Squashing Writer's Block
Writer's block is a label for inactivity. It is imaginary. The only time you should use it as a phrase is if you are lying to someone. It is not an excuse. It is not a thing. Do not believe in it, and it will not exist.
There you go. You're welcome! You'll thank me once again when I give you the "How".
When I was living in Brooklyn over a decade ago, I organically surrounded myself with other creatives. It was an inevitable extension of my lifestyle patterns: cater waiter in NYC in the nighttime, take acting classes in the evening, watch theatre, go to The Drama Book Shop, and hang out with all the friends I met at night during the day. During my epic five year stint in NYC, there was not one period of time where I felt an artistic block of any kind. There was a continual flow of creativity coursing through my veins and projecting outwardly from my aura. I was unstoppable.
As I dissect why that was, I keep coming back to one answer: environment. The environment of NYC was the energy from its people.
My friends were a community so powerfully in love with each other that we knew we could erase doubt. There was no such thought as "I can't" because there was a consistent agreement of "we can". Faith in yourself is easy when surrounded with people like this. And faith in yourself is a psychological power that can get you through a writer's, actor's, or creator's block of any kind. Because, well, you're not afraid to create garbage.
There is an acting exercise called Viewpoints, developed by the renowned dance choreographer Mary Overlie. This Viewpoints exercise was incorporated into the curriculum of a summer acting program I attended. My classmates and I fell in love with this exercise because we formed such a solid bond while engaging in a personal form of body language. Also, it gave us the opportunity to incorporate music into our creative routine. We would go to the Atlantic studio on the corner of 9th and 16th during our off-hours. We would bring a stereo, set it at the edge of the room, close the curtain in front of the mirror, open the blinds for the windows, and stand silently in various neutral positions in the biggest room Atlantic had for rehearsals. We were kings and queens. We were ninjas. We were powerful.
In our version of Viewpoints, only one person initiated the movement. That was one of the rules. It was not known who that was going to be. If you had a perfect ensemble, the person who initiated the movement could start a wave of incredibly subtle shifts. If you had a smart set of rules, the beginning shifts would look like a bunch of people walking in straight lines. By the end of the exercise, the rules that were instilled at the beginning were bent. In this exercise, an ensemble of people shift their states of movement when they observe their cohorts make a shift. If someone changes direction, that constitutes a shift. If someone changes speed, that constitutes a shift. If someone sneezes, that constitutes a shift. This can culminate in complete chaos on stage if not done properly. It can get wild if you have a bunch of impulsive personalities in the mix. We imagined the bent rules as an evolution. Anyone else watching saw it as madness.
Creatives can be beautiful and crazy when they are at their peak of power. And if none of your team are dancers, and you are engaging in an improvisational dance exercise, the inevitable outcome is going to be a terrible hodgepodge of weird movements. But believing in ourselves gave us the strength to showcase our most personal impulses to an audience of strangers, friends, and critics of culture as emerging actors.
There was a role early in my career that I was performing in a black box theatre and someone from the audience blurted out "we can't hear you". Granted, the scene called for my character to be whispering at the time, but how on Earth could I not project even an audible whisper in a 40-person-max theatre? Let's be fair; there were several performances that made up for that one along the way, but here's the kicker: I’m only thinking about that moment now! I just remembered that while writing this article! It wasn't even a blip in my conscious back then, and I didn't even break my performance. You may wonder how it's possible to blank on something like that, but that's just how my mind works. It is a mindset that I cannot teach, though. Don't ever give in or give up. The successes in life are all follow-throughs. When somebody heckles you, ignore it, and keep moving forward through life's text.
And that is the motto for the "How" in this article. Keep moving forward. Let's break that down from a writer's standpoint on how to squash writer's block.
Writing is mostly a solo practice. Even if you are surrounded by fellow writers, and you all take workshops together and have coffee and muse about life, you will oftentimes find yourself staring at a blank canvas in which you will be the arbiter of your own story's Fate. It is in that circumstance that you must thrive.
Inspiration and dedication are the only major components in this practice of writing, besides talent. If you lose your mojo and the propulsion of your storyline in your mind's eye gets buried, you have to pick yourself back up. You must! It is your duty to yourself, your audience, and everyone counting on you to be the creator. Inspiration and dedication are built upon the foundation of environment. Create an environment where you can thrive, and you will pull yourself out of your mental block.
Dedicate TIME and ENERGY.
TIME: Devote a chunk of time out of your day or night that is strategically uncut. For example, have two hours set aside just for writing that you know will be unimpeded by distraction.
ENERGY: Get sleep the night before and eat something directly beforehand.
How to squash writer's block:
1. CREATE A PLAYLIST OF MUSIC. Don't just put YouTube on shuffle. Curate a series of songs that are designed to support your concentration. I start my primary writing playlist with a song that boosts my energy and is engaging. I feel like if I share that song, it will lose its magic. So I'll keep that one a secret. Sorry. The song or two that start the playlist punctuate my actions: opening my laptop, getting out my pencil and pad, opening the software I need, and creating a structured game plan. Create an environment of energy to begin the process. That can be achieved through music.
2. THINK OF A MEMORABLE MOMENT. Irrespective of your current story, what is something impactful that happened to you. Maybe you had an bad experience on the phone with a customer service rep, or you have a roommate who just told you the story of how they got pregnant last month, or you went to Vegas ages ago and got a tattoo you don't remember. Pull the most interesting sample from that story and write that down.
3. PAUSE THE MUSIC, THEN TAKE A VISUAL BREAK. Watch a short film. You can find Academy Award winning shorts from years ago online. Or watch a music video. There are some good ones out there. Do not go down the rabbit hole of watching a two and a half hour movie because that will perpetuate your cycle of laziness. You can make up some excuse like the movie is part of the research, but that's not the type of work we need to do at this juncture. This is the active part of the process. Save the notetaking period of your process for another time.
WHAT DID YOU PULL FROM THAT BREAK? Nothing? Ok, then move on. Don't go fishing for another inspiration. Instead, push forward with a…
4. FREEWRITE. If what you've done so far has not sparked anything, then freewrite. If what you've done so far has been an awakening of your story's spirit, write what you actually need to write. Freewriting is writing without hindrance. It is putting your pen to pad and writing the first thoughts that come to mind. The thoughts could be completely negative. If that's what comes out, then that's what it is. Do not censor yourself. Speak your Truth.
Utilize this exercise when you are stuck. See it as a trick to get you rolling. Don't do this religiously because you could fall into the trap of becoming reliant on a pattern of freewriting. Instead, see this exercise as a lifeline. It will serve you well.
One preparatory step and one inspiration-based break to feed your soul. Meanwhile, you will have ended up with two chunks of writing. That's a great ratio of productivity for a day's work!