Itâs time again for Notion Potion, a stiff shot of inspiration to get you charged up and ready to roll on all your various creative projects! Last month we talked about habits and routines that make room for the creative mind to wander and find new discoveries. But what about those times when the sameness is not so much a comforting routineâ¦but a weird rut?
When youâre at a stuck point in a project, it feels like a brick wall has risen up out of the ground, leaving you there bashing your head against it. A sense of helplessness usually accompanies this stuck point. âBut thereâs a problem with X,â your brain keeps telling you. The scene youâre writing isnât working. You canât figure out how to set the sleeve in. Somethingâs âoffâ about your color or composition but youâre not sure what. In all likelihood, there is a solution to your problemâ¦but first youâll need to stop bashing your head against that wall long enough to dredge up some new ideas. Here are three ways to nudge yourself around the creative wall so you can stop battering your forehead against it.
Ages ago, I read some marketing advice that suggested we explore the idea of marketing our products in the style of a completely different industry. So an author attempting to market an ebook could brainstorm marketing her book in the style of a grocery store (weekly circular) or an upscale perfume (stylized mysterious ad) or a restaurant (two for one meal deal).
This technique of casting yourself as someone else when you generate your ideas can certainly be taken a lot farther than figuring out marketing ideas. Why not use it to gather any new ideasâespecially ideas about how to get unstuck! Letâs say youâve come to the point in the road where the brick wall has loomed up. Something in your piece is just not working. Find some paper and jot down a few ideas of how to go around the wall, not as yourself, but as someone else. How would a millionaire solve this problem? A trauma nurse? A kindergarten teacher? Have fun with your answers. While the exact answer might not be useable, maybe it will spark an idea that will ultimately work. For example:
Me: My characters ring really false in this scene. How would a millionaire solve this problem?
Pretend Arrogant Millionaire Me: Iâd hire a ghostwriter to write the damn scene for me.
Me: Ick, Iâd never hire a ghostwriter. But maybe I would hire a freelance editor to look at the scene. Or maybe Iâd ask a trusted friend or readerâ¦.
So really, what I needed was a fresh set of eyes. But I couldnât come to that conclusion while I was stuck in my rut, and I was banging my head on the olâ wall going, âItâs not working, itâs not working, itâs not workingâ¦.â
Freewriting can be a powerful technique to tap ideas you donât even realize you have. When I come to a stopping point in my writing, itâs usually because Iâm not very clear on what happens next, or maybe I donât get why itâs happing, or whatâs resonant about it. By freewriting (or journaling, as I tend to call it) I often unlock a much fuller understanding of my project. It works for me to type my stories on the computer, but do my freewriting by hand. However Mark Levy, author of Buy LinkAccidental Genius, does all his freewriting on the keyboardâso I donât think thereâs any hard and fast rule that says you need to switch input devices in order for freewriting to be effective. Personally, I tend to think handwriting might use a slightly different part of my brain, judging by the way deeper understandings come to me so quickly while I write by hand, whereas structured thoughts about words and sentences come quicker while I type.
Accidental Genius has dozens of examples of powerful ways to harness freewriting. One suggestion is that you use a timer and write to the end of the allotted time, which means you really might need to reach and stretch to fill that time. During the part where youâre basically writing anything to carry you through the sound of the bell, ideas can come out of left field that turn out to be really promising solutions. On shorter timed writings, you might be grabbing at ideas even though theyâre fleeting and strange because you know you donât have time to be too picky.
I tend to get lazy and just journal until I have an âahaâ moment, so my thought is that there are no hard and fast rules to freewriting, and itâs a technique that lends itself well to experimentation and personalization.
If my typing and my handwriting come from distinct but neighboring area of my brain, my talking center must be located in an entirely different neural neighborhood. Thinking about writing, art and music is one thing, but speaking about it, Iâm convinced, requires a lot more effort from me. (Art school has made me pretty good at talking about visual things, but anyone whoâs heard me try to verbally describe a story will attest to the fact that I would not have been able to quit my day job if the only available method of telling stories was oral. I also suspect this is why I canât master dictation software.)
The funny thing is, when Iâm working through a creative problem, much of the time all I need to do is attempt to describe that problem to someone else in a way they can understand it. Usually, before Iâm even done with my explanation, the solution looms up, big and bold, and entirely obvious.
Maybe in trying to convey the problem to someone else, a distillation of the salient points of the project occurs. Or maybe the fact that speech is involved is pertinent. In any case, these things usually end with, âYou know what? I know what needs to happen, never mind.â
Funny thing is, I donât think you can replicate this without another person listening. Iâve tried. I sometimes walk laps around the park talking to myself aloud, and itâs just not the same.
There are many ways to dodge a wall. Go around. Find a door. Vault over the top. Tunnel under the bottom. Blow it up with a stick of dynamite. List it on Craigslist as free and get a stranger to haul it away. I could go on, but you get the idea! My point is, when you realize youâre banging your head, when you realize this single creative solution youâve been trying to implement is just not working, give yourself permission to stop headbanging. Try a detour instead.
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com