I have been procrastinating writing about this topic for a couple of weeks now. I really wanted this entry to be perfect. I wanted it to cover everything in a way that has never been done before. I wanted it to be the best article ever written about Writer’s Block. I put so much expectations on myself that I simply couldn’t write any of it.
And there you have it: ‘Writer’s Block’ … the big killer of expression. It’s that black cat that you don’t want crossing your creative path … ever!
So what exactly is Writer’s Block? Where does it come from? Is it temporary or chronic? Is it inevitable? And more than anything, is it real?
In this exploration, I think it is important to look at the various ingredients that make up a ‘creation’. In my case, as a film composer, there is the film, the composer and the music. The film is made by someone else and the music is made by me, the composer. Or is it?
If I simply assume that I create the music then it would logically follow that I can stop creating music. I would say that this is a rather simplistic outlook on the creative process. Do ‘I’ really create music? Or does music manifest itself through me? Does creativity manifest itself through all of us, all the time?
When I sit down in front of the piano to start composing, do I create the notes that my hands play or do my hands play the notes that emerge from deep within my being? Do I think of the ‘right’ notes, or do notes simply arise … from beyond, or before, thought? Is the process closer to solving a math problem or is it more like listening to the wind howling, birds singing or the innocent humming of a child?
After many years of painfully getting lost in thinking about music, I reached a place of understanding that thinking about music is just that: thinking about music. Writing music does not come from thinking about the music, it comes from allowing oneself to become one with the music. For me, writing music is about surrendering to what the music wants to become rather than what I will it to be. My role is that of a facilitator, allowing the uninterrupted flow of energy that we call creativity. In a way, my primary role is to get out of the way so that creativity can freely do its thing.
This process can be quite wild when allowed to flow freely. Creativity is not concerned with such concepts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It just wants to flow, like a river that doesn’t know of left nor right. If I start the creative process with preconceived notions of ‘perfect’ versus ‘imperfect’ I have already stifled myself. It is a progressively destructive attitude that if held long enough can end up in our concept of ‘Writer’s Block’. If I label ‘my creativity’ bad then I am constricting the creative flow with my opinion which in fact is no less than self-criticism … judgement. The message I am sending myself is basically ‘this is not good enough’ and therefore ‘I am not good enough’. On the other hand, if I believe too much in something being perfect then the message I am essentially sending is ‘I want more like this, only like this … nothing else!’ You can see how both attitudes are very controlling. We can’t have free flow and control at the same time … they are contradictory forces.
So what is our role in all of this?
I sometimes consider myself the editor in chief of this publishing entity called me. I prefer to allow creativity to flow freely, to sit in front of the piano and simply improvise without any goals in mind. When I am in my studio, I like to dial up a certain sound (for example piano or strings) on my computer, hit record and then let the music do the talking. After recording a bunch of raw material I then go over it and grab only what I find to be the most appropriate for the specific scene I am scoring. Ultimately it’s just a matter of choice. But in order to choose, we need to have good options. Everything we create is a good option from which we end up picking what is most appropriate. This approach can open up the creative floodgates.
When I first started scoring films I used to look at each scene over and over while writing the music for it. There was something compulsive about my need to hit everything ‘perfectly’. It was a very cumbersome and tedious process which oftentimes made the music sound too forced or contrived. These days my creative process is very different. I like to watch a scene several times to really get its essence and then turn off the video altogether. I reach a mental understanding of what the scene is asking for and let that understanding seep deeper. Then I sit down in front of the keyboard and allow my being to interpret what the scene needs from an emotional point of view.
My being? What is this thing … ‘being’?
We are human beings, after all, aren’t we? We are not ‘human thinkings’, ‘human judgings’ or ‘human doings’, correct?
