Obstacles to creating (and how to obliterate them)
At the time I didn’t know what an em-dash was. And we didn’t have Google then. So that comment really did keep me up some nights.
But eventually, I figured it out.
Unfortunately, I also spent a lot of time in my twenties stuffing around.
I’d like to make up for that over the next forty years.
To amend for lost time, I want to go all Sarah Conor/Lara Croft/insert lady action hero on creative obstacles. And annihilate them. Because that’s like what I’m about. Annihilation and…yeah.
On bad productivity days, I reflect on why I haven’t worked effectively. Here are some of the factors that block creative output, and what to do about them:
Obstacle: Other people’s business
I really like people and I care about them. So it’s easy for me to get caught in their emotional problems.
Sometimes that’s okay. There are times when my lady mates really need my help or protection and I’ll totally step it up for them.
But other times I get caught in the stories of the lives of others, and two or three hours goes by on Facebook chat or text or phone, and I have got a big ‘N’ for nothing done.
Wait to respond.
By delaying your response, some problems blow over quite well on their own. The ones that don’t are those you can intervene in. But keep involvement only to what’s going to produce an outcome. Avoid involvement for the sake of it or simply as showy evidence that you’re a great person.
Obstacle: Others expect you to be available
Working from home means others expect you to be available to chat on the phone or run errands.
Set aside time for work and don’t answer the phone. People soon give up trying to get you.
Another is to make it clear that your work is your work, regardless of where you do it. I use the analogy of the plumber, because plumbing is such a tangible service (unlike writing seems).
Would you expect your plumber mate to stop in the middle of a job to chat? Doubt it.
Why is writing different?
If you take your work seriously, so will the people around you.
Some days it’s like the well has run dry, you know?
I got nothing.
There are a few strategies for when this happens.
First thing is step back, take the pressure off and read around a bit. There are some bloggers and writers whose voices I really like, so I’ll go sit with them. I might watch a video or listen to an interesting talk or a podcast. Usually, an idea – a line, a word – captures me.
Another tried and tested solution is to do some exercise. Get some plasma pumping.
What even is the point anyway?
Looking at the big picture of your life is helpful sometimes.
When you want to chuck it all in, think about what you are leaving behind. What’s your legacy? How will you be remembered?
There’s probably still more to do.
This quote by writer Ray Bradbury keeps me going:
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
Doing anything successfully requires cognitive habits and rituals, and strategies for perseverance.
Know what to do when you’re in the creative trenches and you’ll have a much better chance of making it home safely.