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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Are You Really Using the Process Cure for Writer’s Block?

What I did for Process last week

When I introduce students, coaching clients or readers to Process as one of the three habits that support the writing life and reduce writing resistance, they ask some straight-forward questions and some that are a little trickier like:

  • “Is it Process if I’ve got music or TV on in the background while I’m coloring or painting or knitting?”
  • “Does reading count as Process?”
  • “Is watching a movie or TV Process?”

The answer to the tricky questions is almost always “It depends.”

What brings one writer to a creative and playful state of mind won’t work for every other writer. When an activity is Process for you, you are engaged and focused, but it’s a soft focus, more diffuse and flexible than the intense focus of Product Time.

In Product Time, you have an agenda. Even though you must surrender your expectations about today’s writing (that it will be good or so many pages), you still have a long-range intention that eventually you’ll produce a piece of writing you share with others. Anything that brings you closer to filling that goal counts as Product Time.

In Process, you play just for the sake of playing and create just for the sake of creating. You focus on the present moment, not on a future outcome.

So What Counts?

Watching TV or a movie is not Process (or Product Time) for me because I’m just watching. I’m a passive recipient of someone else’s creative dream. In fact, watching TV is usually a way we “tune out” and numb our awareness.

Screenwriters and playwrights might very well watch TV, movies or plays as Product Time research and professional development. If they can soften their focus from the intensity of studying another writer’s work (which makes it Product Time) and still engage in a kind of creative play while observing, that could be Process for them.

I’m not capable of that myself. When I read as a writer, noticing another writer’s style and technique (like screenwriters/ playwrights digesting a movie/play), that’s Product Time. Recreational reading where I want to get lost in another world is neither Product Time nor Process. When I get lost in reading, I am focused in a way, but it’s much more passive than what I typically feel when I’m doing Process.

So I don’t count reading as Process. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be Process for you, but I caution you to be careful to distinguish when you’re really reading as Process and when you start becoming a consumer of someone’s imagination.

Whether music or TV in the background means you’re shouldn’t call the coloring, painting or whatever you’re doing as Process depends on whether the music or TV enhances or interferes with your willingness and ability to experiment, play and engage in something creative.  

Only you can tell. And the only way you can tell is to pay attention to what happens. If you get so into the coloring or painting or playing with clay that you glance up and are surprised to realize you missed half the show, it’s Process. But if you get so into the TV show or movie that you glance down and are surprised to see you’ve filled half a page with mindless scribbles, it’s not.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of mindfulness. If you’re engaged in playing just for the sake of playing, it’s Process. But if you’re focused on accomplishing a specific end goal, or if at the other extreme what you really want is to just numb out and be mindless for a while; it’s not Process.

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