Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Writing Process and the Creative Block



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The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

This piercing quote is found in The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain. As an author and lexophile it resonated with me. Slowly but surely, I came to realise that it is a pure gem of truth. The right word does truly change everything in communication. In fact, when it comes to writing in particular, it is not solely the words, but even punctuation marks and spaces between paragraphs.

I have been meaning for a while to share how the writing creative process unfolds. How words come into being and form a sentence to present an idea ― or a complex of ideas ― which delivers a certain message. Out of habit, however, every time I end up by deleting the first drafts, only leaving the final outcome. In hope to shed light on creativity, writing, and creative blocks, this time I kept all the drafts to use them as guinea pigs for this reflective piece.

Artists Between Mindset and Motivation and The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity are previous pieces where creativity is also explored.

So, perhaps you are a creative artist yourself or you are curious about how it all transpires, the following should give you a thorough idea about the experience. Note that I will focus on writing, but art is art and you can apply the words to all crafts.   

For simplicity’s sake, the example I’m using herein is a single, or couple, of thoughts and not an entire article or book. My intention is to show how creativity begins as just a spark of inspiration, followed by some firing of neurons, synapses, and signals, then a healthy dose of contemplation and introspection. And after as much time as it needs, Abracadabra: there you have it.


1- Today is the last day of your life so far. So you have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come. 


2- You have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Today is the last day of your life so far. So live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come.  


3- Today is the last day of your life so far. So live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come. You have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date.


4- If you realise that today is the last day of your life so far, you will have no reason not to enjoy it to the fullest. 


5- Today is the last day of your life so far which you have no reason not to enjoy to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come.

6- When you know that today is the last day of your life so far, you’ll have no good reason not to enjoy life to the fullest — it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come.

7- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW. “Later” may never come. 

8- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW; “later” may never come.


9- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW, because “later” may never come.

10- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW; “Later” may never come.

11- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW; for “later” may never come.

12- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW, for “later” may never come.

13- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW, “later” may never come.

Then lastly:

14- Today is the last day of your life so far. You truly have no reason not to enjoy life to the fullest ― it has an expiration date. Live the now, NOW, because “later” may never come. (FINAL)


As you can see, the reflection is first brought into being in my mind. To present it in the best “Lightning” way I need to write it down as it is (number 1). The very first thought or two are either handwrittenly scribbled somewhere or if I’m close to the laptop I spontaneously add them to the “Reflections File”. 


Bearing in mind spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and logic, over a period of time the outcome is edited and polished. This is followed by ruthless re-editing and re-polishing. Then it is read out loud before being re-reedited and re-repolished again for a significant number of times until my obsessive nature reaches meticulous satisfaction.

When the creation consists of a single reflection or two such as the above, the process may take a few minutes to a couple of days. During this time, other related ideas flood my mind. This one is actually made up of two different ones which I have merged into one.

If enough worthy ideas about a certain topic are generated, I could gather them into a collective which can be weaved into a poem, article, or exposé. And this is how a single thought can lead to writing a full book. 

Understandably, the creative process could take much longer in some cases. Or, the idea could remain unshared for a while until its time comes, as it happened with this very article over the course of six weeks.


Further elucidating on how every little detail counts when it comes to artistic creations, let us ponder another famous quote by Confucius: “Everywhere has beauty but not everyone sees it.” Truthful and thoughtful words.

One of those days, I saw it shared as “Everywhere has beauty but not everyone can see it”. My philosophical mind felt compelled to argue that there is a problem with this wording, because it implies that the readers, or some of them, are not capable of seeing beauty. Not that they cannot at the moment and could, perhaps, see it later — during some moment of illumination. But no, they are simply not equipped; there is no hope or chance. Even though both wording variations of the quote are all over the Internet, the one with ‘can’ represent only about 25 percent, while the initial one which I prefer is found in the remaining 75 percent.

To understand the sincerity of choosing the correct word we must first understand that words have powers. Even if we do not consciously think about it, the language we use does influence our thoughts. Such a statement coming from an enlightened sage as Confucius may very well make the reader believe that they are one of those who are destined to never being able to ‘see’. Instilling more insecurity and more of that “poor li’l me” mindset into them.

