Writers block. Friends, it's real. And I think I've found the solution. Bear with me...
Ideas come to me regularly - so many "aha" moments at any given moment - but sometimes, when it's time to sit down and actually form the words, I choke. Well I used to, anyway.
I would stare at my screen and my mind was filled with either absolutely nothing or way too many irrelevant things. I became distracted, stagnant, aimless, hello candy crush.
I wondered why the answer to life's problems (aka a plot hole) always came to me when I least expected it?
Driving. Often I'd be struck with an idea to incorporate into my current novel series. You know, something that had been lacking in the world I created but didn’t know how to remedy. Months of re-writing the first draft, and baam, there was the answer on the road between home and the hairdressers.
Dancing. Other times, I would simply be having a happy dance moment in my living room when I received an epiphany about a random area in my life.
Shower. I'd be washing my hair listening to the new Coldplay album and all of a sudden, this wonderful dialogue between two characters started to take shape.
I thought, “You know what? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to control this part of me that creates, without having to wait for a sudden inspiration to hit? If I could seek it and for it to be there when I wanted, not when I’m freaking driving my car or having a shower!” Yes, yes that would be nice.
The first question I asked myself was how on earth could I call the inspiration to me, instead of waiting for it to hit me out of the blue? This led me to quiet contemplation and a fair bit of reverse engineering. And finally, I discovered the subconscious things I had been doing when I create.
And here, my friends, are the five purposeful steps that make up my creative process –from inspiration, to clarification, to motivation, to creation, to gratification – and how I think they may be of use to you. If you're a writer or any kind of creator.
INSPIRATION? BRING IT ON!
STEP ONE. Identify.
First of all, we need to identify when we get random moments of inspiration and what we are doing so differently during these times. For me, it’s mostly when I am driving, in the shower, about to go to sleep.
You know at the most inconvenient times, where I have to either scramble to write it all down as soon as I can, or put a pin in it and risk forgetting the whole grand idea.
It’s also when I’m most relaxed, and doing something else that I enjoy. Aha! Are you following me here?
You know what else I’m feeling at these times? Open, and free, and I’m not thinking about anything except the present moment. I think I'm on to something here. The pre-requisite for inspiration is this exact feeling! The feeling of not needing to be anywhere else at that moment, the feeling of not needing to even consider what’s on that to-do list let alone what’s next to check off. It’s just melting into the moment we are currently in. Which can only mean, when I’m sitting down to write I am not feeling any of those things – I am closed and sporadic with my thoughts. This discovery was the light bulb moment for me.
Here’s my current go to list that spark ideas:
laying on the trampoline watching the clouds roll by
a walk around the block
gardening (this is new!!)
laying in bed
Conclusion: Inspiration comes when we are doing something that requires us to slow down and embrace the RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, something that stills the mind yet opens the heart.
"The pre-requisite for inspiration is the feeling of being open and free."
A LITTLE CLARIFICATION PLEASE.
STEP TWO: Filter.
This is how I see it, and it’s a little odd but bare with me. Imagine a large funnel sitting on the top of your head: it’s open, it’s ready and waiting. This is where the ideas flow in. I believe it comes from God/the Universe/Spiritual Realm and when I am open the ideas can come to me easily. If you don’t believe in any of that, it doesn’t really matter – these steps will still work no matter where your faith stems. From heaven or our own minds; whatever you believe, the process is the same.
So now we are open, we’ve done step one and we’re in a present state of mind, allowing thoughts to come and go at will. We’re not mindless; our brains are receptive, yet nothing is forced. There is no desperation. No deadline. No drama. We’re not thinking about creating, there are no preconceived notions of how something should be to guide us.
Our imagination explores it’s way out into the funnel. After a thought enters our minds, we consider whether we like it or not. If we don’t, we let them leave as soon as they arrived. But if they pique our interest, we sit with them for a second. If we feel that bubble of excitement for it’s possibility – we let them flow into our hearts. The heart is most obviously the creation centre – where ideas grow into projects, words, photos, art, songs, etc.
This is your filter. For me, if the idea makes it's way past my head into my heart - I'm onto a winner.
Then, we write the idea down. ALWAYS WRITE THE DAMN IDEA DOWN.
“The heart is most obviously the creation centre – where ideas grow into projects.”
— MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: Unless we possess the superhuman ability to complete a whole book/project in one sitting, we never have the time to finish the idea straight away. Especially as a writer, it can take weeks/months/years to finish a project. Most of the time, we are already busy with another project and the only opportunity we have is to write the idea down and come back to it later. Even if we somehow manage to get started at this stage, everyday we have to put the tools away and let the creation rest until the next day. Which leads me to the most vital step …
MOTIVATE ME BABY!