There is a part in each and every one us that just ‘knows’ without having to think about it. What makes our whole body work so perfectly? What makes us breathe so consistently, even when we are sleeping? We don’t have to think about it, it just happens. What makes us laugh or cry or love? Some call it God, some call it love, some call it intuition, some call it the universal life force or Prana. It really doesn’t matter what we choose to call it. Ultimately, it is nameless and beyond our understanding. In fact, trying to understand it usually makes it all go away very quickly. Instead, we can practice having faith in this other force that moves through all of us all the time. Hey … call it Creativity.
Creativity manifests itself in endless ways. It can be through music, painting, dance, writing, singing, baking a cake, building sand castles, raising a child, cutting your dog’s hair. You get the picture. We can channel creativity in everything we do. We can also absorb creativity in everything we do, whether it’s watching a play, listening to music, eating that cake, watching our children building sandcastles, hearing a lecture, listening to our partners talk, laugh, cry and breathe. It can be found in the howling of the wind or the singing of a single bird. All of this is part of creation … every moment as if for the very first time.
We are part of something much larger than our limited views of ourselves and others. And probably one of the most limiting views we can have of ourselves is that we actually have the ability to limit ‘our creativity’. You see, it’s not ours. It never was and never will be. Creativity is on loan to us for us to safeguard, cultivate and share. It is our birthright to enjoy and our duty to nourish and express. In essence, we are one with creativity in the same way that we are one with life itself. So ‘Writer’s Block’ is not the end of creativity. That is just a manifestation of our fear based thinking. It is a symptom of our own need to control, maybe to a fault. It is a wake up call to change our outlook and loosen our grip on life.
I oftentimes have to work under strenuous deadlines. Sometimes this means pulling very long days for a month straight sitting in my studio. After a month like that I usually feel creatively depleted. It’s not that creativity is disappearing its just that I have switched to a single creative channel called ‘filmscoring’ and thrown out the remote control for a month. No wonder I feel depleted. I have taken control of creativity rather than allowing creativity to flow freely in a way that is nourishing and replenishing. The problem lies in the fact that while I forced creativity into ‘filmscoring submission’ for understandable logistic reasons, creativity wanted to flow elsewhere. Where? To the rest of life: to nature, a play, a good meal, a connection with a friend … you know, LIFE.
So my obligation towards creativity is not so much to keep it alive and well (it’s doing just fine thank you) but rather to keep myself alive and well so that it can continue to flow. This energy is not separate from life; it is life itself!
The way to do this is by slowly, patiently and with a whole lot of love cultivating a sane environment that will be conducive to a healthy creative flow. Oh, and don’t forget a good dosage of humor. Sense of humor can unhinge a locked creative door very quickly. I often times have to remind myself that ‘It’s just music … I’m not saving babies!’
I would like to share some of the creative guidelines I have cultivated for myself over the years. I hope they can be of help to you in your own creative process, whether you are a filmmaker, composer, writer, painter, chef or anyone expressing themselves in some shape or form (in short, everyone).
If we find ourselves using our creative process as a way to beat ourselves up it is usually best to take a break and re-evaluate what is really going on. Am I exhausted or hungry? When’s the last time I went for a walk? Have I spoken to a fellow human lately? In person?
If I am feeling stressed and unhappy this usually means I am not taking good care of myself. Joy is the ultimate gauge. When I am in a good place, creativity is not something I am fighting against but rather something I am merging with. It is as if creativity and I become best friends playing together. Even if the subject matter is tragic, or difficult, there is still great joy in being one with what wants to be heard so that it indeed will be.
I find it very important to have strict external boundaries that allow me to be flexible internally. The idea of free flow and freedom can easily be misunderstood and taken to another extreme. We can get lost in too much freedom. We need a certain amount of discipline so we can successfully harness creativity. By discipline, I am not talking about a military type rigidity. What I am referring to is a strong, well thought out structure that enables us to dance freely within the space we create. This structure is made up of a solid consistent schedule, healthy self-maintenance (sleep, nourishment etc.) and focus. No, trying to be creative while Twittering and surfing Facebook does not fall under the category of focus, unless of course your focus is intentionally on being creative on Facebook and Twitter. There is no wrong or right! We just want to be conscious of our motivations, expectations and actions. Having a disciplined creative routine allows us to move freely within our own creativity. First you build a safe solid pool, then you swim in it as you wish.
