If you're in any way creative you'll be familiar with block. It's the moment when you sit staring at a blank screen, unable to type a single word. When you look at the scene in front of you and the image on your camera and the difference between the two feels insurmountable, and the disappointment washes over you.
It's that voice whispering in your head 'what are you doing? You're not a writer/photographer/artist/maker and you never will be. Who do you think you are, nurturing your grand ambitions? You'll never do it. Just do us all a favour and stop trying.'
It could be a lack of inspiration, or it could be that the inspiration is clearly formed in your head, you have a vision of how you want your creation to look, how you want it to make people feel - and the reality is you have blankness. A nothing. An empty space.
For me, and I suspect for many of us, there is nothing more intimidating than empty space.
There are entire books and courses devoted to overcoming block and I thoroughly recommend checking them out, and finding what works for you. But at the end of the day it's unlikely anybody else can solve the conundrum for you. Nobody can unblock you. You have to eventually work out how to do it yourself. It can be with the help of others, but the final push always has to come from you.
Here are some ways I overcome block. I'd love to hear your strategies so please do leave your insights in the comments below.
1. Go for a walk. Yes, that old cliche, but for me it truly works on two levels. The regular experience of being in nature fuels my creativity, in ways I don't fully understand yet. Truthfully I don't know why it works, I just know that it does. I take in much of what I see on an unconscious level and store it somewhere in my mind, waiting for it to become relevant. A walk is also hugely helpful for smaller blocks - struggling with plotholes, connecting scenes or even just working out what relevance that isolated chapter I wrote has, and where it fit into the overall story. The physical act of walking and the immersion in nature occupies the body and the senses and leaves the mind free to find the answers.
2. Talk to somebody. And choose them carefully. Last year I met an amazing woman, the very wonderful Sas Petherick, at Sisterhood and something about her really stuck with me. When I was wrestling with a block and all my usual strategies had failed, her presence crept into my head and I reached out to her. She didn't tell me how to overcome the block, because that's not something somebody else can do. But she helped me see how I could overcome it myself. Her warmth and wisdom and aura of complete belief in me was the real gift, this is what helped to thaw out whatever icy armour I had constructed around myself. I highly recommend checking out Sas's work - her fantastic podcast Courage and Spice is a great place to start.
3. Sit with the feelings. When block hits often what I am truly afraid of is exposing parts of myself, because creativity is such an expression of self. Let yourself feel the shame and doubt and mortification and fear, let yourself feel whatever it is you have to feel without distraction. For me there can be guilt too, about devoting so much time and energy to a creative endeavour for which there is no guarantee of any monetary return. I 'could' have spent all that time doing paid work, or tidying my house - no sorry, that one isn't going to fly - but the point is, I 'could' have been doing something more worthwhile. But then what's more worthwhile than your creative work?
4. Search for inspiration. Look at the work of others in your field and allow yourself to reflect on what you admire about them. Don't try and copy them - trying to do somebody else's work will never produce anything as valuable as the work you alone are meant to do. But look to them for inspiration and remind yourself that others have walked this path, and you can too. Chances are that person you are so admiring suffers from block too. The only difference between you and them is they found a way to overcome it.
5. Switch off and sleep. Don't consciously continue to ponder the dilemma but don't push it away either if it continues to prey on your mind. Watch your thoughts and let them float up and away. The ones you need will always stick around. Don't leap out of bed to scribble down flashes of inspiration - trust that what you need, will still be there in the morning.
6. Alter your expectations. While you should never compromise your creativity and devalue your work 'to get it done', accept that all work is essentially work in progress and will never be perfect. There are times when you will have to make creative decisions that will cause you a great deal more work than you initially anticipated and if your gut tells you this is what has to be done, you've just got to suck it up and do it. But other times, anything is better than nothing. I struggled massively with writing a synopsis for my novel. I was putting unbearable pressure on that short document. It had to sum up the plot, introduce the characters, reflect the style and setting of the novel, encapsulate my personality, and be written in the tone and feel of the novel. In 500 words. And it was vital I got it 100% perfect because if nobody read my manuscript because the synopsis didn't sell it in the right way, that was me screwed. Yeah, not going to happen. So I wrote a basic plot summary and sent it off before I could question myself. It did not reflect my unique style and introduce every character and showcase the setting and it was not written in the tone and feel of the novel. It was, however, 500 words of plot summary. That, I hoped, would be enough. It was.
7. Love the pain. Once shouted at me by a seriously fierce personal trainer who wanted me to hold a squat position plus two 8kg kettlebells for two minutes. LOVE THE PAIN, CATHY! Yeah my butt did NOT love the pain. But I did it anyway and my butt is off the scale KAPOW/vaguely toned. Sometimes things are going to hurt but there's beauty in all human emotion, pain included. If you're creative this pretty much comes as standard. Fierce weeping is part of the process whether that's tears of relief, joy, sadness or just downright frustration. Love it. Embrace it. It won't last forever. And if you are feeling the pain it's a sign that you're in touch with your true self, and that's where creativity comes from. Yourself.