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Flip the script: Transforming creative blocks into allies

Today, I’m venturing out a bit and am participating in a synchroblog on creative blocks. Many of my favorite bloggers have been weighing in on this topic and some really awesome material has been written. If you’d like to check out some of the posts, click here. Continue reading if you’d like to know my two cents.

The hopeful romantic

My best friend in high school spent most of his time listening to sappy love ballads and writing poetry for girls while sitting in the back of chemistry classes. My funniest memory of him was the way in which he’d flip the script on his experiences of rejection. He’d ask a girl out, she’d say “No”, and he’d look over at me and say

“That’s okay. Now I know how Boyz II Men felt when they wrote ‘Water Runs Dry.’ I’ll get a great song out of this.”

Then he’d pen a heartfelt tearjerker about his humiliating moment. Paradoxically, he won the admiration of many girls this way. Where most guys would have been crushed by the contrast, he was catalyzed.

What’s your block story?

Our efforts to overcome creative blocks rarely fail because of  facts. We are most often defeated and depleted by the stories we tell ourselves about facts. The way we narrate the experience determines the character of the block.

Are you telling an empowering story in which your creative blocks are the dragons you learn to slay on your way towards greatness? Or is it a disheartening story about how your Uncle, who said you were a horrible painter, is finally being proven right?

If you’re having trouble dealing with creative blocks, it may be because you’re telling yourself a story that makes it psychologically impossible for you to generate creative ideas and productive energy. In that case, you may need a blockbuster story.

I have two suggestions that may help you tweak your life script in a more empowering direction:

1. Read 1,000 biographies (one at a time)

“In the course of your lifetime, read a thousand biographies. Because in doing so, you will build a vast vocabulary for overcoming incredible odds.” -Peter Daniels

In moments when we feel uninspired, afraid, or burned out, we have a window of opportunity to connect to the success stories of great artists and achievers in a visceral way. Studying how other creators respond to blocks significantly improves our creative literacy.

My high school friend brilliantly, albeit comically, modeled this practice. In the objective world of facts, he was being rejected by women. In the version of the story he sold himself, his apparent rejection was a rite of passage that all great artists, from Boyz II Men to the Beatles, had to go through in order to become mature writers.

Although he could have felt humbled by “failure”, his confidence was actually strengthened by the story he placed around the facts. Those stories influenced him to act in ways that eventually led to the results he originally wanted. He was able to do this because he was a student of the songwriters he admired. His knowledge of their struggles gave him a context for making sense of his own.

We can employ the same strategy by studying the leaders in our respective disciplines.

2. Practice Creative Visualization

 “I always had a passion for flashin’. Before I had it, I’d close my eyes and imagine, the good life” -Kanye West

The process of playfully visualizing your dreams can be a very healthy practice. As creatives, our focus tends to be action oriented with the primary emphasis being on producing and shipping tangible results. When we do speak about our personal ambitions, we’re sometimes not fully honest due to fear of being seen as unrealistic, superficial, or selfish. 

Every creator has a few private fantasies about living the “good life”, whatever that may personally mean to them. It could be something as simple as getting paid to do what you love or as stellar as winning a Pulitzer prize. Either way, creative visualization provides you with a safe environment for reconnecting with the elements that make your personal narrative meaningful. 

The world is filled with former music majors who left the arts because their curriculum became too mechanical. Somewhere in the process of memorizing sheet music and practicing their scales, they simply forgot about the electrifying Celine Dion concert performance that made them want to sing in the first place.

Like a married couple that stops flirting, we sometimes get so involved in the daily routines that we fail to indulge the sensual side of creativity. We’re showing up to do the work, but we’re no longer frolicking with the muse.

Perhaps such a loss of creative spark could be mitigated if we made more room in our day to go places in our imagination where we’re free to dream and feel good without having to live up to anyone else’s idea of a respectable, well-behaved, aesthetically refined creator. Maybe by doing so, we can begin to reawaken and reinvigorate the story that first captured our hearts.

Flip the script

Creative Blocks have stopped many amazing ideas from being materialized. Consequently, they have amassed a strong reputation for being the ultimate antagonist in a creator’s life. It doesn’t have to be this way. The script can be flipped. By drawing from the biographies of other creators and reclaiming our personal narrative through creative visualization, we can transform creative blocks into powerful protagonists.

That’s my two cents.

T.K. Coleman

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