Ah, humans. We can complicate simple things to the point of insanity. Being crazy talking monkeys with obscenely large brains, maybe that’s kind of our thing.
But maybe writer’s block isn’t a thing. Maybe it’s just a lack of ideas going in. Perhaps our monkey minds are just hungry for art and new things.
I don’t like to believe in the idea of writer’s block, because it feels like an indulgent myth. When my livelihood depends on writing every day, and writing the best stuff I can, being the boy who cried “writer’s block!” seems like a luxury I can’t afford.
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s a struggle. Fresh ideas and frantic typing aren’t always forthcoming. But maybe we’re missing out a bit of key thinking around the whole topic of creative block: the idea of the simple machine.
We’re probably all familiar with the basic concept of a machine. It’s input, process, output. Familiar in the realms of computing, tech and production lines, but maybe less applicable in the creative world. Or is it?
We could think of our bodies as the Soft Machine. We need all manner of fuels, inputs, nutrients and lubricants to keep us thinking, talking and moving around. All those processes we’re going through, constantly: respiration, digestion, metabolism, thought. It’s the same principle: input, process, output. Calories, respiration, life. Can’t we think of our creative mind in the same way?
The brain obeys this machine principle, and the mind is a process of the brain. As well as food and water, the brain needs information to keep us alive – like learning that if you walk off that cliff over there, you may end up slightly dead. Part of the brain’s many processes takes in novel experiences and valuable lessons, to build up our experience of the environment we need to survive in. To live an enjoyable life.
In terms of evolution, we’ve never had the speed and strength of the big cats, or spines or venom to keep us from being eaten. We’ve never had claws, fangs, camouflage or safety in vast herds. But what we do have is the greatest bio-software in existence. The brain’s squishy computer is our natural defence.
Our mind, our imagination, has so much massive processing power that we can simulate deadly situations and avoid them. We developed better outcomes for the tribe, by avoiding a dangerous territory or shaping a certain tool. And we passed that knowledge on, over thousands of years. Building and refining that knowledge constantly. Until, finally, we now live in comfortable multi-caves of our own making. There’s farmed food handy, in a storing-box that makes its own ice. There’s hot running water and wired lightning in the walls. Wheels and engines, and horseless carts. There’s a mystic web of runes and pictures, the whole damn history of our shared human experience, collected from the world and beamed right into this screen you’re reading. It’s magic; it’s better than magic. All a wizard can do is taser you with a stick.
Everything we’ve imagined and achieved has relied on prior information. Some kind of input for our brain to process and improve on, and produce a better output on the other side. Put simply, our brains are improvement machines. Improving is what humans do.
In some roundabout way, and ironically proving the point about human complication that I started with, the idea I’m getting at is this: our minds can’t produce fresh improved output without the input first. If there’s no ideas going into that mind machine to process, then we don’t have any output either. Without enough fuel going in to that creative engine in your head, your creative output might just be running on the last fumes. Stretch out that scenario over hours, days, weeks and months, and what we get is the myth of writer’s block.
Maybe it’s not a blockage, but an empty pipe. A creative fuel tank that we haven’t filled up with fresh ideas in weeks.
We aren’t tortured artists. We’re imagination monkeys. And we’re hungry.
So try some unknown fuels and flavours. New music, and unfamiliar experiences; untraveled locations and fresh ways of producing art. If you’ve never trawled the online galleries of digital artists, take a look at them. If you’d never thought to write fiction to the sound of film scores, give it a try. There aren’t any limitations or conventions any more. No one’s stopping you from taking any hybrid mix of input or inspiration you like. Try a new show, or a graphic novel. Try a videogame. Or just get drunk and dance to a hardcore medieval party mix, if it helps put you in that high-fantasy frame of mind. All just new ideas.
This is the greatest time in human history for creative people to take it all in and produce fresh, exciting new art. To claim a flimsy excuse like “writer’s block”, amid a whole damn world that’s bursting with ideas like never before, just seems like a terrible waste of great talent.
How about we move past the writer’s block myth, and just feed our starving minds with all the fresh creative calories they can take?
If you like these kinds of ideas, maybe you’ll like my Kindle ebooks too. Sci-fi, fantasy, gothicness and horror. They’re cheap n’ meaty, and I’m working on more.