When I think about this, I always remember a radio interview with J.K. Rowling from quite a few years back now. She describes staring at a blank piece of paper and not being able to write after the tabloid press had riffled through her past and published the results. She said she had a very strong compulsion to write, it was something over which she had very little control and which she wanted to do a lot. The words were simple, but the pain behind them was palpable. This was the real thing.
Of course, whatever is causing blockage or a drained feeling doesn’t have to be big in scope or a harrowing experience, nor does it deserve any less attention, regardless of what puts you on pause when you don’t want to be. But it does help to step back and examine, if it’s because of this and that, is it really as bad as I think, and is it worth not doing what I want to do because of it?
We all have different ways of dealing with this – here’s what helps me.
This applies especially if you are trying to start or finish something in the evening and it just won’t come together. There may be a very simple explanation – you are tired! So go to bed. Chances are you will wake up early and refreshed the next morning, and as a result what you wanted to do will turn out faster and better than if you tried to force yourself the night before. Particularly if you are getting something done before you go to your day job. Of course, sometimes we have to grit our teeth and work a longer evening or even night on a creative endevour, because we don’t have a choice, for whatever reasons. But if you do, give yourself that break. And if you are inspired and on a roll, well, great!
This can be executed in many ways. Sometimes all you need is to get away from the laptop, sit down, close your eyes and breathe through your nose. Things become clearer and it’s easier to pinpoint what was causing the wobbliness. Getting some chores out of the way might also be helpful, even if you tend to procrastinate on those in the name of art (no, that’s never happened to me, pah!). It’s so much pleasanter to sit down to whatever you’re dying to do when the laundry is finished. Nobody cancelled the fact that you do not want to live in a hovel. And one of the easiest ways to get some distance is to go for a walk. A two-week trip to the Canary Islands might be pushing it a bit far, but hey, if it helps and you can swing it financially, why not. Anyway, do go outside.
For me this is simply listening to yourself and doing some tougher self-exploration if necessary. Something is bugging you or you feel frustration that is distracting you from the project at hand. What is it? What do you keep coming back to in your mind? Is it a bigger problem, or a smaller incident that happened earlier? Can you do anything about it? If yes, do you need or want to do that right now? If not, let go, at least for the time you wanted to allot to your project.
Write it out in a journal, meet up with a friend who understands, talk to your Grandma if she loves hearing about your progress, watch interviews on YouTube with writers, artists, performers you admire about how they work and deal with the hardships. You might hear something helpful.
Some positivity goes a long way. Take a break and do something that stimulates you and where you feel your best, whether it’s a favourite activity, a building you like to look at, listening to cheesy mood-boosting songs from your youth or reading a book in the park. These favourite things might also be the key to some inspirational ideas already.
All of the above is good, but it all comes down to the fact that we have to buckle down and just do it if we want to accomplish something. That’s all there is to it. I read an article recently about showing as much commitment to your creative projects as to your day job, for those of us who are in that situation, and I completely agree. This doesn’t mean getting up as early during the weekend or spending an 8-hour day on things in addition to the five you already do, but if you want it, you have to make your own personal job of it. Nitty-gritty life wisdom I sincerely hope I can follow myself.
Of course, we are all only human, after all. I like to remember this here saying from the great and powerful Internet: “If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Stay cool!”