A cure for writer’s block

Writer's Block, Creative Block

If there is one thing that unites musicians and the people who write about them it is the constant struggle to maintain their creativity. It does not matter if you are a blogger or fronting the world’s biggest band, there will be times in this life when you are not able to create at a level you feel is good enough. Call it writer’s block or some mental hurdle; the name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the recognition this resistance is both real and universal. Everyone who attempts to create anything faces these struggles, but that understanding doesn’t make your ability to complete your work any easier.

On a recent episode of his podcast, comedian Joey ‘Coco’ Diaz was speaking with fellow comic Tom Segura about longevity in stand up. Both Joey and Segura are headliners in comedy today, but it took years of hard work and thousands of jokes to reach that level. Still, both men constantly find themselves at a creative impasse. While talking about this on air, Diaz mentioned advice he once received from legendary comedian Paul Mooney when discussing his creative hurdles. Mooney’s advice was summaries in three simple words: get entertained.

I know what some of you are thinking: Get entertained? But I have deadlines! People are counting on me to finish this thing, and it needs to be something great, and it needs to be done now!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re so stuck that you’re reading articles like this about overcoming mental blocks, then the chance of your work being completed to the best of your abilities in the next hour or so is highly unlikely. You have thought about the thoughts you are trying to think too much, which is to say you’ve begun to work yourself in circles. You’re chasing ghosts of ideas you thought you might have at a time other than right now and no amount of searching is going to make them miraculously appear.

Your brain, like your biceps or any other muscle, can only work so much before it needs to rest. To work more efficiently your mind needs exercise, which in the case of creative people includes inspiration in the form of experiences. You are the total of everything you have experienced up to this point, and those experiences have now become both your source of inspiration and – hopefully – income. To continue feeling inspired to create you need to keep taking in new experiences. I say this not just for your work, but for your sanity. You can drive yourself crazy starring at an empty canvas, or you can go out, see or hear or touch or taste or smell something that moves you, then immediately feel the need to create once more purposefully.

That may read like common sense to some readers, but the up and comers still trying to get their foot in the door will think it’s crazy because they’ve been taught this industry does not allow for breaks. Who has time to watch a television show, let alone a two-hour feature film, when emails are flowing like water at all hours of the day? Add to this the need to maintain social channels, which can require posting up to (if not more than) ten separate feeds on any given day, and we haven’t even addressed the actual work any creative is trying to accomplish. Writing songs or stories takes time, but so does finding inspiration, and far too often we forget that fact.

You are only human, and your brain is just a muscle. To perform at your best, you have to rest and exercise, but physically and mentally, on a daily basis. It’s both that simple and that hard, but like any other meaningful routine in life, it is worth the effort.

So the next time you find yourself banging your head against a wall while trying to create your next masterpiece try taking a step back for an hour, night, or even a couple of days. See a movie, go on a hike, or just put on your favorite records. Spend time remembering why you love the thing you do so you can then share that love with the world at large. We’ll be here, ready and waiting to experience what you decide to share.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.