Getting Unstuck : Page 2
Getting Unstuck: 9 Ways to Escape from Creativity-Halting Goo
By Rick Benzel
The Reframing Approach
This approach to getting unstuck is based on the psychological concept of "reframing" a problem, which means learning how to change your view of the problem. Given that your reality is shaped by your thoughts and interpretations, reframing is based on the concept that you can abandon negative self-talk, replacing it with positive statements and attitudes that lead you to a more fruitful interpretation of the moment.
Consider the following situation. You have just spent a week writing a chapter of your novel, but now you're stuck. Somehow your protagonist has ended up in a position that doesn't make sense for her character. You begin to curse at yourself, upset that the last week feels like wasted time. You can't figure out how to salvage the chapter you worked so hard to write. Your mind is going blank and the goo slowly begins to ooze all over you, making you feel like an author who's been tar and feathered.
Many writers, painters, and other artists who invest large amounts of time on a project experience this type of gooey remorse. They become so invested in an idea that they find it difficult to accept when it doesn't work and they become stuck trying to salvage the idea although they know it is taking them down an unproductive path.
This is when reframing can help. Rather than cursing yourself and viewing the experience as "wasted time" or as proof that "I lack talent" (both of which are nothing but thoughts you place in your own mind), why not reframe the experience in a way that inspires your creative juices instead of draining them? You might say to yourself, "This plot twist is a great one; let me save it for another character later in this book." Or you could think, "Wow, what a great idea for another story." Or perhaps you can tell yourself something as mild as, "Well, I guess I know my character better now. I'll rewrite this chapter and learn from the experience."
Reframing is an extremely valuable tool for artists who feel frustrated and stuck at the beginnings of projects. If you believe you are going nowhere, it often indicates that your inner critic is halting you from trying out ideas because you fear making a mistake. It can be useful to reframe your early work entirely, viewing whatever you do in the context of "This is a good start for my project and I can always come back and revisit it," rather than thinking, "I don't think this is the 'right' start for this book (painting, song, etc.) so I'm not going anywhere until I can get it right."
It is always useful to remember that you can alter your thoughts about many situations. You can feel angry, frustrated, tired, upset with yourself or you can transform your feelings into patience, understanding, and self-respect for the efforts you make.
The Marcel Proust Approach
The great French writer Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922) is known for a style of writing called stream of consciousness, in which he poured his feelings out onto the page like water over a dam. Proust's novels are long extensions of his thoughts and memories, with thousands of words devoted to the smallest of incidents. For example, in his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past, Proust devoted 30 pages to simply describing rolling over in bed at night.
For creators, the value of the Marcel Proust approach to stream of consciousness lies in the fact that when you are stuck, you need to release your mind from rules and formulae so you can open yourself up to fresh ideas. If you are at an impasse when writing your novel, stop thinking about writing your novel per se, and begin writing just about anything. If you are painting and don't know what color to use next, stop thinking about painting the piece in question and head for a new canvas where you release all preconceptions into a stream of consciousness of colors and shapes. If you are choreographing a dance, go off into a studio and simply dance your head off using whatever movements occur to you in the moment.
Stream of consciousness allows you to reconnect with your innermost feelings and thoughts, a veritable "brain dump" that lets your creativity hang out without regard to correctness, appropriateness, or brilliance. You simply lay all your thoughts bare and in doing so, you let yourself tap into authentic feelings and ideas that arise from deep inside you. By relaxing yourself into stream of consciousness, your mind easily and quickly floats from one idea to another, surging in feelings and memories that often contain the seeds of the solution to your stuckness.
The Marcel Proust approach is similar to what you may already do in your journaling or in the "morning pages" associated with the book, The Artist's Way. All three methods are aimed at the same phenomenon: releasing your mind from your inner critic that halts your creative work that little voice that claims a certain passage you are writing is "stupid" or that your painting is "ugly." As Proust taught us, it's very creative to simply let your mind spill out, and even your ramblings can turn into a world-renowned piece of literature.