Dealing with the Ingenuity Jam

And: 7 tips for dealing with creative blockage

Novelists talk about “hitting the wall” and suffering “Writer’s Block” and I hope you haven’t come across these things yet if working on your NaNoWriMo 2020 project, but I think writers are wrong to think it’s their writing that somehow got stuck or log-jammed or gummed-up — it’s not the words, anyone can write a jumble of words that will ultimately make a 50 thousand word book — a computer can readily do it these days… no, it is a blockage in your imagination that has created the delay… it is not the diligent effort of writing that has become a burdensome task, but a lack of brilliance in your conceptualisation.

At the beginning you had a great idea, a wonderful concept, and an unbeatable design template, but after 10,000 words, or maybe 20,000 in your case, you lost your vision! Your mental image is not as good as when you started… it is your inventiveness and ingenuity that hit a wall, not the tap-tapitty-tap-tap of your fingertips on the keyboard.

So how do you revitalize your imagination?

Here are seven tips for dealing with creative blockage:

1: Take a trip into your world. In this thought experiment, you will be a visitor to the world you have created. So go to a scene (one you’ve already written) and look around. What do you see? Who do you meet? Who most interests you, and why? What do you like? What don’t you like? When you have finished your visit, go home (come back to the here and now) and write-up your experiences and report as if you are a journalist.

2: Seek the novelty of creation. Go visit DeviantArt and tap in a criteria into their search tool. I suggest you search under the name of your character or a word from the title of your book, or a spell or tool your hero uses. See what other creative minds are doing with that word.

3: Alter your pondering habits. You often hear entrepreneurs saying things like “let’s approach this from another direction” or “let’s see this from a different perspective” and that’s because they are “seeing” the project through the eyes of a creator / developer. They know they will need to see the concept through the eyes of a customer, so they tend to re-orientate their perspectives to come up with fresh ideas. Now, it would be nice to share ideas with your clients (those are your readers, if you are a novelist) but I don’t know if you would be brave enough to do this at an early stage in the development of your artwork (artists rarely like to have their work seen until it’s fully “done” — I know I don’t!) But you could get into the head of a potential reader, right? Do that now. Become a reader and ask some basics: where is this story going? Should the main character change? What do I like about the story so far? What would keep me reading? What would make me leave this book? What would make me cry? What would make me happy? What would make me scream? What would make me so excited I want to tell the world about this book?

4: Focus your creative energies. You’re writing a lot. That’s good. But it’s not the only creative thing you do, is it? You are a word maker, yes, so why not scribble some words? Get yourself a new ink pen (see my report here) and write some notes by hand. Use your ink pen to start (and keep) an “ideas” notebook, where you jot down things that come to mind.

Make a deck of cards, 52 would be desirable but twenty will do (make it an even number) one for each character / and or item or location in your story (like a custom Tarot set). Try to draw a picture on each. Add as much (or as little) decoration as you’d like. Once done, divide the deck into four suits: two good /bad quarters, then two slightly less good/bad quarters. You will make moral and reflective judgments. You could then play with your Tarot cards too. Shuffle them and deal six. What happened?

5: Develop imagination in other ways. Have you already completed your playlist for your project? (Recommended by NaNoWriMo). If you add your playlist to Spotify or Soundcloud (recommended) you are making a public statement. That’s good, it means you are making a commitment to your imagination. These will be songs / pieces of music that have inspired (or will inspire) your story. Also, another thing, have you already started your “Mood Board” on Pinterest? If not, get that started too. If you have done both these things already, take time-out to update them.

6: Allow stillness into your life. Have you given yourself sufficient quiet time? How can you expect the most complicated regions of your brain to function effectively if you don’t give them room to breathe? I don’t require you to meditate by candlelight in a yoga position (you can if it helps) but, on the other hand, I strongly suggest you put aside at least twenty minutes a day for “quiet time” when you deliberately shut-out the noise of the world (no phone, no interruptions) and let the stillness feed your spirit (and therefore your creativity). I know this is difficult in a modern world, and perhaps even more tough right now in 2020 (you might need noise-cancelling headphones) but it is a discipline that I am sure will offer you great benefits. Do it now. Slot stillness into your schedule.

7: Invest in creative play. Children have natural imaginations and are not defeated by the limitations of science, common sense, and rationality. But how do we get our vivid childhood imagination back? Well, a good way is to play. Play is an important part of the creative process, and sometimes we forget how crucial it is. So head over to a major e-commerce site (there are several to choose from) and buy yourself a gift… go ahead, you deserve it. You’re doing great. Here are the best:

  • Paper making kit (come on, you gotta get this if you’re a writer!)
  • Modelling clay kit
  • Make your own bath bomb kit
  • Decorate your own water bottle
  • Pom-pom making kit
  • Kit to make hand puppets
  • Mini kit to make animal candles
  • Kit to make balloon animals

Got any tips, advice, examples or suggestions? Tweet me @neilmach

My NaNoWriMo Profile here: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/neil_mach

And keep your ‘lil words rolling in! Good luck with your novel.
Keep your imagination healthy!

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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