It’s 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 routine…but a weird rut?
When you’re 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. “But there’s a problem with X,” your brain keeps telling you. The scene you’re writing isn’t working. You can’t figure out how to set the sleeve in. Something’s “off” about your color or composition but you’re not sure what. In all likelihood, there is a solution to your problem…but first you’ll 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 ideas—especially ideas about how to get unstuck! Let’s say you’ve 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: I’d hire a ghostwriter to write the damn scene for me.
Me: Ick, I’d never hire a ghostwriter. But maybe I would hire a freelance editor to look at the scene. Or maybe I’d ask a trusted friend or reader….
So really, what I needed was a fresh set of eyes. But I couldn’t come to that conclusion while I was stuck in my rut, and I was banging my head on the ol’ wall going, “It’s not working, it’s not working, it’s not working….”
Freewriting can be a powerful technique to tap ideas you don’t even realize you have. When I come to a stopping point in my writing, it’s usually because I’m not very clear on what happens next, or maybe I don’t get why it’s happing, or what’s 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 Accidental Genius, does all his freewriting on the keyboard—so I don’t think there’s 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 you’re 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 they’re fleeting and strange because you know you don’t have time to be too picky.
I tend to get lazy and just journal until I have an “aha” moment, so my thought is that there are no hard and fast rules to freewriting, and it’s 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, I’m convinced, requires a lot more effort from me. (Art school has made me pretty good at talking about visual things, but anyone who’s 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 can’t master dictation software.)
The funny thing is, when I’m 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 I’m 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, “You know what? I know what needs to happen, never mind.”
Funny thing is, I don’t think you can replicate this without another person listening. I’ve tried. I sometimes walk laps around the park talking to myself aloud, and it’s 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 you’re banging your head, when you realize this single creative solution you’ve 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