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Got Writer’s Block? Take the Creative Pause

When a group of writers gathers to share their experiences, the conversation inevitably turns to writer’s block. This was the case recently and I shared with a group of colleagues what I wrote in a guest post on Writer Unboxed. My contention is that most of what we call writer’s block stems from a gap–either in the story, the characters, a scene, or the overall work. You can read the post here.

If you buy the”gap” theory, this begs the larger question: once you know there’s a gap of some sort, what do you do about it? I experience writer’s block primarily at the scene or character levels. At the scene level, it happens when a scene just isn’t working. I can’t seem to create any tension or excitement. It’s a chore to write the scene. When this happens I usually slog through and finish the scene, even though I know I will probably cut it later. A bigger challenge is when I discover I don’t have enough scenes to get from one pivotal place in the story to another. This is the price of being a pantser rather than a plotter.

Writer’s block that stems from character issues is a daunting challenge. It’s a sinking feeling when the writer discovers his main character isn’t strong enough, or perhaps doesn’t deserve to be the main character. This requires an intense assessment of the character’s flaws. Does he have enough depth? Are the challenges you have placed before him important and serious?

When I think through either scene or character issues, what I like to do is get away from my writing space. Take a walk. Go for a run. Put on my ear buds and listen to music. Brainstorm solutions. It usually works and there is a body of research that indicates such “creative pauses” can unlock the brain’s creativity. There’s the work of Edward DeBono, described here. DeBono, a physicist and author, defined it as a deliberate, self-imposed pause to consider alternative solutions to a problem.

In an article in Fast Company, Martin Lindstrom’s take on the creative pause is that boredom might unlock creative solutions, but in today’s fast-paced world, there is little time for boredom. Cameron Moll suggested one might do some productive creative thinking in the shower. Read his post here.

For me, it’s a walk or a run or just some peaceful time away from the laptop. I let my mind ponder the problem and consider all possibilities. Try it sometime.

How do you unblock yourself? What are your strategies for overcoming writer’s block?

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The “Creative Pause”: Rx for Writer’s Block

Reading an e-newsletter recently, I came across the term, “the creative pause.” This term may have been popularized by Edward deBono, a physicist and a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. He described it as a deliberate break from a problem-solving activity to consider alternative solutions.

de Bono described it as a deliberate, self-imposed pause to consider alternative solutions to a problem — even when things are going perfectly fine — for “some of the best results come when people stop to think about things that no one else has stopped to think about” (Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas). He suggested these pauses can be as short as 30 seconds.

In his paper for International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Professor Lajos Székely described creative pause:

“The ‘creative pause’ is defined as the time interval which begins when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness.” (“The Creative Pause”, 1967)

In other words, deliberate interruptions, whether short or an unknown period of time, may help scientists, mathematicians, business leaders and writers solve problems

Numerous articles and blog posts recommend some form of the creative pause as the cure for writer’s block. When the words are not flowing, take a walk or leave your work space for a short interval of time. It’s worked for me. When my brain is locked up, there’s nothing like taking the dog for a walk or going for a vigorous run to get the juices flowing again.

You’ve heard people say, “I do some of my best thinking in the shower.” In a 2008 blog post, Cameron Moll posits the idea that thinking in the shower may be an ideal way to experience the creative pause. Moll cites several reasons: little opportunity for distraction, minimal mental engagement required, the white noise effect, and the change of scenery as a way to spark new ways of thinking.

BBC producer and blogger Hugh Garry talks about the science behind the creative pause in this post. Garry wrote that when we come up with solutions by using the creative pause, we are using the unconscious part of our brains:

“When we solve problems we not only use different sides of our brain, we are also using different bits of memory: our ‘working memory’ and our ‘unconscious memory’. Because we are more familiar with our working memory we tend to give it more credit for problem solving than our ‘unconscious memory’. Let me explain how they differ. Our ‘working memory’ is used to solve simple mathematical problems like simple addition, multiplication and conversions: calculating the cost in dollars of a £5 meal (if the dollar is $1.60 to the pound) is something our ‘working memory’ can cope with without having to resort to using fingers, a paper and pen or calculator. Change the cost of that meal to £5.37 and all of a sudden the ‘working memory’ is beginning to struggle. In fact, for most people it has probably fallen over.

Your ‘unconscious memory’ has an incredible ability to call upon stored information to help us complete challenges way beyond the capabilities of the ‘working memory’.”

–Hugh Garry, blog post, October 13, 2011

What’s the lesson here? Sometimes the best solution to writer’s block is not to sit at the computer and stew. The best solution is to simply walk away and come back later.

Do you use the creative pause? Where do you do your best creative thinking?

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