Writer’s block, creating in a vacuum, the blank canvas…

…all the challenges I faced writing this piece and often face when trying to generate ideas. Something I think most of use face at some point or other during our working week.

As it happens we are aware time is ticking by. Sometimes we use it as an excuse to do something else – on the basis a distraction will unblock our minds, puncture the vacuum or mark the canvas. For authors it can be crippling – an existential threat.

Stressed tired businesswoman feels exhausted sitting at office desk with laptop and crumpled paper, frustrated woman can not concentrate having writers block, lack of new ideas or creative crisis

So how to overcome it?

First of all a disclaimer – this piece is not intended for the severity of the condition experienced by authors. Rather it is for those of us who find it means we end up hitting deadlines, avoid addressing important tasks and repeatedly re-write the same task in to do lists.

I’ve realised this ‘writer’s block’ can happen for me with anything from writing a difficult email or writing copy for marketing to picking up the phone to call prospects. Although I find ways to overcome the procrastination it seems I have not clearly understood what they are and even if I have I forget to apply them.

What is that allows those creative juices to flow? Whether that be to get on with writing a proposal, compiling a project management plan or coming up with a pithy headline.

Let’s pick off the three metaphors for the condition we have used in headline of this piece.

When the blockage occurs I start to think of those very terms – “Have I got writer’s block? Will I ever come up with the idea? The clock is ticking..” The anxiety builds. “How can I come up with ideas in a vaccum. Where do I start?” Feeling isolated. “There is nothing to go on. My mind is blank. Where’s the brief?”. Looks like there nowhere turn, I guess that’s why we often do nothing or do something else.

These are the ways, in the past, that I have successfully dealt with each of the barriers. That’s not to say they don’t happen again, nor that I remember how I overcame them previously – hopefully writing this will help embed that!

So for writer’s block. For me this is most frequently experienced when I have completed the research to allow us to write a business rationale and proposition. I suspect the weight of material taken onboard has an impact here. I can sometimes sit for ten’s of minutes staring into the distance.

Eventually, and this is often how the barrier is broken, I decide that I have to write something, however inappropriate, illogical or unconnected that might end being. I force myself to write down the last concluding thought I had whilst doing the research. This seems to click in the gears and I start to debate with myself about the truth and validity in that thought – and so I get writing, usually at pace. This may seem an obvious and simplistic solution, but I can’t tell you how many times I still stare dumbly into the distance before remembering it as a technique.

Then onto creating something in a vacuum. This arises, for example, when there has been a break of some days between the receipt of a brief and embarking on the creative thinking to answer the brief. You have an outline idea of what is needed but there are too many questions and missing pieces to trigger your thinking. It feels like you are in an impenetrable bubble of information that is too incomplete to do anything with. I suspect this is something to do with memory, or lack of confidence in it. But the solution is simple and obvious – revisit the brief, or the proposal that resulted in the brief. Some of you reading this may feel that is blindingly obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of times I have resolved an impasse on a brief by doing this.

The blank canvas, this is related to working in a vacuum but in this situation there is generally scant brief to go on. It’s the feeling that there is nothing to go on. “What is the objective?”, “What is at all about?”, “Where do we start?”.  Because there is little to go on it seems quite justifiable to wonder how or where to make the first ‘stroke’, with which brush and which colour. Painter’s block if you like.  It’s all very well knowing what it is but how to overcome it? This is where I employ the age-old ‘walk in their shoes for a mile’. I imagine myself in my client’s position and ask myself “What would I want?”, “What does the landscape look like?”, “How will I navigate through that landscape to get at what my client would want?”. And as if by magic a picture starts to emerge. Even if this ends up being a ‘straw doll’ that is significantly altered or scrapped for another emerging solution – that is still a positive outcome. One that would not have arisen without filling in the blank canvas.

I do hope you have found this amble through my consciousness of interest and of use. If you are keen on further debate or investigation just contact me on 07787 557107 or robharrison@gluedlimited.co.uk.

Want to add to the debate? Email robharrison@gluedlimited.co.uk or phone 07787 557 197.

Article by Rob Harrison