch a funny movie. Take a day off from social media, which I highly recommend doing anyway, at least one day a week. Don’t waste precious time feeling guilty. Creativity is a fragile beast. It can be whiny and fickle and uncooperative. Show it some love, some attention, and some appreciation. Realize how lucky you are to have it. That wall you’re hitting is only right in front of you. You can keep trying to smash through it, you can try and scale it, or you can simply take a few steps back, give it the finger, and walk around it.