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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Procrastination & the Breakdown of Creative Block

Waiting until (close to) the last minute is a ridiculously obvious pillar of my creativity. For the most part I'd say the experience has actually been positive, at least when it comes to results. My creativity tends to have super powers worthy of a comic book character when I'm down to the wire. I'm pretty good when put on the spot. For example, I remember staying up all night in high school creating a magazine with a theme of Macbeth. All of these interesting and fun possibilities started flooding in late on the night before the project was due. Perfume ad by Lady Macbeth? Travel piece about the Scottish highlands? Yeah. It. Was. Sick.

Still there are times when working up to a deadline is a terrible, gut twisting mistake. This is the version of Procrastination that adults warned us about when we were young. Procrastination shows its lack of compassion and leaves us tragically, and maybe symbolically, frozen in space and time. Then you're really beat because you can't get even get your mind to think of ways to get out of that anxious bind, let alone to offer ideas for the original task.

Procrastination can be a real pain as it piles up. More often we describe this intense waiting period as a result of some kind of "block" to our abilities. Looking back we assume some unknown obstacle has secretly been working at sabotage until we make an excuse for it. I say that Procrastination and Creative Block are the same thing, meaning that it was there all along. We simply don't have the capacity to recognize and then adapt to it.

Procrastination & the Breakdown of Creative Block - be prepared next time your lose your creative cool

Think about it: What are Creative Block's weapons of war? Time. Resources. Fear. Skill. Our minds wander as we make up excuses for not having new ideas or perspective. Time goes on, the project will eventually take care of itself. We brush it off with crossed fingers hoping our readiness to produce catches us on the way down. Then we're falling and falling and falling until... Deadline. And then we act as if we had no control over the process.

The danger of this experience is not in the habit. In fact, I'd say routine waiting is a good thing for creativity. There is also no danger in the lack of "new" ideas because we can keep track of those even when we aren't looking for them.

Actually the danger is found in letting ourselves be defeated by Creative Block, turning a blind eye to  the possibility of obstruction until it's too late. In the moment we are useless. When the battle is over we start with our creative wells depleted. There is no real measure of our ability to overcome or to be successful because there is always something in the way which keeps us from viewing our full potential. Let me explain what I mean.

Full disclosure: This post was written two weeks after its posting date. 

What?! Oh! the blogging blasphemy! Yeah, whatever. At least I wrote it. And I can assure you this story is worth considering. The conclusion? Authenticity incarnate.

After sending the monthly blog recap email for ETLT, I sat down to schedule out upcoming posts. In the email I had shared some ideas for topics to look out for on the blog. At the time those post topics seemed like a great way to go. However when I looked back to consider the big picture, I hesitated because the post ideas seemed repetitive against previous posts. That meant I needed to come up with some newer ideas. The week rolled by but nothing seemed to stick. Plus the obligation to live up to the posts mentioned in the email made me feel like a liar for choosing something different.

I let the weekend pass. I'm not unrealistic about how many eyes get on this site and I let that justify a choice to not write at all. No one would notice if this day had been left empty or if I didn't stick to a consistent posting schedule or if I didn't have anything "native" to post on social media for a while. A couple more days went by. At first the decision meant nothing to me. Again, no one would notice. But over time I started to feel a bit sick from the hollowness. Not writing wasn't much of an example of self-improvement... One of the purposes of writing this blog is the *doing* part of becoming better. If I wasn't writing then I wasn't helping myself. The conclusion was I had to write something - ANYTHING! But what?

By now a thick wall, so high and so wide that I couldn't get over or around it, had centered itself in my mind.  All of the possible ways to move forward were on the other side. I was stuck and blind. Even with the will to move on, I didn't know which way to go! After wrestling for another week I realized that to overcome the Wall which kept my blog blank I had to actually attack it. I just couldn't leave this blog blank any longer.

Be Diplomatic

As I mentioned before, creating a routine of waiting is a special tool in a maker's bag. Waiting allows us time to think deeply, opens us up for true problem-solving. With free time we are willing to experiment or have the chance to make new connections. The end result isn't just topical, it has substance and meaning thanks to the extra effort in going beyond the surface.

When it comes to diplomacy and strategy, there are two options. In short, will you to let the enemy come to you or are you going to go to it. To approach the enemy means we get to control the situation by scheduling thinking time. You are in charge of how, when, and where to be thoughtful by using set aside time to experiment with topics and projects. Do research and let your brain reach out to the world around you, or review what you have already (see below) and attempt to take it to the next level.

But be wary. When a schedule is too rigid we might be exposing ourselves. In this case, let the enemy come to you. Sit and do nothing. I mean it. Nothing. Or if you must do something choose an irrelevant activity. Eventually the Wall has to come down. Then you can let the ideas touch you when the channels are open.

Bring Out the Big Guns

Okay, so it's not all out war on the front lines, but effective defense against Creative Block may require some ammunition. I like to think of it as brainstorming indefinitely. You'll never want for ideas if you have a method for getting them down and keeping those bursts of creativity when they happen. The job is easy too!

Open your handy notebook or note-taking app of choice and start a list. Every time you think of a new way to do what you do, a fresh perspective on a topic you've been wrestling with, an activity worth trying WRITE IT DOWN. Include details that would help you use the idea in the future, especially the source of inspiration so you can refer back to it or give credit. Keep track of what you would use the idea for. Maybe even include pictures or a step-by-step for what you see in your head. With a living list you'll always have a way out when Procrastination attacks.


During the time it took to finish this post, I kept reminding myself it needed to be written no matter what. Like building muscle, flexing your creativity no matter the effort is essential to keeping in shape. Otherwise you lose it. Sometimes I wonder if that's what happened to me and writing. I can't risk losing it again. Even if I hadn't come up with this confession/lesson I had thought to write a poem or share another round of personal photos. All I had to do was settle into my defense. The same thing can happen to any maker if he or she chooses to fight back when Creative Block or Procrastination arrive. And when that Wall hits, he or she will be equipped to defeat it.

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Kristyn here. I'm really good at Googling, dreaming, and thinking outside the box. Someday I'm going to save all the puppies and perform on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.

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