The way I see it, the term writers’ block is a broad brushstroke term for what’s essentially two different, but equally vexing, ailments. On one hand, there’s the type that should be better known as reluctant concentration or ‘work-shyness’. This is the blighter that leads you on a path towards self-loathing, by watching endless episodes of Made in Chelsea, fashioning a soufflé, or writing the bible out in Morse Code.
Then there’s the real deal; a null void, a rampant moss of nothingness that suffocates your ideas and makes it near impossible to coax them onto the page. It’s cheek-flushing, hand-prickling and irritating to say the least. But ask any creative thinker and it’s more than likely that they’ve come face to face with this mind-emptying beast at some point or another.
Luckily at Stranger Collective, we’re able to step away from our desks every tenth day to Feed. This is a surefire way to remain brimming with new ideas and the confidence to approach our projects with fresh eyes and head-tilting perspectives. So, for this Feed, inspired by an article in The Guardian exploring some of the ways that famous writers tackle the issue, I decided to see what would combat writers’ block for me, should it ever rear its hazy head.
Taking the lead from Freedom author, Jonathan Franzen, I plugged in my headphones and embarked on an internet quest for the sounds of pink noise. Pink noise is part of the spectrum of audible noises that is known to drown out other sounds. It’s said to lessen distractions such as office chatter, builder’s banter and that ever grating (!) birdsong.
I found a video on Youtube with an hour of the low frequency masking sound. Since I often find listening to music with lyrics can be a cause for distraction, I was keen to give it a go. But when I clicked the play button, far from hearing the calming sounds of the womb (as I’d expected), I found it a little overwhelming, harsh and almost wince inducing. However, after a couple of minutes, I was able to ignore it – and thus any sounds it muffled – completely. Things that may otherwise have grappled for my attention melted into a crackling wave of noise that absorbed errant thoughts and outer distractions. I found myself writing non-stop for the whole hour. Success!
Joss sticks tend to make me feel a little nauseated, and for some reason I’ve always equated meditation with the dense scent of ylang ylang. However, it seems that the two can be mutually exclusive.
Taking some time to indulge yourself in nothing but your thoughts, some circular breathing and a touch of Enya turns out to be one of the most idea-inducing experiences you can have. After ten minutes of focused thinking, I had managed to put some difficult plotting points into order, grasped more clarity in my thoughts and felt far more prepared to tackle the page.
This is my ultimate vice. It ‘s fair to say a great deal of my free time is spent in a flurry of clicking from website to website, unearthing reams of useless information, (a brief check of my google search history to illustrate this would show ‘Michael Bolton’s power clenches’ and ‘how do scallops swim?’). It’s this kind of behaviour that – for me – is synonymous with stifling creativity.
Taking the lead from award winning novelist Zadie Smith, who actively restricts her digital access when she needs to concentrate, I too decided to stitch myself up and lock the internet away from my prying clicks.
When I’d previously heard about these internet restricting apps, I thought they were completely unnecessary. Surely I’ve got enough willpower to be able to leave the internet alone for at least an hour? Don’t I? The answer is no. As Oscar Wilde once astutely said, ‘I can resist everything but temptation.’
SelfControl is a free application that you can download from the internet to limit your access to certain sites, or indeed the whole internet for a period of time. Although I found this really useful and I got a fair bit of writing done, it also felt like a punishment. I felt guilty and silly that it needed to come to this for me to concentrate. So, instead of looking for solutions in digital software, perhaps we need to flex that weak muscle that dampens temptation instead?
Writing upside down
This wildcard is thanks to Dan Brown, who swears by attempting to defy gravity in order to write his best-selling books. I gave it a go. Legs pointed towards the ceiling, blood draining to my cheeks I tried to channel my imagination. Unsurprisingly, I felt more stupid than anything, especially because I was wearing my polka dot shoes, which claimed most of my attention. The only thing I managed to gain from the experience was a purple face. But it was worth a try.
Whether it’s silence, meditation or dangling from the roof, idea generation is a personal quest, and inevitably what works for one person will end up being a fruitless task for someone else.
Yet, after my day of exploration, I now realise that my own key to unlocking my mind is to ultimately begin by clearing it. Forget the fear that you’re losing grip on your thoughts and simply start afresh. Writing becomes far less daunting, and the page becomes a welcoming space again.
And pink noise really does help.