Archive for category Writer’s Block

Riding the Wave of Uncertainty

It dismays me every time I see that I’ve let so much time pass since my last post. No, it doesn’t bother me to admit that because just like everyone else, my forehead is emblazoned with the words “work in progress.” Here’s what has been on my mind (and plate) lately. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of uncertainty and creativity for dual reasons – I’m giving my first seminar on creativity at the end of the month and I’ve been rereading Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields.

I do a lot of encouraging or coaching (as is might be termed by some) and I’ve noticed that handling uncertainty is an ability that a lot of artists do not possess. When faced with doubts or fears, I’ve seen artists push themselves forward to success, or self-sabotage, or choose a path that will ensure them the least amount of pain during the process of creation. In recovery, I’ve learned that this is training we should have had as children – to deal with the uncertainty of outcomes in a healthy manner. Not that I’m suggesting that all artists or writers are recovering from some ‘ism,’ but that’s always a healthy avenue to investigate if you find yourself constantly short-changing your creative process to stop the pain.

What’s this pain; this uncertainty about? Fields asserts (and I agree) that the double nature of uncertainty is the fear of what the outcome will be and how the outcome will be perceived (judged.) Like most artists, I realize the fear signals the foothold of what could be a fantastic idea – an idea worth exploring or an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up because the experience will be invaluable. It’s what we choose to do as the pain creeps into our psyche that will determine the depth of the creative process.

Fields details an experiment where subjects were asked to choose a ball from one of two urns. Urn #1 is filled with 100 balls – 50 black and 50 white. Urn #2 also contains 100 balls but the percentage of which is black or white is unknown. The subjects had to bet $100 on a color of their choice. Then they had to choose which urn to pick from. Can you guess which most people chose? Even though neither configuration had a mathematical or logical advantage, the majority of the subjects choose the first urn.

Because pain is uncomfortable and our fight or flight instinct usually prompts us to flight, most people will choose the path of ‘constraint.’ They stop exploring, close off options and create rules, look for systems and processes to justify their choices because of their aversion to the unknown and to being judged. At that point the adapting, testing, and experimenting and evolving is over. Continuing in the uncertainty, on the other hand, can lead to heightened creativity and a level of creative options that would otherwise not have been seen.

Sounds logical, right? But as I constantly ask my therapist – what do I do with all these feelings? (now that I’m not stuffing them, eating them, and denying them.) He says – just feel them. As crappy as uncertainty, fear, and anxiety feels – feel them and keep on creating. It’s okay not to know or be able to predict exactly how things will turn out. It’s very uncomfortable at first but it’s a worthwhile pursuit because what we live out in our creative processes, we also live out in our personal lives. What benefits one will benefit the other. Push through, work through the pain, and be amazed at what you produce.

How have you dealt with uncertainty in your life and your creative process lately?

©2012 Carolyn Moore

Food for thought: Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields
& Deciding to Push by Carolyn Moore.

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Deciding to Push

Today I’m documenting an episode of ‘writer’s block’ I experienced. I hear all writers experience this obstacle at one time or another. Some writers fight it and others let it control their output choosing to believe that it’s just not a good day to write. Blame the Muse. Or the weather. Or bad digestion.

Writer’s block, to me, seems to be another word for procrastination, but whatever you choose to call it, fighting it seems to be the best option otherwise something else (fear, laziness, lack of desire?) is controlling my production or more, poetically, my freedom to express myself. Some fiction writers I know won’t force themselves to write when they feel uninspired but I think they are missing out on the big payback that pushing on can deliver.

When you’re writing business materials, however, you don’t really have a choice but to produce or face unpleasant consequences. In either situation, I think that pushing past whatever obstacle (feelings, the to-do list, the distractions) is going to render potentially superior prose. It’s like choosing to take the mountainous path because you know it’s going to sculpt those muscles with the challenge and improve your health versus taking the flat route which will be more pleasant but not offer any big long term benefits. Here’s my experience this past Monday.

The first couple of paragraphs flowed pretty easily but now I’m fighting the desire to escape.  I am absolutely itching to get out of this chair. Is this fear holding me back from achieving what needs to be done today? The classical guitar music I usually find soothing is grating on my nerves. For about a half an hour I stare at two panels of Word documents willing them to meld and make sense out of the chaotic swirl of thoughts strewn across the pages. I can do this. I want to do this. Ok, I really just want to run. Or check Facebook. Again. Should I tweet this?

Sticking with it. Breathing. It actually hurts. Just putting down some words that make some sense until the composition starts flowing more naturally. Now deeply in the moment. Many pages written and I’ve hit a difficult spot again. Urge to delay, procrastinate, write emails, Facebook-stalk old boyfriends. Consciously resisting and then, getting back to work. Determined to spew dreck instead of producing nothing in order to push through to some really good stuff.

Ok, that push did produce some coherent prose and now I’m going to take a little break to rest my brain and return refreshed. No computer for at least half an hour. I continued like for most of the day (on for 30 minutes, off for 30 minutes) and I wrote a large chunk of the e-book that I’m working on. Still behind the 8-ball but definitely moving forward. Tired but I may return to the manuscript later after some family obligations are met. It’s pretty cool that the task does not feel quite so intimidating now that I have pushed through and forced myself to write. And this is only the first draft…Good thing I love writing.

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