I’ve always had vaguely romantic notions of writers sitting in coffee shops, gathering inspiration for their latest novels by eavesdropping on the surrounding chit-chat. All they had to do to create a masterpiece, it seems, was sit with open laptop and open mind, waiting for the waitress to bring them that great idea along with their morning cups of Joe.
Now that I’ve become a writer, I’ve realized the day-to-day practicing of my craft isn’t anywhere near as elegant as I had once imagined. In fact, it sucks.
Lately, it’s been terribly difficult for me to write anything. Changing locations does no good, changing articles, changing caffeine levels and time of day – nothing seems to do much good when it comes to creating my own stories. I can still crank out an article or marketing copy, but when it comes to writing something artful with my own voice, well – let’s just say I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in coffee shops with nothing to show for my time but a blank Word document and several full customer rewards cards.
In short, I’ve got writer’s block, and I’ve got it bad. Thus, in an effort to intellectualize myself out of my rut (which may or may not be the right approach), I decided to take a break from writing this week and instead focus on researching the nature of creativity.
Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s describes those moments when writing feels effortless – those coffee shop moments when the gods mercifully grant continued inspiration – as the “flow state.” Specifically, he defines this mentality as when one is “so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter: the ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and though follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
This flow state is unattainable when the artist experiences self-doubt – i.e. writer’s block. iO9 has a great piece dissecting the ten different types of mental blocks, and argues that specific types of blocks require specific techniques in order to regain creative flow. (I realized I often get stuck in my outlines and in reaching for that one elusive word).
I also appreciated Grammar Girl’s tips: start from the end (or middle) if you’re stuck in the beginning, and try writing longhand on a legal pad.
Overall, I think my trouble comes with ledes. Once I can get that lede down, a structure flows naturally. If I have a crappy opening, I feel crappy about the rest of the article and every sentence I’m writing, and it perpetuates this cycle of crappiness. Soon, I’ve deleted all my efforts and have nothing to show for my hours of work. (Does anyone else out there have this problem? If so, any tested tricks on how to get over this speed bump?)
I’m hopeful that some of these techniques can help me break my writer’s block and once again reach my flow state. I’ll let you all know what’s working and what isn’t for me in upcoming blog entries.