I didn’t plan to write this post. At least not today.
I planned to dedicate the first couple of hours of this morning to writing a piece about the role of co-creation in communication. I already had the design for that article, and everything was ready for me to sit down and write. Or so I thought. So, I opened my design and a new document for the actual text and started writing. At first, everything felt OK. My writing was fluent, and I followed the line of thought I had planned. But at some point, I felt something wasn’t right, so I did what I sometimes do: I stopped and reread what I already had on the page. It was reasonably written, but something just didn’t work. Despite thinking the structure of the text through as part of the design process, now, as I read the text, the logical flow seemed unnatural and not-inviting. I didn’t know if I should start from scratch or edit what I had already written. I didn’t have any solid idea how to fix the text. I was stuck.
I try to write every day. It doesn’t always work. As much as I plan my writing time slots, sometimes they are hard to keep. So, when I do manage to sit down and write, I want to make the most of it. But obviously, I cannot really control how that goes. Even when the gods of time management are on my side, I might find myself staring at the monitor and unable to add even a single word to the text (and not because it is already perfect). Will my writing time for today be dedicated to hopelessly staring at the blinking cursor? I don’t relate much to the concept of “finding your muse,” but no one can deny that sometimes we feel we are at a dead-end.
When I am facing a dead-end, writing-wise, I use one of two strategies. The first aims to find a detour and get unstuck; the second focuses on using my planned writing time to its fullest. Both of them have a common theme: let it go!
The first path around a dead-end is to stop whatever I am trying to do and do something completely different, preferably something that doesn’t require any thinking. Taking a walk, reading something, or even watching a movie or a show on my favorite streaming service may sound like a waste of time, but it allows my brain to continue processing the challenge I face in the background without forcing it. Breakthroughs are not guaranteed, but in my experience, they are more likely than when I continue staring at the static screen.
From a creative perspective, this approach is perfect. It is not just that you don’t force your way to find a solution; doing something completely different often creates new and surprising connections and will trigger creative solutions that are practically unreachable otherwise. But being the creatures we are, some of us, including myself, might feel guilty taking this path. After all, I was supposed to write, so how come I just spent two hours wandering the streets? So, while I use the extreme version of letting it go occasionally, I am inclined toward a less radical solution with potentially similar benefits minus the guilt.
Many creative activities, and writing among them, are not monolithic. You can be engaged with a few of them at any given time. Of course, you are not doing them all in parallel; some are “on hold” while engaging with one of your active projects. But when you feel stuck and cannot move forward in one project, you have a few others you can dust off and work on. Writing is also not a single activity. The actual writing is only part of a more comprehensive creative process that typically includes ideation, research, design, reading what you’ve written, and editing. My active projects are made of multiple pieces of text in different stages, and when I come across a dead-end, I can continue writing (in the broadest sense) simply by switching projects or activities.
If I’m stuck when writing a particular chapter in my book, I can research or design the next one; I can reread the previous chapter; I can work on an upcoming workshop; and I can think of a completely new post (for example, “What to do when you are stuck”). All this is to say that although I couldn’t continue writing what I planned I can still use my writing time to its fullest.
Interestingly, letting go (for a while) of one project or activity and working on another piece of content has much of the benefit of taking a walk. While my mind is not at rest, it is fully engaged with a new task, leaving the dead-end I came across in the rearview mirror. Often, a new idea will spontaneously emerge when I return to my dead-end. Whether this magic happens, I managed to write (or do something that directly promotes my writing) instead of standing in place.
Now, it’s time for that refreshing walk…