CREATIVE WORK RELEASE

I almost never face Writer’s Block. I almost always have the opposite problem, too many ideas to pursue at once.

But for those who do have Writer’s Block problems then maybe this will help.

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

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“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored my all-time favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (public library; free download), this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Illustration by Tove Jansson for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!

The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll is a wonderful read in its entirety, full of the beloved author’s thoughts on happiness, morality, religion, identity, and much more. Complement it with the best illustrations from 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, then fortify this particular bit with the psychology of the perfect writing routine and more ideas on overcoming creative block from Brian Eno, Carole King, and some of today’s most exciting creators.

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WRITER’S BLOCK AND WRITER’S LICENSE

I’ve never suffered the creative malady, Writer’s Block – as it is typically defined anyway, as an inability to generate new material. I’ve always had the opposite problem, Writer’s License.

By that I mean too many ideas, too many projects, and not enough focus on one thing at a time. And when it comes to a single project constantly adding onto it and ceaselessly building it without any real restraint until it grows overly-complicated and unwieldy. That is to say that often I have an overindulgence of ideas, and it is my lack of desire to restrict and redact that is the problem for me, not my ability to generate and grow.

My ability to constantly generate more is almost unlimited. But over time I have learned to better control that, though the problem still remains and sometimes I will subconsciously find my desk and myself surrounded by hundreds of sticky notes for idea and scene and plot inclusion into a book and then I’ll have to say to myself, “Realistically kid, this will be impossible.

So for those with Writer’s Block as it is atypically defined, or as I define it, as Writer’s License (for it should have a separate term and definition altogether), then here is an interesting and generally useful article to address that/your problem.

Of course it depends on exactly what you’re writing as to how useful any particular writing advice may actually be.

 

Half the Words, Twice the Hits: 7 Tips for Removing Writer’s Block

When you write for fun, the knowledge that you’ll be the only one to read your words can make it easy to fill three journal pages in ten minutes. But when you’re working with a deadline, two problems may slow down your writing process:

  • Writer’s block. A form of anxiety that makes it temporarily impossible to produce new work because nothing seems good enough to be published.
  • Inability to self-edit. Deleting your own words means detaching your emotions from the time and energy you just spent creating them.

Writers have been publicly battling this malady since Coleridge wrote about his own struggles in 1804. Writer’s block is widely accepted as an occupational hazard. But as a professional content marketer, you simply don’t have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for your muse to appear. In order to meet deadlines and company expectations, you have to write quickly, smoothly, and succinctly.

That last point is especially important. It was Chekov (or Faulkner, or Ginsberg) who once said, “Kill your darlings.” Intense, but good advice. Sometimes, your most cherished sentence can be what’s keeping you from saying what you really need to.

Last year, Flavorwire collected and published tips on overcoming writer’s block from 13 famous writers. Here are seven of ours:

1. Start with Research

Read the creative or content brief and your assignment sheet, then do third-party research to become well-versed on your subject. Take your time, and trust that your brain absorbs information whether you’re conscious of it or not.

2. Just Write

Subscribe to the saying, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Record your thoughts on what you’ve researched. What do you need to tell your audience about your product or services? What are your readers’ pain points? How will you solve their problems?

3. Look for Patterns and Think Chronologically

Look for trends in your draft. Have any themes emerged on their own? Is there a logical outline or structure to the piece? Move sentences or paragraphs around and refine your vocabulary, phrasing, and grammar. If readers were to follow your advice, what action should they take first?

4. Spunk It Up!

Write blog posts that engage your audience and keep them coming back for more. If you’ve got a great sense of humor, bring it to your writing (if the topic allows). Cite relevant research and articles, include interesting links to outside sources, and capture readers’ attention with eye-catching photographs.

5. Give It Shape

Your job as a marketing content producer is to take a big idea and make it snackable. Clearly define paragraphs, use numbered or bulleted lists, and remember that white space is a blog writer’s best friend. If that means you end up turning one post into two, all the better!

6. Be Ruthless

Ask yourself, “If I had to cut the word count in half, what would stay and what would go?” This reductive process will force you to write concise, relevant sentences. Ask yourself if every paragraph offers new or useful information. If you’ve merely restated your point, identify and eliminate it. It’s difficult to do, especially if what you’re ditching is witty, but it’s worth it in a culture that thinks in tweets.

7. Understand That Practice Makes . . .

. . . you better. You won’t get it right on the first try, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you will. No writer is perfect. Work with a good editor and consider every piece of criticism a gift. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to carefully review your edited copy and use what you learn the next time you sit down to write.

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