Not Your Usual Blockbuster

Unlike the current blockbuster movie out there, the following problem is personal.
You are the hero in this story. The struggle is yours.

The Problem: You're staring at a blank page.

Whether it's that first page in a journal or a set of pages for a photo book, if you're not sure how to start, you've got writer's block. And, as Jackie Wood and I discovered while co-hosting Illustrating Stories, you're not alone. Loads of creatives have trouble getting their projects started.

Here's the backstory...

Illustrating Stories was a website we co-hosted over 10 years ago where we encouraged creative play through mixed media, graphic art, photos, and words. Lot's of individual and collaborative creativity happened through the website and our website community on Ning (remember Ning?). And, one of the questions we ran into again and again, was about what to do with that first blank page in a journal. That first page can be the worst!

Seriously. If you find yourself frustrated and blocked, you are in great company.

Writer's block—really, creative block—is a common visitor for all of us. I can't tell you how many times I've had to work through it myself. Luckily, the more you work through it, the better you get at finding a way (or multiple ways) through it. Which is how the following list of block busters came about.

Solution: Try one (or more) of the following ideas to bust through the block.

Luckily, there's more than one way to bust through a creative block:

  1. Skip the First Page or Let Someone Else Create It: That is, begin on page two. For me, the blank first page forces—and helps me practice—something I call the imperfect start. Along those same lines, Jackie used to make and sell journals on Etsy and one of the options was a completed first page  with her art. This was a great way to share her art and help her customers move past that first blank page. I thought it was an awesome idea.
  2. Bind it Later: One of my favorite approaches is to create pages that can be bound later.  Loose pages challenge the notion of preciousness that I seem to give my journals or any bound book for that matter. Plus, I think there is something to breaking down a creative project into sub-projects. Instead of an overwhelming book to create, I can focus on one story at a time.
  3. Go Digital: Working digital gives me so much more flexibility to experiment, reflect, and adjust my creative work as I go—without wasting resources in the process and with the ability to return to a previous stage of the piece. It is comforting to know that I can return to a stage I liked without much loss (except some time). This comfort inspires me to take more creative risks, explore, and learn. It helps keep my attention on process rather than outcome.
  4. Write a Permission Slip: A few years back, a friend introduced me to my first Brené Brown book. This prompted me to sign up for some of Dr. Brown's online courses where I encountered another approach to that creativity-freezing-impulse that I love: Permission Slips. Through online courses and other places, Brené has talked about why she writes permission slips and holds that telling the story of who you are with your whole heart is an act of bravery. And really, braving is an imperfect process in which you may find giving yourself permission to be uncool or a little frightened helps bolster your courage. Likewise, you may need to give yourself permission to care, be excited about, and engage in your hobby. I’ve found all of this to be true at one time or another.
  5. Invite Yourself to Create: Sometimes the permission slip doesn't resonate for me because I've given myself permission and I'm resisting the transition to action or because permission has a feeling of authority (something that can cause rebellion for me). At that point, I've found it useful to shift a little and invite myself to create, just to create. It's a funny trick that works for me because unlike authority granting permission, an invitation feels wild and liberating. (Hah! My mind is fun to work with and explore!)
  6. Use the Word Make: Creativity, creative, and create are words used a lot these days and creativity as a concept/practice has become rather precious and rare in our minds, culturally. Unfortunately, this status has a way of lending a daunting reverence to an common-everybody-can-do-it-and-is-born-with-it thing. With such adoration/reverence of the concept, it can be hard to get started doing it, I think. Consequently, I've decided that thinking about what I'm doing as making rather than creating, takes some of the precious air out of the activity. We all make stuff. It's easy to make stuff. Making a sandwich is doable and so is making a photograph.
  7. Start Writing/Making Nonsense: Often, the blank page staring back at us has to do with perfectionism at which point I've found I need to be direct with Perfectionism and:
    • Invite Perfectionism to speak its piece.
    • Appreciate Perfectionism’s warning.
    • Gently, ask Perfectionism to have a seat while I go ahead and start writing/creating/making anyway—even if what I'm doing is generating nonsense.

What About You?

What are you favorite "go to" block busters to get unstuck and get your projects started?

Share Your Thoughts...

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