Have you ever looked at a computer screen and wanted to bang your head against it? A time when the words seem less than what you were hoping? Or maybe nothing makes sense anymore?
Yep. Me too. What a fun club to join! Want a t-shirt? We also have coffee mugs.
At this point, I’m the captain of a starship floating in the Neutral Zone. How can I get back across the border to safety? Why can’t I just say, “Imagination, Engage!” and have the words tumble out of my brain?
Luckily, we’ve got tools we can use to help the imagination engage: the simulator, the engine room, and the ship’s library.
Take a Break in the Simulator
Walking away from the problem can be the best solution—as long as you return to the work. Taking a break to walk the dog, have a cup of tea, or engage in creative playtime allows your brain to work on the problem without you getting in the way.
For example, as long as I separate each draft of my writing with at least an hour of break time, I make progress. And if I can wait a whole day before returning? My unconscious lifts the heaviest blocks with ease!
Now, some of you might be thinking that this practice encourages procrastination. However, this time away is gestation, not avoidance.
If you do find yourself avoiding the project once you’ve taken your break, bravery comes into play. With all gestation processes, there is a little bit of fear that rises up when we reach the end and the product of our work is birthed. It’s completely natural. Your bravery here comes in the form of trust, trust that your mind will do its job and make those connections.
Because that’s what’s happening during the gestation. After beginning the struggle with the question you’ve introduced, your brain can’t help but continue to work on it. As you engage in other activities, new patterns and stimuli are introduced while your brain processes the problem. And, by taking the pressure off, you allow your unconscious to make new connections and draw new conclusions.
Upon returning to your writing, relax. Let the words flow. Suddenly, the perfect word will appear. A shiny new metaphor explains exactly what you’re trying to say. Delete that sentence and look how the paragraph shines!
You’ve engaged your imagination without even trying!
Get to Work in the Engine Room
While taking time away from your work can be a necessary part of the gestation of your piece, sometimes we need to persist. And we can do it! After all, we persist in returning to the work. We persist in showing back up to write. We persist in finding the words and the ways to build our stories.
By staying with the problem instead of stepping away, you consciously force your brain to think differently.
For an example of what this feels like, let’s try an exercise. Make a list of ten things you accomplished in the past week. Don’t worry about the size of the accomplishment. Just write down anything that gave you a little feeling of triumph. Walked the dog? On the list! Found that pen you lost? On the list! Defeated the Romulans in battle? On the list!
If you don’t think you can come up with ten, lower your standards and keep trying. If you come up with ten easily, see if you can add another two to five items to the list.
When you push past that point where you don’t think you could add anything else to the list and come up with that next item, you’ll be amazed at what happens. Suddenly, your mind springs to life. Another two? How about another ten? The memories and ideas start flooding into your brain.
And that’s what happens when your attention focuses fully on the problem. You approach the question consciously. Persistence means actively following your curiosity, searching for connections, deepening and broadening your thinking. Your brain responds, creating new pathways and connections.
You’ve actively engaged your imagination.
Visit the Ship Library
But what if you try both of these and neither seems to work? Time to do a little research!
Having issues with structure? Or maybe you want a certain feel to the piece that’s escaping you. Is there a plot point that seems impossible?
Jump into your library at home or visit your local municipal branch. Search for the answer in the DIY MFA blog. Delve into the far reaches of the internet. Smart people have written about almost every subject in all sorts of ways. Find the one that works for you, and do your research.
You’ll know when you find it. All of a sudden, your brain will click as it makes the connection. Ideas may cascade, or it just may be a little thought of, “Hey. This could work….”
By giving your brain more information, you’ve encouraged it to find new patterns and connections. And these new thoughts are your imagination sending you a shuttlecraft so you can get back aboard your starship.
Trust Your Mind
Most people find that one of these options works better for them than the others. And I find that different ones work for me at different times and in different situations. While taking a break is the most reliable for me, I’ll combine that technique with research by using my time away to consult a craft book or one written in a similar style to what I’m wanting to write. Or I’ll persist with a sticky dilemma, making myself stare at my screen while turning the issue over and over in my mind.
So, take a break. Confront the obstacle with persistence. Do some research if you need more information. However you approach your latest stumbling block, know that you’ve just given your brain an order.
*This piece uses Kaizen-Muse Creativity Tools and references the work of Susan Reynolds in Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer (Writer’s Digest, 2015).
LA (as in tra-la-la) Bourgeois is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach who empowers you to embrace JOY as you manifest your creative goals through her Creativity and Business Coaching. Battle resistance, procrastination, and overwhelm with her at your side, gently encouraging with humor and heart. Discover more at her website, labourgeois.biz