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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.

What Else Looks Like Writer’s Block But Isn’t

start finishThe gap between finishing one writing project and starting the next can look like writer’s block. It’s not.

The contrast can be startling. You were focused and engaged, busy drafting, revising and polishing. You rightfully felt proud of your effort and gratified with the result. Then suddenly, you’re not. Not doing anything apparently. What’s wrong with you? Nothing.

Every creative project is a journey through the first five stages of the Creative Process. (More about the Stages of the Creative Process in Chapter 4 of AWB or here.) It’s important to remember that the actual fingers-on-keyboard or pen-on-page part of a writing project occurs in only the fifth stage, Verification.

Writers do ourselves a great disservice when we label everything outside Verification as insignificant at best or as procrastination/laziness/lack of will power/writer’s block at worst. (More about how the essential steps between getting a great idea and writing about the idea can look like writer’s block in the last post.)

Big projects require you cycle through the first five stages multiple times. Sometimes you can finish a writing project and quickly cycle back to the first stage to start the next. But more often than not, you give most of your creative energy to complete the project and don’t have the energy to start a new one.

You just moved into the sixth stage of the Creative Process, Hibernation. This normal part of a creative life is not often discussed, as if we’re embarrassed about it. But since Hibernation is the natural consequence of depleting your creative energy to complete a writing project, it makes sense that the only way to move through it is to restore your creative energy.

brain needs restTo do that, your brain needs downtime. Or at least what we call downtime. In Scientific American, Ferris Jabr reports:

“What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day.

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

Your brain needs downtime all the time, not only when you’re in Hibernation. But when you’re in Hibernation, you need more.

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In Hibernation, Product Time doesn’t look at all like Product Time did in the previous stage when you  focused on drafting and revising. Hibernation Product Time activities often take you away from your writing space and can seem self-indulgent:

  • rest
  • nap
  • putter around
  • walk or stroll in a beautiful park or garden
  • daydream
  • just be instead of doing
  • have quiet time alone alone or in the company of people who give you an energy boost
  • immerse yourself in beauty: nature, museums, books of photography and other art
  • double down on what you do for Process (coloring, doodling, playing with clay, listening to music, etc.)
  • go “electronic commando” at times, that is, abstain from your phone, tablet, laptop and other electronic devices.

If that last one about time without your phone or tablet freaked you out, let me reassure you that I’m not suggesting you give up your electronics altogether. I’m suggesting you take regular breaks from using your devices. Just like Product Time in the other five stages, you make a small commitment to 15 minutes at the most (though you might set a target for more time).

BTW: The more you shudder at the idea of weaning yourself from your devices, the more you need to do just that. 

 You might protest that you don’t have time to do nothing all day. Remember you benefit from as little as 10 or 15 minutes a day.

You may object that this doesn’t sound productive, that it’s a waste of time. You’re right; it’s not productive in the usual sense of productivity. And you’re wrong: it is definitely not a waste of time. Downtime is essential to long-term creative effectiveness.

Refusing to acknowledge the reality of Hibernation and respond to it effectively with downtime is the true waste of time because you’ll get stuck there.

The more you try to push yourself to get busy writing, the more impossible you make it. Do that long enough and you just might transform Hibernation into writer’s block.

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One Comment on “What Else Looks Like Writer’s Block But Isn’t”

  1. rawlingsrod August 13, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    Instead of “nothing”, you could meditate.


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