Forgot to post when this article went up on the Writers Rumpus blog – hope you enjoy!
When faced with a new project that I’m not sure how to approach, often my first instinct is total avoidance. All of a sudden, the household tasks that I’ve been successfully ignoring – sink full of dishes, laundry waiting to be folded – begin to take on an air of new importance, as if they really need to get done right this very minute. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
I’ve found that when this happens, I need to find a way to trick myself into working. Over the years (and with the help from many SCBWI workshops) I’ve developed some go-to activities/exercises to get past the fear of starting and to get myself into a better mindset.
Here are some things I’ve done recently when trying to get my brain to settle down:
Sometimes the best cure for the fear of the blank page is to fill that page up as quickly as possible. Making lots of lists can keep me from editing before my pencil hits the paper. I’ll tell myself “This stuff doesn’t matter – it’s just warm-up stuff. You can toss if it you want!” But often, new ideas will emerge from this process that I couldn’t have gotten to any other way.
You could try making lists about:
The key is to get it down as fast as you can, no editing your thoughts. If you get a list of 20 things, there may only be one or two that appeal to you – but that’s better than nothing! After all, you can’t edit a blank page.
Looking for more ideas? Check out this book by Jaime Zollars: IlLISTration: Improvisational Lists and Drawing Assists to Spark Creativity.
Sketching lots of variations the same thing:
Drawing lots of variations of the same thing one way I can get myself to stop thinking and to just get my pencil moving. This can also be sort of a visual version of listmaking.
I’ll pick a simple topic, maybe chickens, doors or coat racks, quickly find a bunch of reference material, and draw as many as I can, one right after another. Some resources for reference material include:
Filling the well:
I first learned about this concept from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. If I spend too much time with my butt in a chair, I start to feel a bit depleted. I’ve found that I need to find ways of going out into the world, allowing myself to be curious – and only then do I have the mental energy to focus once I’m back at my desk. Here are some things I’ve tried:
Do you find you need to trick yourself into getting your pen to hit the paper? What kinds of creative procrastination have you tried?