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Like most artists, before we begin writing, we have already conjured up the finished article in our imagination – what it ‘looks’ like, sounds like, and ‘feels’ like for the reader. Our imagination is fuelled by our good intentions. But it’s so, so important to rein in that imagination and put all your attention towards your intention.
While your intentions are beautiful, your imagination, when left unchecked, can create expectations of outcomes. And, unfortunately, we can’t transcribe our imagination perfectly! Don’t I know it…
For instance, when I sat down to write this article, the dominating thought circling my mind was: “I’m going to write an article that CURES procrastination for writers!” It’s well-meaning, sure, but how nutty does that sound?! Becoming aware of that thought, I redirected it to a more realistic: “I’m just as fallible as anyone else, but I’ve tried a lot of things over the years. I’ll consolidate what has worked for me; maybe it’ll work for them, and failing that, I’ll have a reference guide for my future self.”
Will this article cure your procrastination or writer’s block? Probably not. Will it give you some useful tools to help you get going, and perhaps even feel like a warm, supportive hand-hold as you face a looming deadline? That’s the hope!
The greatest conundrum of the artist arises when they have a song in their heart, an image in their mind, but they are not able to manifest it on their instrument, or paint it on the canvas in all its vividness and detail. All creative practice is an attempt to weaken the disparity between imagination and reality.
And we may get better with practice, but our imagination will also evolve, lending nuances and details into our images, infusing melodic layers and subtleties into our songs. Practice and improvement – these are lifelong endeavours of the artist.
With this understanding, we can drop our attachment to the outcome, say a prayer, and show up for practice. Once you shed your own ideas about how your writing should turn out to be, you can focus all your energy on what’s important: being present through the process, with your intention cradled close to your chest.
Get ready using pre-game rituals
- Declutter your desk – It’s a cliche: writers use organising as a way to procrastinate, but I do feel we have a legitimate inner need to have a clean and tidy office and desk, so that we can think clearly and feel safely.
- Post-It Notes – I have post-it notes all over the place, which redirect my attention back to my intention. Our minds tend to wander a lot, but diverting them back to the task doesn’t take as much, provided you have the right systems in place.
- Enhance your workspace – Light a candle, get some fresh-cut flowers, use a diffuser, create some good lighting. Make it a pleasant experience to sit at your desk.
- Get dressed – It’s natural to want to sit at your desk in your pyjamas. If you hit flow, great. No judgements here. But if you are having trouble focusing, what if you put on a freshly ironed shirt? Or a nice dress?
- Put on your game face – Lipstick and heavily winged eyeliner are as good as warpaint. If I want to take things to a whole other level, I will put on my Witcher medallion and make-believe that it gives me immense magical powers! And guess what – it really kinda does. Placebo? I’ll take it.
- Get the blood flowing – Exercise has been shown time and again to help tap into different creative modalities, enhance cognition and improve memory. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long sweat session, just a “hello there!” to your body. A few minutes of jump rope, jogging in place, or a quick walk around the block will get you going. I have a hula hoop and some kettlebells by my desk. Just make sure you have your workspace and word processing document ready to go when you’re back.
- Use centering practices – Pray, meditate, say your affirmations. If you don’t do any of these, simply close your eyes, put your hand on your chest and take six slow, deep breaths.
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and one of my writing heroes, said in an interview that he prefers to write drafts by hand in his notebooks, because writing on a word processor feels too polished, and it puts too much pressure on him to already have his thoughts fully formulated.
Would I be smart to replicate exactly what my writing hero does? On the contrary, the experience of writing on paper is deeply tied into my experience of writing examinations in high school. It triggers the pressure I felt to ensure every word was in beautiful cursive, with minimal mistakes, and perfect content.
I also find that the ability to quickly note down thoughts is an essential part of my writing experience. I can type much faster than I can write. So I mostly choose to type out drafts on my laptop.
Your mileage may vary. Experiment with different methods and figure out which one feels good to you. Know yourself and come up with a system that works for you.
Nothing feels paralysing to a painter quite like the blank canvas; nothing more intimidating to a writer than a blank page. When we are all up in our head instead of creating, we start taking ourselves too seriously. Do you remember when you were a child, or have you watched a child create recently? Did you notice how free they are of expectations and how little they care about outcomes?
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ― Alan Watts
All you need to do is get started, and you’ll soon hit that magical flow state. But how do you start?
To beat the Blank Page Blues, I love writing prompts. I already know they won’t make it to my final draft, so there’s no pressure to make them perfect. Some examples you can use:
- “Why do I care about this topic?”
- “Why would my audience care?”
- “What are some Captain Obvious things I can say about it?”
- “What’s my direct experience with it?”
- “What have I read about it and heard about it from others?”
- “What can I bring to the table?”
Once you have your questions ready, start answering them. Make bullet points, paragraphs, or flowcharts – anything you want. You can even record your own voice and transcribe it. But there’s one rule: You are not allowed to censor yourself. Be like a child and just go for it! The idea, at this stage, is to produce all the raw material that you can work with. You will edit and refine things later.
The Zoom Cafe
Creating art can be a deeply isolating activity. Humans are social creatures. Attention and validation are readily available – all you have to do is reach for your phone. It’s way too easy to get some dopamine hits of pseudo-social connection and get entirely sidetracked. Hopefully your phone is already stashed away in your sock drawer, and you’ve created a distraction-free work environment. But what do you do about the isolating nature of creative work?
Like many writers, I used to love sitting in cafes, but it’s 2020, and we can’t really do that anymore. I decided to recreate those conditions virtually with my friends – we get on a Zoom call and do our own thing for an hour. Seeing their face though a tiny window on my screen brings me into the present moment. Just one friendly face is enough to make a big impact on my focus and productivity.
I have come to really enjoy these sessions, especially as most of us move into a new paradigm shift of working from home. This brings back the feeling of sitting quietly at a library or cafe, with highly caffeinated people doing their own thing, but close to each other.
On Art and Surrender
If you are creating from your heart, with a purpose; if you are looking into the depths of your soul and putting it into words for everyone to see, then realise that you are just a conduit through which a much greater force is speaking. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to show up and keep the conduit turned on and tuned in, ready to receive the message and turn it into art.
Creating is the one daily act I do which truly feels like magic. Alex Grey captures these experiences in his artwork. Check out “Painting”, “The Artist’s Hand” and “Kiss Of The Muse” for mind-bending scenes of inspiration.
Sit down to write and surrender to the creative experience, without expectations. Whenever you feel lost, go back to your rituals, and refer back to your intention. Let your daily practice refine you into a better artist, such that this great force is able to use you better.
Which parts of this article resonated with you? Do you already use some of these techniques? What are some of your methods to get into flow? Let me know in the comments below!