“There’s always another way.” – Thomas Edison
We’ve all had it at one time or another – that awful feeling when the inspiration for whatever fabulous idea you were working on is suddenly, inexplicably gone. Authors get “writer’s block,” public speakers “draw a blank” and marathon runners “hit the wall” – while people, like me, chalk the problem up to senility. Whatever you call it, it is horrific to be working merrily along with a clear vision of your project and then abruptly turn a corner and struggle to figure out what to do next.
My own worst case of brain/creativity freeze occurred when I was preparing an extremely important presentation for a large group. I had worked on it obsessively – buoyantly confident that I had a great idea and an inspired presentation. Several days before I was scheduled to speak, everything seemed to go to heck in a hand basket. Suddenly, all of my carefully worded thoughts seemed disjointed and incomplete, my pertinent examples inapplicable. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but I was sure there was a problem.
The Creative Block
I worked on the presentation for a solid 14-hour day until I was in that state of frantic exhaustion which precedes heart attacks and nervous breakdowns. I went to bed that night with a notepad and pen next to my bed – just in case I was struck by inspiration. At some point in the night, I groggily wrote down the solution I had dreamed. The next morning I woke feeling calm and powerful. In my dream, I had seen myself making the presentation flawlessly.
Most of it was exactly as I’d practiced, but the presentation conclusion in my dream was radically different and absolutely perfect. Picking up my notepad, I read what I’d written in my euphoric state the night before. It said (I am not making this up), Llama, Llama, red pajama. *
Needless to say, this was not what I’d been hoping for. After a moment of stunned disbelief I began to laugh. Obviously, my subconscious mind could not be trusted. It was time to put aside my doubts and use the time I had left to focus on practicing the presentation.
Restarting the Creativity
Since then I’ve found a myriad of suggestions to engender creativity, with the most valuable suggestions coming from successful writers. The three ideas listed below are the ones which have a common thread and work for me.
- Keep to your routine. Get up, go to bed, and eat on regular schedule. While this would seem to lead to narrow and rigid thinking, just the opposite is true. Our bodies thrive on regularity and so do our brains. Eliminate the expended energy, extra thought and low level stress of having to make the same routine decisions over and over. This frees the brain for higher level thinking.
- Plan on working hard. This was the one constant in every article and study I read. Too often we think creativity should flow on its own from talent and inspiration. Just like learning to play an instrument, our creative pursuits take practice, effort and dedication. Set aside some time every day to develop and hone your creative skills.
- Put it away. If you “hit the wall” and punching through is no longer feasible, put the project away. Go for a walk, engage in a favorite hobby, visit with amusing friends or go to a movie. Give your subconscious mind a chance to work on the problem while your conscious mind is focused elsewhere. (Hopefully, your subconscious mind is more trustworthy than mine.)
By the way, my presentation went very well. I was driving home from work listening to a favorite CD when the perfect conclusion came in a blinding flash of inspiration. OK, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but I did suddenly have an idea that tied things together very nicely.
What stimulates your creative, problem-solving skills? I’d love to hear your experiences.
* In case you’ve never heard of it, Llama, Llama, Red Pajama is the title of a delightful children’s book. One that I had purchased several years earlier…