Leave it at the door. If you’re having a judgmental day maybe creativity is better left for some other time. If you are under a tight deadline, practice having compassion for the situation you are in and do the very best you can. This is the best way to unlock the door to creativity: through loving-kindness we can create enough space to invite Creativity back out from under the bed.
In my opinion, ‘perfectionism’ is just an attempt to pink-wash ‘judgement’. When you really look into it, there is no difference. In perfectionism, we hold ourselves and others to impossible standards which can never be met. We live for an unobtainable ideal which ironically makes our life less than ideal. Our energies are better spent enjoying the creative process rather than obsessing about the ‘perfect’ outcome. There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, as long as there is enough room to be human (and imperfect). So once again … leave it at the door.
5. Taking A Break
If the structure you have built for yourself is starting to feel claustrophobic it’s probably time for some change. Switch it up. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Look at the sky. Meditate. Listen to what your being needs. If we are still enough, we will hear it. The answers are always there. Maybe Creativity is in still mode right now. We can’t expect it to always be shouting. The external weather is ever-changing and so is our internal weather system. We have to learn to know ourselves ever more intimately. Ultimately that is the whole reason we are here. It is our responsibility to learn how to hear our inner voice even (or especially) when it is whispering. This is the only way for our expression to become honest and true. This is what we strive for as artists. When our expression is genuine it will resonate the most with our audience (and loved ones).
6. The Day After
Oftentimes when I am working late nights my ‘judge’ gets louder and louder. Usually, by 10 PM this little judge is standing on my shoulder with a megaphone shouting ‘This is worthless! You should seriously consider a career change!’ (Usually the language is much more graphic than that). I have stopped trying to argue with that critic. Arguing with that judge becomes just more self judgement! So instead I acknowledge it and invite it to just hang out and listen. Sometimes it goes away completely. Other times it hangs out and gradually fades. Either way I just keep doing what I need to do. And inevitably, the next morning, after a good night’s sleep and a nice walk everything sounds just fine. Most of the time I can’t even remember what I was so critical about. Half a year later I absolutely do not remember the details that my mind chose to obsess about. There is tremendous comfort and strength in recognizing that our criticism is never as solid as it claims to be!
When we continue practicing ‘being creative’ on a regular basis we slowly learn the ins and outs of this magical process. Like in any relationship, consistency and longevity give us a sense of trust in the process itself. Knowing that a dip in creativity does not mean the ‘beginning of the end’ allows us to flow more easily with the ever fluctuating nature of creativity … and life. We don’t have to freak out every time we are having a challenging creative day. And when we are having a great creative day we don’t have to get lost in delusions of grandeur. It can all just be simple … not a big deal. We just keep showing up with the right attitude and gratitude. Multitude comes from this … without trying too hard.
‘So do I have Writer’s Block?’
When we have a cold, we can dwell on having a cold and feel more and more miserable every moment. Or, we can take the actions that are good for us like resting, eating chicken soup and taking vitamin C. Rather than giving something ‘negative’ more negative energy, we can channel more positive energy into positivity. Pondering the question ‘Do I have Writer’s Block’ can in itself deplete us of much needed energy. This energy is much better spent on asking ourselves ‘What can I do today to help Creativity flow freely as it wants to, through me?
Please share your own thoughts and experiences about this topic. Whether you are a filmmaker, writer, photographer, composer, dancer (or master sandcastle builder) … I am always eager to hear, learn and share … being creative, together.
Film Composer | Music For Socially Conscious Films
‘The Myth Of Writer’s Block’ by konsonant/ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.