WHAT?! is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column for the Creative and Perplexed. In which I answer burning questions about the creative process and what might be holding up that brain of yours. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Drooly Dog: Okay, I’ve got to ask you about the dreaded Writer’s Block. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I can describe how it is for me. I am a freelance writer, and I am often on deadline, but lately when I sit down to do my job (that of being a writer who writes things) my mind is a blank. A dull, featureless, blank.
We creative people make our living with our ability to generate good work, and that depends on ideas. Fresh ideas that are unique and bring something new to the world and make it better. I don’t take this lightly.
I feel as though my livelihood is possible because I am a person who can come up with good material. And so now, with nothing coming to me to write about, my dull blank head is now filling with a creeping panic that I won’t be able to make a living any more doing something that I thought I loved. What if I am no good, or I have used up all of my ideas and the well has run dry? What then? Really I’m trying not to freak out but the blinking cursor is looming large. What do I do?
– Sincerely, Unwillingly Blank Slate
Ah, it’s a timeless question. What to do when the ideas are not flowing.
First of all, I’d like to talk about your mental idea of what exactly it is you do. You say your job is to “come up with” great ideas and write about them. But is that really true?
Because really, when you think about it, creative people are not faucets or wells or creatures that spontaneously generate great works of art. No, they are not. They are windows and doors. They let things through.
The unique thing you bring to the world is not your ability to come up with stuff, it’s your ability to let stuff through. That is very different.
Right now, you are listening to the inside of your head, which has gone eerily quiet. It’s like going into the garage and just standing there. Same stuff, nothing going on.
You need to get yourself back into filter mode, and to do that, you need new inputs. Your beautiful subconscious knows what to do with new experiences and beautiful (and ugly) things that you encounter, but you’re not feeding it. You have told yourself you have to originate things. But what you really need to do is go let some new things through.
Get on the train, hail a cab. Go outside. Do something – do a bunch of things – you have never done before. Go to concerts. Try new foods. Learn to stand on your head. But make sure whatever you try is novel to you.
And make sure it’s multi-sensory. A new TV show isn’t going to cut it. You need to smell things and feel cold wind and all of it.
And then, be quiet. Just shut up for a few minutes. Let your mind slosh this stuff around without your yammering conscious brain drowning it out. Breathe. Sit.
Soon, new connections will happen. Something will strike you as funny, or tragic. Little links will reveal themselves. Let this happen, don’t make it happen.
And then you can get back to being the wondrous, unique filter and window and door that you are meant to be and the world can benefit from your one-of-a-kind perspective.
Sincerely, Drooly Dog
Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.
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