It’s Not Writer’s Block

One of the most interesting things about doing a ritual like Morning Pages is that the existence of “writer’s block” starts to seem more and more unlikely.

If you don’t know what it is, Morning Pages is a daily practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, where immediately after waking, you just write, for 3 pages of A4.

Anything and everything that comes to your mind is acceptable. There are no rules, other than to keep going until you’ve got your 3 pages, after which you are free to throw away or burn to a crisp everything you just wrote. The point is not, as it might be in a regular journal, to keep a record of your life, but simply to free your intrinsic creative energies.

Now, I’ll admit that I do break Julia’s rules somewhat. I don’t do it immediately after waking up. And I don’t do it every day (although if I had to guess, I’d say on average I do it five days a week.) But I do do it, and that’s because I’m hooked on the way I can sit down with no idea what my first sentence is even going to be, feel like there’s no way I could possibly write 3 whole pages, and then 45 minutes later, inevitably, have proved myself completely wrong.

All this is to say that I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I’ve disproved it to myself dozens if not hundreds of times by now. Though it might sometimes be uttlerly pointless and nonsensical, there is always something inside me, if I’ll turn the tap on and let it out. But there is something that I do believe in with all my heart, and that’s call “PROJECT block.”

“Project block” is that special kind of hell we’ve all experienced where you have a creative task – bonus points if there’s a deadline, or consequences to not getting it done – and you just cannot make a solitary inch of progress on it. Even worse, the longer you spend trying to, the shittier you feel.

It’s not writer’s block. You’re not blocked in general. I know this because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in front of my laptop feeling completely blocked, no idea what my day’s blog post is going to be about, hating myself for committing myself to this year of daily blogging, but I’ve been able to pick up my guitar and come up with all manner of wild and wicked licks and riffs. Or story ideas. Or just about anything, so long as it has nothing to do with blogging.

No, there’s something about that specific project has you blocked. And there are a few different ways to deal with it. The first is simply to power through. Now, technically, this one does work. It’s woefully inefficient. It can be downright painful. But eventually, if you refuse to give up and just stick with it, the odds are that you’ll get there.

The second – and unfortunately, my most frequent option – is to not work on it, but to sort of keep it in the back of your mind, dwelling obsessively on it, feeling guilty for not working on it… So you leave the project for a bit, you go watch telly, you piss about on your phone, and all the while there’s a little voice holding you hostage reminding you of what you’re not attending to. It’s a filthy habit. It’s pain with a chaser of pain.

The third and best solution – in my mind, at least – is again to not work on it, but to actively work on something else. This could be literally anything. It could be some other creative project. It could be making the dinner. It could be some form of strenuous exercise. Whatever – the only important thing is that you give your mind enough stimulation that it can’t do both – it can’t focus on what you’re doing and dwell on the thing you’re avoiding.

And lo and behold, it’s like a shower for your mind. After a while, ideas come. Things that seemed like mountains show themselves to be molehills. You gain a perspective not possible when you’re stuck in the weeds. It’s counter-intuitive. I don’t know why it works. But it works. You go back to the old project and a weight has been lifted.

Next time you feel blocked, check that you’re not just burnt out on this specific thing you’re trying to do. Give yourself a proper break, go do something else, and let your mind work its magic behind the scenes.

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