Even More Hands-on Solution to Writer’s Block

January 22, 2012

Sometimes you need an even more hands-on solution to writing resistance than picking up a pen. Sometimes you need to back away, not just from the keyboard, but from words themselves, at least for a while.

Borrowing from the storyboarding technique screenwriters use, Edwidge Danticat starts her novels with collages. After creating several collages, she uses “blue book” college exam notebooks to draft a novel before touching a computer keyboard.

Danticat says “I like the tactile process. There’s something old-fashioned about it, but what we do is kind of old-fashioned.”

Recent brain science explains why the old-fashioned tactile approach can be so effective. Sharon Begley observes “Although most of us think of motor skills and cognitive skills as like oil and water, in fact a number of studies have found that refining your sensory-motor skills can bolster cognitive ones. No one knows exactly why, but it may be that the two brain systems are more interconnected than we realize. So learn to knit, or listen to classical music, or master juggling and you might be raising your IQ.”

Almost any kind of creative play (what I call Process) can have the effect of increasing creativity and other cognitive functions. Take your pick from collage-making, doodling, painting, coloring, dancing, fooling around with a musical instrument, playing with clay or Play-Doh, making models, gardening, photography, quilting, etc.

This as-of-yet-unexplained connection between sensory-motor skills and cognitive abilities can also help explain why clustering and mind-mapping break through mental blocks to deliver creative insight. Sometimes you need the image or the sensory-motor experience before you’re ready to make words flow into sentences and paragraphs.

Stop thinking about your writing problem straight-on and sidle up to it instead. Get your body moving so your mind can wander. Let your hands move of their own volition; sometimes another part of the body has wisdom the brain hasn’t clued into yet.

The next time you’re facing writing resistance, pick up your pen or your colored pencils, markers or crayons. Or your paintbrush, scissors, glue stick, harmonica or guitar, modeling clay, knitting needles or whatever activates your sensory-motor system and makes you happy.

My favorite ways to do Process are coloring and making collages. What’s yours?


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