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Is Your Creative Block Really A Log Jam?

Photo: Verity Johnson
Photo: Verity Johnson
Photo: Verity Johnson
Are you misdiagnosing your struggle for creative inspiration? Verity Johnson has an important revelation for you.

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For about two years, I used to lie on the leopard print rug on the living room floor every evening, staring at the fly poop speckles on the ceiling, whispering, ‘I have nothing…nothing…”

Every day always felt like an excited toddler skipped into the playroom of my brain, flung open the dressing-up box, looked around for a sparkly gold tutu…and found the box was empty. 

Totally empty. 

There was nothing in it. Not even one cold, crushed corpse of a spidery idea.

Now, writers like to call this writer's block. But we don’t have a leather-elbow-patched monopoly on this feeling. Pretty much every working creative knows the sensation.

Sometimes it’s for a day. Sometimes it’s for years. But it always feels like there’s a massive hairball stuck in your good ideas pipe.

I googled how to remove the blockage; making some tea, going for a walk, doing some other trite domestic ritual that confirms you really are turning into your mother. 

And sometimes this stuff worked for an evening. But it didn’t tell me why I was getting blocked, nor do anything about the deep seated, long term feeling I had that I couldn’t find what I was trying to say.

So I started asking my friends if they had any ideas.

Most of them handed out the same squashy, wholesome uselessness, rather like they were standing outside a herbal remedies shop giving away testers. But one older, wiser friend who has been directing for over two decades had a much better insight:

“Well, you have heaps of ideas. You never shut up.” he said dryly, “So maybe it’s not a block. Maybe it’s a log jam…”

Honestly, I’d never thought of it like that before. 

It had never occurred to me that maybe it’s too much inspiration and not a lack of it. 

After all, we typically focus on the symptoms of blockage (I have nothing!) rather than questing the cause of it (how can I have nothing to say when I spend so much time yapping on to my mates about my latest theory on life?!”)

When he said it like that it made far, far more sense.

After all, one of the most frustrating parts about the creative block was the feeling that I did have something to say. Somewhere. I just didn’t know what it was. Creatives are driven by the need to say something. It’s why we pitch half-baked ideas to our bosses that inevitably kick off this lying-on-the-livingroom-floor process in the first place. So it was quite feasible that any blockage could come from wanting to say too much rather than say too little.

My all too familiar view. Photo: Verity Johnson.

And it occurred to me - maybe we always misread the signs of blockage.

See, we’re used to feeling energised by the arrival of a good idea. They normally arrive with an expectant ping of anticipation, like a microwaved strudel. And there’s none of those pings when you’re blocked, just a kind of background psychic gurgling that you ignore like a noisy fridge.

But if you look at it from the log jam perspective, what if you can’t hear the arrival of a good idea over the noise of all the others? What if you’ve got so many ideas, tightly pressed together talking over each other? Then all you’d hear would be one incessant whisper.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn’t need any more ideas. What I needed was to hear the ping of the good idea over the jabbering of all of the average ones.

And no one can do that when they’re all jammed in your head.

So if you’re struggling with a creative blockage, try taking out every single, scrappy, sliver of an idea and writing them down. Go mad. Make one of those pin boards with endless bits of coloured string and bits of paper so you look like you’re running a major fraud investigation from your living room. Whatever you do though, get them out!

It’s the only way you’ll be able to hear the arrival of the one idea you’ve actually been waiting for.