Do you see the importance of picking your words wisely? Whether you are a writer or communicator who want to express yourself in the most sincere and “Lightning” way possible, meticulousness, coupled with truthfulness, are essential components of creation.


http://www.freeimages.com/premium/balanced-mind-yin-yang-479524
You are a sage and you a lunatic. You are also the One who rises above them and chooses
which to side with the most.
Oil painting by Jenny Speckels

To create something out of nothing, artists follow a certain process. Art in all its forms is about expressing oneself, which should be an enjoyable experience if one ever wants to excel. What makes the act of creating special is that the material comes straight from within you; the time and effort you exert makes the end product contain your essence. 



The Greek have a marvellous word with no direct translation to English for it: Meraki, or “The soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself.” 

If we believe that we are here to learn, grow, create, and evolve, then this thought compels us to further reflect on the blurred line between the artist and their art; the true oneness of what seems to be a duality between creator and creation.

There is indeed an invigorating sense of freedom to the originality of creating. Despite the fact that the freedom may not be absolute. Echoing with Jung’s words: “A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.” Truly, once you tap in The Zone you easily forget the world and time doesn’t mean anything. You just flow through. You become water, my friend. 



As previously explained in Why I Share Stuff:

“…During writing, I get into an intoxicating Flow State when time seems to stop. Yet, I’m ecstatic, inspired, and motivated beyond measure. I find myself in some sort of a trance, during which I forget to eat, sleep, and shower. It was something I have never experienced before, especially not naturally. This was when I realized that I had just found my true calling and vocation and that I should keep writing for life…”

Admittedly, writing has become the process by which I chronicle the conversations I am constantly having with himself. Is is how I get the chance to explore my thoughts and comprehend my mind.


Now that you have an idea about how the writing process is birthed, let us discuss the creative block which naturally plagues most artists.

Creativity is an ongoing rebellious endeavour. It needs courage because it is ladened with risk and uncertainty as it is with exploration and innovation. A tad bit of self-doubt also remains imperative to the creative mindset. But learning how to tame that doubt and use it to your favour is what makes great artists — those who boldly do whatever makes them happy without caring. A reason why many creative people are often seen by others as weird and eccentric.

I once wrote, if by definition you have the guts to call yourself an artist then you are one. It is as simple as that. You see, there is no real right and wrong in making art. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, then, are useless labels when attempting to describe artistic work.



To freely create, one must have a certain discipline. At the same time, without worrying much about the result or failing or criticism or monetising. Just like most creative geniuses concur: It’s all about carrying on with the free spirit of the playing child. 

Just be brave and get on with; flow and glide your way through it and the rest will follow. Find a way to put yourself into The Zone and eventually you will make something new. The true reward is that you will have created that which has never existed before. You are a co-creator of your own reality and the Youniverse and you know it.

For me, this type of orgasmic joy can never be bought. Simply because freedom is priceless and it beats all the money, praise, and status I ever got through my former corporate jobs which I was not passionate about.


Artistic minds each have different routines which propel them to be inspired and to create. Some prefer to work in the early mornings, others favour the serenity of the night. Some love being zonked on some substance. Some create in busy offices or cafés, while for others it is almost impossible as they must embrace silence and solitude. When it comes to creativity, everyone seems to have their own odd quirks. I, for example, cannot freely write if wearing shoes.

However, even with following a habitual routine, sometimes you are simply not getting enough worthy ideas. In other words, lacking inspiration and insights. For artists, a creative block could be a crippling challenge, especially if they are professionals — those who create for a living. 

I know that whenever I spend more than a couple of days not creating, I feel like something is not right. It is usually while spending a weekend with a female, who, in fact, can be great muses.


The Juices by Imaginary Foundation

There are various possible causes for creative blocks.

Perhaps there is a personal, emotional barrier hindering the creativity due to an indifferent partner or a unsupportive relationship.



