The Blank Page
I tried to find an excuse not to run. It was cold and drizzling rain. I hadn’t eaten well. I wasn’t ready for the mileage. My muscles were sore. I had a lot to accomplish for the day. Instead of giving in to the excuses, I forced myself to put on a couple of layers, lace up my shoes, and go for a run. I took my phone so that I could listen to some tunes along the five-mile trek. Music and podcasts are a necessity for anything over three miles. I get bored too easily and need something to distract my mind from the redundancy of putting one foot in front of the other.
Along the way, I inevitably tune out the tunes. My mind wanders a lot – especially when I am running. I think about conversations, my to-do list, the food I will reward myself with, and of course, I also end up thinking about great ideas. I often find that my best thoughts and ideas come to me when I have no way of recording them. I try desperately to remember these thoughts when I get to a place of being able capture them, but more often than not, they are fleeting memories that may or may not come back to me when I am staring at my notebook page.
So, what do you do when you search the page and find no words? Or when you stare at the canvas but don’t see the work of art? Or when you strum the chords but don’t hear the song? This is a very real thing for creative minds. If you have an ounce of creativity in you (and you do), you know what it is like when the creative juices fail to flow. It happens to everyone – but it is no reason to get discouraged, or worse, give up.
When you have a great idea that isn’t fully formed, it just doesn’t come out. So, get up. Sing a song. Eat an apple. Go for a walk. Read a book. Do whatever the next thing is for you and leave room to come back to the thought later. Sometimes it is good to force yourself into doing the thing – like my 5-mile run. But other times, it is best to wait. Wisdom is knowing the difference.
Sometimes we just need to pause and be content to stare at a blank page for a while. I can’t think of many reasons where waiting on something good would be bad – but I can think of plenty of reasons where jumping ahead might slow you down. When we force something to happen, we may cause pain and heighten anxiety because the forced thing rarely meets our expectations.
When I have a stall in my creativity, I try these tricks. Maybe they will help you too!
Just write, or draw, or bang on the piano keys. It doesn’t matter what your content is. Just do a brain dump and get things out. For me, the idea I am usually searching for emerges in the babble.
Don’t start at the beginning. This may seem contrary to logical thought progression, but sometimes, no, oftentimes, creativity defies logic.
Ditch familiar surroundings and routine. If you have a regular place and time you create, consider changing things up. If you usually create in the morning, try making time in the afternoon. If you usually create at your desk, head to the library. New routines and strangers tend to bring unexpected inspiration.
Use a different medium. I am a pen and paper girl. I hand write almost everything. But when I am in a rut, sometimes just letting my fingers move on a keyboard is enough to allow my brain to work differently and I am encouraged with fresh thoughts. If you are a painter, try drawing or graphic art. If you are a musician, try a different instrument or collaborate with a friend. You’ll be surprised at how changing one little detail makes a big difference.
Set goals and get yourself some accountability. The two must go together. I am great at setting goals, but if no one is going to call me out when I veer off target, those goals are mere wishes. I break my goals into small, weekly goals and post them to a shared board with a friend. She reads my goals and sends me text messages to encourage me along the way. If I don’t meet my goal for the day, I have committed to giving her one dollar. Yes, I know, it is just a dollar. But if I don’t meet my goals for five days, it becomes five dollars. The consequence of having to hand money to my friend is motivation for me to buckle down and get to work (and so far, I have not had to pay up). Find that motivator for you and get a friend who will hold you accountable.
While these rules are specific for creativity, they really apply to many facets of life. Instead of stressing out about “the thing,” pause. Think about what is making it difficult and then break the barriers. Don’t fear the blank page, the unanswered question, or the sudden delay. Look for inspiration in the unexpected.
Cheering you on,