Sunday, June 9, 2013

Giftedness and Artistic Blocks: Too Many Ideas

Photo courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     I see clients who come to me with what is often referred to as writer's block. They are in the middle of a large literary project. Their ideas are clear in their minds. But just as they can visualize a complex fabric that is woven tightly and seamlessly, they encounter something - something that they cannot name - that keeps them from conveying this fabric from conception to manifestation.
     They fret. They worry. They think they will never write again. In fact, they know they will never write again. They suffer from depression.
     Sometimes, they junk an entire project in despair.
     What is going on?
     With gifted and creative individuals, the flow of stimuli from ambient environment to brain can be overwhelming. That brain now feels under siege from outside as well as from within (You should be writing! You're a hack! You can't even keep track of your own ideas!) - and that's when the low-grade panic sets in and becomes the air these writers breathe.
     Is it any wonder they can't finish their projects?
     Creative expression, particularly in the form of a long manuscript (a novel), requires a certain kind of mental tenacity that is unusual and difficult to explain to the nonwriter. A writer must - simultaneously - hold concepts, story arcs, characterizations, psychology, the sound of words, the grammar of language, half-formed ideas, possibilities...  And in some manner, the writer must get this herd of cats to conform to a pattern on the computer screen that makes some kind of sense, while remaining open to the fact that as writing a novel progresses, characters, scenes, entire story lines change, disappear, or suddenly take sudden stage.
     Writers do this without acknowledging the complexity of the task they are undertaking, because they often suffer the delusion that everyone can write. We all hear people say, "I should write a book!" or, "If I had the time, I'd write a book, too." For writers, these comments feed their deepest fears: that they are doing nothing special. Actually - though writing is nothing special - they are not doing it. They are blocked. They are pretenders. That's why if you ask your writer friends how their books are coming along, you're as likely to get a snarl as you are to get a smile.
     With my clients who come in under this sort of duress, one of the main goals we set is creating a sacred space that contains the writing. This often involves such rituals as lighting a candle during writing time, and blowing it out with consciousness of changing from the act of writing to the phase of writing which is generative, the part of writing that John Lennon immortalized this way: life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
     Much of writing also happens when you're busy doing other things. If you can allow yourself to have time when you are not writing, by establishing strict boundaries around the time when you actually are engaged in the process of writing, you can create room in your teeming brain for dormant ideas to break into bud.
     It is a matter of sorting out the sense that everything is happening now. This is a tall order for the creative person who experiences life as a constant series of overwhelming, multiphasic "nows."
     But, with practice and intention, it is possible to create this space in your life. And this is the space where writing - or any other creative act - becomes possible. Let it flow - but let it flow, like a waterfall, within contained boundaries.
     And give yourself permission, at times, to say, "I'm not writing at the moment. I'm thinking."