Perhaps the worry in life is more materialistic in essence like being short of money. If one’s mind is constantly occupied with urgent survival problems, such as finding food or shelter or paying bills, there will not be much capacity or energy left to create. As we have learned from Maslow’s hierarchy, our concerns reflect on our priorities. We need to feel somewhat comfortable to create, but never too comfortable. 

Another reason for blocks is because the artist needs some novelty and mental change. They are simply lacking excitement in life and their system needs to recalibrated. Following the same routine for a long time can eventually lead to a stagnating plateau.

Additional psychological distractions which can significantly affect creativity are addiction, drug issues, and certain mental illnesses. If you are depressed or can only write while high, medicated, or during a manic phase, then you remain somewhat limited.

Or simply, because a creative person is frequently dealing with a risky and uncertain craft and that’s what happens to anyone who dares to go there. Call it the price to pay for unleashing your daimon.


Depending on how long and deep a creative block is, there are ways to overcome it. Because if there is a problem, there is also a solution. Yin Yang.

Beginning a project by using a pen/pencil rather than a laptop or computer is a great way to keep it creative. The freedom of scribbling around on paper and drawing arrows and random squiggles puts the brain into a playful, experimental working mode, which the keyboard and screen do not offer. 



Actually, at the last stages I often get back to the pen and paper. I print a few pages, take my multi-coloured Bic pen, and go edit outdoors. There is something liberating about taking the creations out there in the open where I get a chance to add more arrows and squiggles.



One effective way to beat a creative block and recharge is to take breaks. Every couple of hours or so, leave whatever you’re doing and go take a walk, meditate, have a shower, call a friend. The key is to momentarily snap out of the current set and setting.

My own favourite breaks are jogging, going on bike rides, and showers. Whenever I do that, my brain is still partially engaged in what I’m mid-writing, though it is not the conscious attention, but rather the subconscious one. In a way, you are still within the Flow State, only that the set and setting have changed.


Interestingly, those times are when I usually get vital Eureka-moments — when I’m not directing my focus on it. That is when the brain rewires and makes new connections without you doing much effort. However, to retrieve the juices from the subconscious back to the conscious needs practice. Once you get used to the flow, there will be a constant transference of information between both counterparts. I have found that meditation and mindfulness practices help strengthening the bond between those different modes of consciousness.

Whether the insight is as simple as a comma or as deep as linking two chapters of the book together and reaching a Bigger Picture, or as a spark of inspiration leading to a novel idea, I truly perceive the additions of the subconscious to be la crème de la crème of creativity.

Flowing in my case could last for days at a time, even after finishing what I had been working on. I have noticed that because whenever I would go on those usual breaks for two or three days following publishing a new piece, I keep getting more insights about it, usually meticulous details, until they slowly recede or be replaced by ones about a new project. It is truly an ongoing process.

This got me curious. Why is the artistic process affected by running, biking, and meditation (breathing) specifically? 



A little bit of research and I tackled the science behind it. The key is in the dopamine and noradrenaline released by the brain during exercise. These chemicals help strengthen brain connections. Aha. One of the related studies showed that people will remember things better if they exercised four hours after they have learned them — biking was actually used. These findings made lots of sense and answered my question.

“Floating Devices— Wine and chocolate’ are some consciousness-enhancers that keep one floating

Another way to take a mental break is through a deliberate change of consciousness. Whether with a drink, a smoke, food, music-playing, some meditation, sitting under a tree and doing absolutely nothing, it is certainly healthy and works like Magick. Those needed pauses provide you with a different perspective on whatever you are working on, as well as life in general. So they end up by helping you grow. Resonating with more wisdom, this time from Albert Einstein’s himself: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Changing one’s consciousness can equally be achieved through sleeping and dreaming. Dreaming is the domain of the subconscious where the brain is functioning on different levels, which makes it a counterpart in the creative process. Many creative minds frequently wake up with brilliant ideas. As mentioned, remembering them in a way that makes sense is the real challenge. Though just like everything else, it only needs practice to be able to master it.

