I’ve got a fun trick to get past blank-page paralysis. I open up the document and start typing something that I know isn’t going to end up in the piece but gets me in the mood for creativity. It’s usually something like this (be warned, profanity ahead):
“Sit down, strap in and shut the fuck up because I’m about to tell you everything you need to know about the perils of legacy IT infrastructure…”*
And then I start writing.
This does a few things. It means the blank page is no longer blank (phew), it injects energy, and it creates a sense of fun. I believe this is essential for creative work. Yes, even if you’re writing about something very, very serious.
I know there are creatives out there who firmly believe in torturing themselves until they bleed out some copy or design or whatever but I’m not in that camp. I think creativity comes from the same part of your brain where play happens.
Or at least, it usually does.
Fun in the time of plague
Stress isn’t good for creativity. Biologically speaking. When you get into a situation where you think your life is threatened, your brain shuts down the ‘I wonder if trees can think,’ part and redirects all your energy to the ‘Is that going to eat me?’ part.
And right now, we’re being told on a daily basis that our life is threatened. By a global pandemic. A huge recession. Political unrest. It’s pretty full-on.
And it means that my usual fun tricks just don’t feel much fun any more.
For a long time I thought I was just struggling to adjust to working from home. That there were stresses about the state of the economy, about working while parenting, about potentially catching Covid. That it was okay to not be at my creative best.
But then the months dragged on. And the fears became less new, but no less debilitating, and I figured I needed to do something about them. Otherwise every act of creation would feel like wading through treacle.
Finding fun in the moment
I’ve tried a few things (I won’t list them all here to save myself embarrassment (role play, many accents)) but the thing I’ve found most useful is good old-fashioned compartmentalisation.
I write down all the things I’m concerned about, whether they’re work tasks, things that need doing around the house, the specter of death hanging over us. You know, concerns.
They all go on the list, then I divide them up into three columns:
- Things I can do something about now
- Things I can do something about but not now
- Things I can’t do anything about
And usually what I find is that, right in this very moment, my job isn’t at stake, I’m not at risk of catching the disease, my daughter is okay, the things around the house can wait.
There are loads of things to stress about generally, but right now, for at least the next couple of hours, I don’t have to stress about any of them. I can play.
Which means if I have to come up with a new name for a product or something, I can afford myself the luxury of coming up with a list of ridiculous names (often the best way to a good name). Or I can try to craft a joke in the positioning I’m working on (often the best way to tell if the logic is sound).
I free my brain up to be creative.
Now, I’m sure there are many people out there who upon completing the list exercise don’t end up stress-free. That there really are some pressing and immediate concerns that you should be attending to. If so, I hope you can stop and address those concerns, instead of writing B2B marketing copy.
I hope this helps. Give it a go. It’s certainly helped me massively.
*If you’re going to employ this technique, please, for the love of all things holy, make sure you check thoroughly before sending your work to anyone. I don’t want you to get fired for telling your boss to shut the fuck up.
P.P.S. Shout out to Mathilde for the cracking hero image.