It happens to everyone. Maybe you’re working on a sermon, a research paper, a poem, or anything else that requires you to come up with some new ideas and express them in unique ways. Whatever it is, you run into the dreaded “block,” that state of being that seems to keep you from coming up with anything more interesting than what you ate for lunch. And, when that happens, it can be pretty frustrating.
A new book takes a unique approach to tackling that problem. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination offers tips and suggestions from 90 people from different walks of life on how to break through creative blocks. And the suggestions themselves are often rather creative. (One of my favorites is to check into an expensive hotel for a couple of days. The thought of how much money you’re spending just to be there will motivate you to keep working!)
Much of the advice, though, boiled down to two somewhat contrary-sounding ideas:
- Creativity is hard work and sometimes you just have to push through.
- When you’re stuck, you often need to take a break and come back fresh.
And the book offer some great suggestions for how to do both of these. But it still leaves you with a pretty fundamental problem: How do you know when you should push through and when you need to take a break?
That’s where I found the advice from J.C. Herz most helpful. According to Herz, you have to recognize the two kinds of problems that might be involved in a creative block, because each requires a different kind of solution.
There are two main reasons why creative people get stuck on a piece of work. The first is you don’t actually have an idea. You may have requirements, and you may have tools. But you don’t actually have an idea that’s going to carry the day, and you’re going to be stuck until you get a solid idea. The second reason creative people get stuck is that, while they have the idea, executing the idea takes a lot of work, and not all of that work is fun, and basically you don’t want to do the work, because having the idea in the first place was the fun part. If you’re balking at the work, you need to stop playing around, sit down, shut up, go off-line, focus single-mindedly on executing the work, and make it real. In either case, if you try to solve one problem when you’re really having the other, you’re going to waste a lot of time. (Breakthrough, p. 91).
That’s a great way of looking at the problem. Many times I have to be honest with myself and recognize that my creative “block” is pure laziness. I have an idea, and I have a pretty good sense of what I need to do with it. I just don’t feel like doing it. And taking a walk probably isn’t going to fix that problem. But, if I’m struggling with the basic idea/approach to a creative task, then just “pushing through” probably isn’t going to help much. I don’t have anything to push on.
Two different problems. Two different solutions. That’s helpful advice.