Many of my clients are creative people who can’t get started making things: artists, writers, and thinkers. I thought I’d put together something that might provide some help for writers and artists who are stuck. The process of getting started creatively is no different, really, from getting started in other ways when your life feels as if it isn’t moving. But because a piece of writing or a painting is something you can let go of once you’ve finished it (and possibly never even look at it again), it’s possible to regard the process of overcoming writer’s block as a study in self-starting.
Help for writers and artists, then … like any kind of study there are things you can consider that might help you, and I’ve included a few here. If you need help overcoming writer’s block or any other kind of creative block they may do the trick. There’s little better, however, than taking the time to get to know yourself in psychotherapy. That’s my bias, though. Psychotherapy will help you come up with your own ways of getting yourself going. Help for writers and artists? Writers and artists come up with the best things, themselves. Once they get started.
1. Write Something, Don’t Write About It
At first this might sound confusing. A lot of the things you can do to help you write more prolifically (without churning our garbage) tend to be like that. Becoming confused helps you think more clearly – and I’ll come back to that. I first came across this piece of advice when I heard Sarah Wood asking a class to ‘write an animal’, rather than to ‘write about’ it. They came up with some very strange creatures, every one of which could have hopped, sloped or flown its way into a novel. If you write ‘about’ something the chances are you’ll never find it.
2. Overcoming writer’s block: Confuse Yourself
Thinking that doesn’t expose the peculiarity of everyday life may not be worth embracing. I like psychoanalysis, deconstruction and Marxism because they convincingly suggest to me that life is anything but straightforward. That doesn’t mean you need to write in a complicated way … anything but. However, if we all roll on with the prevailing wind we never get anywhere. A chap called Allan, a sailor, pointed that out to me as the sails of our yacht filled unhelpfuly. Here’s the kind of thing that I mean. Chaos: the best kind of help for writers and artists.
3. Read and then Ignore Instructions
We don’t get born with an instruction manual. The most wonderful people I have met have never had any secret to the way they do life. They just get on with it in their own way. They usually believe in things, but never ones that are written down in the same place. In other words, something like a book about how to write better could be fascinating, but the only way you’ll write any better is by getting on with the book you write after reading it, doing you best to forget it: a book created by you plus your reaction to whatever you’ve come across, including that book on how to be a better writer. Overcoming writer’s block can be a matter of ignoring the kinds of expectations that come from believing someone can provide you with a set of rules for overcoming writer’s block.
4. Help for writers and Artists? Just Start
Don’t look for reasons to write, or why you aren’t writing. There are no rules for overcoming writer’s block. Writing is a behaviour not unlike others: walking, jumping, running. We just need to get on with it and see what happens. The less you think about writing the better. Thinking is for the editing stage. Writing … would you let someone tell you how to walk?
Sometimes writing can provide a focus that allows a person to feel secure in the world. A lot of people who’ve had difficult lives have had that anchoring experience and produced great novels. Some of us, though, have had traumatic experiences that make it very hard for us to read or write with any great conviction. We ‘bounce’ off the page, dissociating in our efforts to emotionally connect with whatever we might eventually write about. Overcoming writer’s block can mean working with traumatic memories. There are many ways of dealing with this, including psychotherapy. The form of psychotherapy I practice can help.
6. Stop When You Need To
Don’t force yourself to write for any longer than feels necessary. You’ll find it harder to start again next time.
7. Research as Little as Possible
Research is an intellectual activity, generally (when it isn’t go ahead and do as much as you can), and most of the time is unnecessary. Anything can happen in writing … rather like in dreams, and every statement of fact you commit yourself to from an outside source, and I don’t mean details like the lack of laptops in medieval France, although a good novel could certainly come of forgetting something like that, runs the risk of limiting you or weighing you down. Write light.
8. Your Writing is Already Written
It is. All you need to do is get it down on paper. Imagine you’re taking a dictation from yourself and all should be well.
9. Music Can Help
The rhythm, not the harmony. A rhythm can anchor you in the present, so you don’t drift off into the reaches of your psyche, or the depths of the Internet. Bach more than Mozart, for me.
10. Trust Your Connections
Allow yourself to make intuitive connections. You’ll only do this when you’re relaxed, so do what you can to get there.
11. An Addressee
Imagine you’re writing to someone.