You Can’t Fix Your Writer’s Block

I don’t much care for the term “writer’s block”. It feels like that ought to apply exclusively to people who string words together. Or maybe it could apply to musicians as well, I mean after all, songs are “written” right? But as a “writer”, musician and artist, I can tell you that “writer’s block” is not the specific malady that the phrase implies. There are myriad reasons for creative unproductivity, not all just inspirational void. “Creative resistance” feels a bit more accurate to me, though admittedly not as catchy.

Why does it matter so much what we call it? Because that informs how we think about and treat the issue. Often the way it’s written about is very narrowly focused on overcoming the absence of ideas or lack of creative inspiration. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to deal with that specific dilemma. The problem is that every word of that advice is wrong. Every. Single. Word. Often that advice misses the point: it’s not about unleashing some creative deluge of ideas (sometimes a deluge can be its own problem).

Okay, I know that seems a little harsh. I’m sure it’s all well-meaning and probably not entirely rubbish, but I think about this sort of advice the way I think about parenting advice: with a grain of salt, a ton of skepticism and absolutely no expectation. See, when my son was on the way, everyone was lined up to give advice like, “you HAVE to get a swing,” or “you’ll have the hardest time weening him off a pacifier”. My son hated the swing and the pacifier thing ended up not being up to us anyway. But maybe to some people this sort of barrage of advice is helpful. What we forget is that every child is a unique individual and has different needs and preferences. Just as every creative hurdle has qualities all their own.

So, I’m going to give you the same advice that I give new parents: don’t listen to anyone’s advice.

But wait! Don’t stop reading yet, there’s more to say on this issue that can be useful. We live in an advice seeking culture that fosters the idea that there’s some sort of procedural fix to every problem (this seems particularly ironic for creative fields). Sometimes it may just be better to understand the problem or even ask better questions. Is it possible that we are too quick to ask, “Can I fix this?” when we should be asking, “Do I understand this?” This is more than simply, “why do I have writer’s block?” If the answer to that question escapes you, then I might suggest Googling, “what is mindfulness” instead.

It sounds callous, I know, but look at it like this: treat the problem, not the symptom.

Let me offer another anecdote to illustrate:

I write music for both a band and a solo project. In the band I never experience what could earnestly be considered writer’s block. With my solo stuff, it’s near constant. It isn’t so much a lack of ideas or inspiration, which is an important distinction to make. It’s more an inability to determine a course and commit to it. Until I have a deadline. The problem is simple; I’m indecisive and with the presence of others helping to nudge the decision-making along it’s mostly a non-issue. But when I’m by myself, I have no guiderails, nothing to push me in one direction versus another

So, what do I do? Nothing has made me any more confident about the decision-making in the decade since this first became an issue. No advice has surfaced to make a solution apparent. So, I create a situation in which I must make the decision: a looming performance, recording, a reason to pressure myself into being decisive.

Don’t confuse this with me giving any advice. I am absolutely not saying this is the solve for everyone, or anyone really. What I am saying is that I made some effort and developed the self-awareness to ask the questions to identify the problem. And really, I don’t view the system I have as a real solution. The problem is still there and I have to face it every time I go to work on my music. But that’s okay, I don’t need a solution, because in the end the worry and the dogged search for a fix takes more away from the creative process than acceptance. Sometimes, just dealing is good enough.

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