For me, said breaks feel that I have switched from writer to editor with a different set of eyes, or just to another observer. But because that observer, or the subconscious, is still me, the insights and remarks are still ruthless. So he further adds doubt, uncertainty, and skepticism to the views I’m initially trying to convey. As I conceive, these are all preliminaries for amelioration and help one improve their arguments. It is like having a double take on most topics and opinions at once — which could sometimes contradict each other. 

While being a significant way to expand one’s artistic abilities and potential, such balanced polarity gives truthfulness as well as credibility to the communicator.

Putting your project on the side and indulging in another creation or activity can likewise lead to intriguing results towards overcoming the congestion. You can draw, paint, redesign, re-organise your room, cook, do the laundry or dishes.

In many instances, I leave it all, take the camera, and spend an evening taking photographs, or work on editing a video. Other times, I write on a totally different subject. So for instance, my book is about dreams and mind-over-matter psycho-philosophical kind of stuff, and I choose to write about a recent, novel kitchen experience with pasta and mussels (or about some new words I made up).

This way, I get to cook — which is also creation — and take a photo of the final meal, eat it and recharge, then write about it, find a title and corresponding featured photos before finally publishing  it to share the lighthearted juices with others. It is still a creative process, you see, but the playground is different. So you first set the parameter and the basic rules, and then proceed to playfully breaking the rules. That’s how work and play become one and the same.

Other times I change mood by watching cartoons or a documentary.

The more random and diverse the activity is, the more possibilities of opening new doors of perception and inspiration.


Psychedelic Pop Surrealism Painting Art by Yoko d’Holbachie

The act of snapping out of The Zone is not only beneficial when artists are faced with a creative block, but during normal times as well. And every creative mind would concur.

Think of those creative juices as what you produce when you orgasm. You are required to take breaks to be able to produce more, and stepping away is how you recharge. The reason I use this analogy is because I have noticed over the years that whenever I’m immersed into a heavy topic I don’t think of sex as much as I normally do.

As a fact of the matter, I rarely ever think of other distractions then; it feels like I am possessed by a perseveringly determined spirit who won’t leave unless what I am working on has been finalised. This passionate drive led me to conclude three things:

Juices are way more than physical fluids. It is our choice where and when to expend our Meraki. And a creative person who taps into the Flow State is never really alone. Maybe it’s Zeus.


When the block is somewhat serious, in case one is working on a big project such as a book, sometimes it is be best not to fight it, but to ride it — to live through it. Simply because in the realm of creativity, forcing it will hardly ever work.

You may feel like going away somewhere for a few days; a camping trip into the wild, an adrenaline-fuelled adventure, or doing something you were always afraid of doing. These longer vacations can do wonders when it comes to rejuvenating your psyche.

 Amidst the madness, you must always allow yourself a certain degree of freedom.

In case after all these tips one still feels overwhelmed by the many things they have to do, a practical solution to suggest is to just take the very first step. Small daily improvements and innovations can lead to astounding achievements over time. For everything is a process et Petit à petit l'oiseau fait son nid.


Creative minds bring art to life, offering us a glimpse of their realities. True artists are rarely ever bored and are always developing from themselves. One way or another, they keep flowing in and out of their Zones. Quoting Eugène Ionesco: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.”


Creating is a continual learning process which sometimes faces blocks. The causes could be emotional, mental, financial, or simply natural. Fortunately as we have discussed, there are various ways to deal with this lack of inspiration, all involving a certain degree of change. By the time one gets back to working-and-playing on their projects, they have become a different person with new sets of eyes, a wider perception, and a recharged imagination. You do it again and again until you eventually come to be satisfied with the ‘Lightning’ end result. Time to celebrate.

The artistic journey is the destination. This is how we constantly keep bettering from ourselves and evolve. 


Now go create beautiful things. Fearlessly.



“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Because of the artists, who are self-selected, for being able to journey into the Other, if the artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.”
― Terence McKenna



ALSO VIEW:

Why I Share Stuff

From English as a Third Language to Author — How I Expanded My Vocabulary

Artists Between Mindset and Motivation

The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity

On Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing

Unusual English Words I learned Later in Life 

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