What makes us human? What drives us? What sets us apart from other species? According to some theories, a synthesis of findings of biology, evolution and archaeology, one of the major drivers of human beings has always been creativity.
Creativity, art and self-expression through these have been ingrained deeply in human history. To create is magical,— whether it is about writing, drawing, inventions or figuring out new ways for previously existing methods — and human beings are amazing creators.
But it’s not always easy. To create can be really difficult — and in some cases, we make it even more difficult for ourselves.
I can only speak from the point of view of a writer, this is what I know, but I imagine the same process must be happening to all types of creators. I’m talking about a creative block, procrastination and setting expectations so high that they crush us before we can get close to reaching them.
Writer’s block sucks. Anything that stops you from truly enjoying your creativity can feel devastating. And it happens way too often to ignore it. You know the feeling, when you feel you should be writing, you feel that there are things for you to say, projects to continue, drafts to start… but it just doesn’t happen.
You blame your lack of motivation, you blame the distractions all around you including your kids, your job and Netflix, you blame the weather if it’s good and if it’s bad. And still, no blame gets you out from that empty state, where nothing is pouring out of you. Long gone the days when you felt motivated and inspired. And it sucks.
Writer’s block usually stems from fear. It’s not a lack of talent, it’s not even procrastination, it’s not that you prefer distractions to write and it’s not that you are lazy. Do you know how I know? Because writer’s block hits when you are already sitting in front of that blank page, with ready fingers and a will to write… but nothing comes.
And the reason is so simple, it almost hurts.
You are afraid. It’s as if you were afraid of your own words as if they could hurt you or disappoint you. So instead of seeing how they disappoint you, you simply disappoint yourself and waste hours thinking about it.
In the case of writer’s block, this fear is a fear of your own work. If you sat down with zero expectations and you allowed yourself to write whatever, the result might not be brilliant, but writing would still happen. Maybe you wouldn’t write your best words. Maybe they wouldn’t even make sense. Maybe your writing wouldn’t be up to your standards or any other standards that you recognize. But writer’s block doesn’t exist, you are stopped by a different force.
Beginner writers usually start with huge enthusiasm, they write and publish and write and publish. They just write a lot without filters and fear. Looking back, they might feel that their work would have needed another round of edit (or five), they should have had better structures, they should have chosen better topics, better words, better everything. But at the moment, when they started, they weren’t afraid of anything. They just enjoyed writing, enjoyed how these neutral little things, called letters, teamed up to create words and how words created fascinating little stories. There is magic in this creation, in this unique birth of individual worlds.
Writer’s block comes only after. When you start to think. When you start to wonder if you are good enough. When you already reached something and you feel you owe it to yourself to keep it up. But creative work doesn’t work this way. Creativity comes in waves and there are natural ups and downs to it. It’s only normal that you will produce better and worse stuff.
What would your creativity look like if you didn’t worry about the outcome? What would you write if you didn’t want to meet any expectations?
The problem is that we expect too much from ourselves — and we do this all the time. There will be days with no inspiration. There will be days when you are down and lazy. There will be days when nothing you write seems to go anywhere. But it is a process. The human brain is a magnificent organ that we don’t really understand. Science understands around 20% of it, and laymen just think they understand any of it. Creativity is even more special, because it’s not quantifiable, it’s not a predictable process, it’s not reliable enough to measure. But those who have ever created anything should know that creativity is a process — both in short term and in long term. One creative session can be very different from another one, and certain longer periods of creativity bring completely different results from the previous ones.
Writer’s block comes from the fear that we are not good enough. That we can’t create anything worthy — worthy of our audience’s attention, worthy of our own expectations, worthy of the success that we define by some arbitrary number. It’s true, maybe you won’t create anything extraordinary today, maybe it won’t bring you the success you have dreamt of and heard of from others, maybe today’s work will be subpar. But the process still happens. Improvement still happens, growth occurs, lessons are learnt.
The best advice to beat writer’s block is “just write”. But the problem is that it’s really difficult to write when you feel that you can’t write. So what can you do? How can you just write?
- Write for 5 or 10 minutes without even paying attention to it. Just write whatever comes to mind and don’t expect it to be anything good. Don’t expect it to bring out some topics, don’t expect it to give you joy, don’t expect anything. Start typing and stop thinking about it. Most probably you will need to delete it, so let this thought give you the freedom you need. You can write anything. If you just start by writing that you have nothing to write about and you are sitting here with nothing in your mind, and all you do is repeat this thought for 5 or 10 minutes, so be it.
- Try the world’s most dangerous writing app. Squibler has a writing app, that promotes itself with the sentence: don’t stop writing or all progress will be lost. You can set a timer (eg 5 minutes) and within the set timeframe if you stop writing your work will disappear. It gives you the motivation to keep writing, even when you think you don’t have anything to write about. The threat of losing every character you typed is looming over your head, so you better just type.
- Type a poem or the lyrics of a song by heart. Getting started sometimes means that you just need to start the work without the value that you think you are supposed to create immediately. Start typing your favourite poem, or the lyrics of your favourite song. Do this for a few minutes and then start your freewriting session.
- Rewrite an already existing story. Choose any story you know, your own, a well-known one, a bedtime story, and start telling it your way. Remember, the point is not stealing someone else’s work or recreating an older story of you, the point is to get your creative juices flowing.
- Procrastinate for 3 hours to get into a flow state — timeless advice on how to beat yourself by Tim Denning.
Sometimes, writer’s block comes from a sense of urgency. Having spent 30 minutes or an hour staring at the screen feels like a lot of wasted time. You feel you should have already done the job, you should have started. But when the words don’t come, time passes, the frustration is increasing.
Give yourself 20 minutes or even 3 hours to beat writer’s block by allowing yourself to create something useless. It’s not a waste of time, it is a helpful tool to boost your productivity and creativity.
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