Point of View

Here's how to get going on that big creative project you've always wanted to complete

Here's how to start writing that book, making that film, hooking that rug, or doing that thing.

Unclutch your head, take ease and take action

Christine Hennebury knows you can do it. (Christine Hennebury)

Creative blocks. You know how this goes. You have a great idea, you get started, and then you stall out.

Then the mean questions start.

How did this happen again? Should you even bother? Why can't you just get down to work?

And that's the kind version.

Blocks are part of the process of work, no matter how creative you are. They're a signal that you need to stop thinking and start doing. They're a call to be kinder to yourself. They're a reminder to not get caught up in doing it "right."

Here's how to stop asking those mean questions and get back to your creative work.

Shake Off Expectations

Most blocks start because of expectations. Either we create stress with our own impossible vision of the end result, or by our ideas of what other people want from us.

That leaves us afraid that our work won't be good enough.

Before you can shake off those expectations, you have to identify them. Take a few minutes and write, draw, or chat about all the thoughts bouncing around in your head. See if you can identify the stories you're telling yourself about your work. 

Once you know which expectations are blocking you, decide which ones you'll dismiss and which ones you'll work to meet.

Make Something Awful

No, really. Making something awful is a commitment to doing less than perfect work.

Your conscious mind recognizes that you will never do perfect work. Your subconscious, though — it's holding out for perfection. Sometimes it won't let us even start our work, just in case.

If you can tell yourself from the very beginning that your job is to produce a high quantity of work instead of high quality, you can start to free yourself from that expectation of perfection. 

The good news? Producing a high volume of less-than-perfect work always results in an improvement in quality. It's all in the practice.

Go In Circles

In a terrific workshop in a few years ago, Joan Clark suggested using something she called 'circles' as a sort of brainstorming technique. Circles are when you write about your writing before doing the writing itself.

She suggested writing about your characters, your setting, and about why you want to tell this story. The circles get you familiar with your work-to-be before you're committed to a lot of the details.

When I get stuck, I use circles to write about my projects. I figure out what sorts of things I want to say, who I want to say them to, and why I want to say them. I identify any areas where I am letting expectations get in my way, and I decide how to deal with them.  

It can work for any type of project, not just writing.

Focus on the Process

You already know what will get you to the finish line. You know that if you draw or write in 10 minute chunks, eventually you'll complete the work. You know that if you pick up your guitar for a little while every day, the song will come.

Instead of tying your expectations to an endpoint, make your goals process-related. Identify a short amount of work to do daily or weekly and keep coming back to that process. That will give you a series of small successes and it will keep your project moving. Look for ways to take consistent action.

'Yes, and'

You don't need to be confident or motivated to get your work done. You just have to keep at it. Applying the 'Yes, and' improv rule will help you with that.

'Yes, and' means you accept what's been established and you do something to move the scene forward.

In a creative sense, 'Yes, and' means that you recognize your block but you move forward somehow until you find a solution.

"Yes, I can't figure out the next line," you can say, "So I'll write a nonsense line for now and get on with it."

Do Your Thing

No matter what is causing your block, you can move past it.

Start by trying to figure out some ways to be kind to yourself about being blocked. Then, seek an easy route back to your creative practice. Choose straightforward actions that will let you keep adding to your body of work.

Just make some stuff. Pretty please.