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I’ve been working for several weeks on the next piece to the series on Collectible Game Design. When I say “working,” what I usually mean is, staring for a minute at the article, worrying about how long it will take me to write, then deciding to do something else.
I think about all the more pressing things I have to do, then check my email, then go down whatever other rabbit hole gets my attention. I find this habit incredibly frustrating, and I know I’m not alone. What is going on here? How can we overcome it and accomplish our creative goals?
What is “Writer’s Block”?
I don’t like the term writers block. Writer’s block implies that there is some external force to ourselves that stops us- we are literally “blocked” from fulfilling our creative vision. All we are facing is a set of feelings and sensations, dubbed by Robert Perseig as Resistance. I feel resistance to sitting in front of the page and doing the work to write. Resistance shows up whenever you try something new and uncomfortable. Resistance is the animal part of your brain that wants everything to be safe, comfortable, and predictable. Resistance is the enemy to creation and to realizing your dreams, whatever they may be. Resistance is the real power behind “writer’s block.”
How do we Overcome Resistance?
1. Pay Attention
Notice how resistance feels when it arises. What sensations do you feel?
- Chest tightening
- Stomach sinking
- Eyes darting
- Fingers twitching
- Palms sweating
We all have felt variations of this. The feelings are unpleasant and we seek to escape them.
It is why we spend hours on Facebook, YouTube, or the Huffington Post. We seek the easy and immediate relief that comes from these short term distractions.
2. Sit with the Feeling
Once you identify the feeling of resistance, pause. Don’t do anything, just sit with the sensation. Take a few deep breaths and just notice and identify the individual sensations as they arise. Don’t run from discomfort.
Now return to your task at hand. It helps me to set a visible timer nearby with a pre-set limit during which I won’t stray from my allotted task. If you feel blocked, start the timer at only 5 min. Such a small time is easy to commit to, and often once you start writing it is easier to continue than stop. Momentum is a powerful force.
Eventually expand your timer to 20 minutes or an hour. When you notice yourself drifting off to distraction, look at the timer then come back to your work. Once the timer is up, give yourself permission to wander off for a while, then set another timer and come back to your work.
3. Have Creative Rituals
Do similar things to prime your brain to create. Set aside a special place, tool, and time for creative work. Make these as appealing as possible to draw your attention. A comfortable chair, clear desk, and nice pens can all impact your psyche when it comes to creative work. I find I am much more creative when I have a nice notebook and a bunch of colored pens to doodle and brainstorm with. Find tools you love to make the work more appealing. If you are like me, trips to Staples start to feel like trips to the toy store when you were a kid.
4. Change Something
Sometimes disrupting the very rituals you’ve built up is the key to creative breakthroughs. Go for a walk outside. Find a new coffee shop and work there. Change tools (e.g. write with a pen instead of typing or vice versa). Create wacky new restrictions to prime your problem solving mind (e.g. every paragraph must begin with the letter e, your game characters all have no arms, etc.). Forcing the mind to make new connections can help break out of a rut.
5. Remove Distractions
Try to block out the many things that pull your attention. The harder it is to get pulled by distraction, the easier it will be to catch yourself before you get lost.
- Find a quiet place.
- Put on headphones with music that inspires you (here is my work playlist).
- Put your cellphone in airplane mode.
- Disconnect from the internet (or use a service like rescuetime.com or freedom.to to block distracting websites).
6. Give Yourself Permission to Fail
Shitty first drafts. Crappy prototypes. Ugly Sketches. Quick and Dirty Code. These are the things that legends are made of. Get something done, and be proud that it sucks. Revising and refining is a lot easier once you get a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. Trying to make your first draft perfect is the best way to make sure that there will be no final draft.
The Struggle is Real
We all face Resistance every day. Anytime you want to devote effort to bettering yourself or creating something, Resistance will be there. Don’t underestimate the power of resistance and don’t beat yourself up during days you lose the battle. But don’t give up either! Each day is a new chance to beat resistance and create something. I don’t know how I will fare against resistance tomorrow, but for today, I’ll call this article a win.
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