Reject cynicism.

Defy apathy

Celebrate good.

Pushing Past Creative Blocks

Kate Schmidgall March 09, 2021 | 2 MIN 57 SEC READ

Obi asked me to write about how I overcome creative blocks, because sometimes we need to create when we don’t feel like it. Or in my case, I need to write but I don’t know what I want to say. Here’s how I bootstrap that moment:

Define the space. When and where. For me, writing begins with scheduling writing. When I’m stuck or blocked or getting started on an intimidating something, it helps to actually block time on my calendar to take a first (or next) step. I’ve found often that if I don’t schedule time to have particular thoughts on a topic, I may never have them.

Whether 30 minutes or 3 hours, I make space and keep it clear by setting boundaries: No email. No messaging apps open. No notifications or pings. No Google. Period. To dig deep and think freely without distraction I have to create creative space, and that starts with clearing time.

Then I think about setting. This is fairly fluid for me, so I try to pay attention to what feels most helpful at any given time. My absolute favorite setting is an isolated but outdoor environment, like a card table in the lawn or with a journal on the porch. Usually, a clean desk in a quiet office is fine, but sometimes variety provides the inspiration I need to think fresh thoughts. If people are around, I wear big headphones so as to signal ‘don’t interrupt me, please’ and crank ambient music like Eluvium or Emancipator or The Album Leaf. But that’s just me.

Then I decide on tools. Maybe one day pen and paper call my name, and maybe I switch to blue ink instead of black. Or maybe I want to crank at 135 wpm, so the keyboard is key. Nine times out of ten though, when I’m stuck, a blank piece of printer paper and a decent pen are my tools of choice.

So, block time, set boundaries, pick the tools…

Then start. Make the first pass pure outpouring. No editing. No fact-checking. Awful phrasing and terribly redundant alliteration. It’s seldom good, and it’s never polished. But that’s not what we’re going for remember — the goal here is to start to overcome a block. I begin by writing the first truest sentence I can think of. No flourishes or polish, just raw fact or feeling.

When that flow slows, I move on to another truest sentence tangentially related to the first. Once my time has been fully spent, I reward myself with coffee, dried dates, or a walk. It’s enough for now. I repeat the whole process as soon as I can until finally, I’ve told a whole story — no more and no less. Then I send it to an editor to trim at least a third of it. A couple of times. And then we’re done — a final portrait of well-stacked blocks.

Creativity isn’t always a spontaneous flow of endless inspiration — most times, I think, it’s the art of discipline. The more blocks we encounter, the more natural and intuitive our practices of getting unstuck will become. I hope these simple steps help you define your own.

Check out the latest story written by Kate on BitterSweet Monthly.

By Kate Schmidgall ,Bittersweet Creative Founder, Director