A Cure for Writer’s Block

Writer’s block plagues creative artists from all disciplines. If you feel overwhelmed when you confront a blank page, a simple change in mindset can help you bust through this barrier.

Courtesy of Flickr/Vince Kusters

In a composition class, renowned avant-garde trumpeter Cuong Vu (Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell) gave me profound insight for busting writer’s block:

Writer’s block comes from the need to be in love with everything you write.

Creative work flows once we lift the expectation of producing great work. Johannes Brahms measured the mark of an artist by how much he throws away.1

Treat the early stages of creative work as a brainstorming session. Facilitators frequently claim “there are no bad ideas.” Of course there are plenty of bad ideas, but immediately criticizing each one will kill the creative flow of your team. You may never get to the brilliant ideas if you don’t throw everything on the table.

In his book Linchpin, marketing guru Seth Godin writes, “One way to become creative is to discipline yourself to generate bad ideas. The worse the better. Do it a lot and magically you’ll discover that some good ones slip through.” This is brilliant advice for improvisers and composers. Play ten terrible solos today. Write the worst composition you can think of. Do it again tomorrow. When a student thinks she sounds bad, I tell her to play something even worse. The results are usually more interesting, and the fear of sounding bad may lose its sting.

Set aside time for your creative work and let curiosity and experimentation guide you. Be sure to embrace your mediocre, lousy, laughable, and embarrassingly bad ideas. They are an essential part of the process. Capture the great music that catches your attention, and shape it into the work you share with the world.

If you are only willing to receive fully formed masterpieces, you will be waiting for a long, long time.

– ST

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1 Stephen Nachmanovitch. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art