STEP THREE. Repeat step one.
So we had the initial spark and we really really, oh lordy, really want to see this project through. But Lord knows how hard it is to find the motivation to pick it up. Hi, my name is Elle and I’m a procrastinator.
I feel like sometimes creating things scares me. I know I love it, I know it calls me. When I’m amidst it all I get into this hypnotic type state and am absorbed in creating for hours at a time. But when I set aside the time and I’m ready to get down and dirty and spill those ideas outside of me, it takes a lot of hard work. A lot of procrastinating, a lot of distractions, a lot of building myself up for it. See the very first paragraph up there (Candy Crush, *cough*, Pinterest, *cough*, curse you Facebook and your addicting ways).
Have you ever wondered how some creatives are successful with the arts and some are not. I feel like I am on the verge on understanding why. Those who are successful don’t stop when they’re feeling blah, they find their own motivation. I think this step right here is KEY.
And what is this step? It’s exactly the same as the first. Do the thing that sparked the idea in the first place. It doesn’t have to be the same thing, but some action you know gets you into that open and calm, yet excited state. We need to remember to bring ourselves into the present moment and really enjoy it, we don’t have anywhere else to be (Facebook and emails and Netflix can wait).
Even our end goal can wait – sometimes desperation and yearning and fear causes the inspiration funnel to block. Published and wannabe published authors I'm looking at you. Stop looking at your book as though it will be a best seller. Stop squashing your creativity by giving your story the burden to make you money. Stop writing for the potential agent who might possibly put your book on their list. Those thoughts dry inspiration right up, and also attach fear to your writing. Yuck. No-one wants to read a book written by a scared writer. Those things matter, of course marketing and sales matter, but not at this stage. Not yet.
What matters at this stage is being open and in charge of the "flow" of inspiration.
I have this song I love. I play it when I write. So now, whenever I hear it, it takes me straight to that feeling of writing. Instant inspiration. Find something that will take you there – really define your list of go-to actions that still and free your mind.
"Those who are successful don’t stop when they’re feeling blah, they find their own motivation."
WE’RE INSPIRED AGAIN, NOW WHAT?
STEP FOUR. Make ze art.
This step is the most important, I think. It's the place where ideas wither and die, or the place where they come to life.
Once we get to that space of “YES! This idea, it’s awesome – there’s nothing else I want to think about right now than doing this!” That’s when we know we need to move. And I mean right away.
Get it out. For the love of all things beautiful, don’t just leave it inside. We need to choose our desired art-form (mostly writing or photography for me) and bring it to life. Friends, this is why we are creatives, to create.
The most lame yet simplest thing to do is JUST START. It bugs me with how simple it is. Like can’t there be some sort of incantation or click of the fingers that can suddenly switch me into work mode. But there is no other way. It’s that hard and that easy. JUST BEGIN. The funny thing is, once I type the first word the rest of them flow like cider on a hot day.
“…there is no other way. It’s that hard and that easy. JUST BEGIN.”
AND THEN? ARE WE DONE YET?
STEP FIVE. Share. Hit Publish.
With a friend, to an agent, online, in a gallery, to the world – big or small, just share. Don’t deny the world this glorious part of you.
I'll give you a tip: a person's reaction to your work, isn’t where your gratification comes from. I can tell you, my joy comes from creating. Sure, I want my books to resonate and delight and inspire but that isn’t why I wrote them. I write because every idea ignites a fire within me, and I just have to bring them to life.
Airy fairy unicorn moment. Every idea is a brilliant chrysalis; it contains a butterfly that needs to be birthed and set free to fly where the wind takes it. It’s not up to me who the butterfly connects with, but it’s also not up to me to keep it hidden from sight.
So, put it out there, let that beauty fly free... and then? Start the process again. This is what we are made for.
“It’s not up to me who the butterfly connects with, but it’s also not up to me to keep it hidden from sight.”
And that is my process. I’ve done it for a long time without even realising, but putting it into context, into steps, has helped me ten-fold.
I can push through the writer's block and sail through the steps without pause. Practise is needed obviously, but being aware is the main thing.
I was dancing to electro music when I had the urge to write this post. Irony is, I’d had the idea to write it for a while but could never get the motivation for it, I could never find the words. But moving and being in the present moment allowed the spark to ignite. I followed my own steps, and it worked, here I am.
Next time I get stuck in a creative rut, I know exactly what I am going to do. Stick that crazy funnel on my head and get active. Get out into nature, put my nose in a book, soak in the beautiful surroundings of the state I live in, lay on a trampoline and watch the clouds roll by, dance dance dance … and always, always, always carry a notepad and pen.