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Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Tips to Help Break a Creative Block

Anyone who has done any kind of writing for an extended period of time will eventually experience some form of writer's block or creative dry spell. It simply comes with the territory.

I used to be a reporter with multiple deadlines throughout the day and had to deal with writer's block regularly. You might think it would be easy to write about "news of the day" but that's not always the case.

That's especially true if you're assigned a low interest, low visual, low emotional story about something like a county drainage proposal or tax easement issue (yikes) - such assignments will challenge even the best writer. So the best counter strategy would be to come to the daily editorial meetings with your own story ideas. However, that's easier said than done.

To come up with 2-3 different ideas each day was a creative exercise that posed challenges.  Here's what I would do (and continue to do today) to break through the creative block.

1. Read publications and listen to opinions I was philosophically opposed - the idea here would be to get a spark or kernel of a concept that might be flipped on its head into an interesting angle.  For example, perhaps a health teacher was passing out condoms to students because she believed "kids were going to have sex anyway." That might be juxtaposed with the idea that perhaps a driver's ed teacher should pass out radar detectors since "students are going to speed anyway." To me, that's an interesting discussion to engage.

2. Stream of conscious writing - while it sounds weird, this can be a very effective tactic. When I don't know what to write or where to begin I'll just start writing the first things that come to mind. I'll continue doing that, going down whatever rabbit trail may appear. You'll be surprised how quickly you may unintentionally coin a clever turn of phrase or make a mistake that connects to an idea that had been kicking around in your cranial database for some time. Give it a try.

3. Take a break - get up, stretch, do some Chi Gong, take a quick walk - do something.  I've found that in much the same way that your computer seizes up and needs a reboot, my creative CPU acts the same way sometimes. Often a quick change of scenery or light physical activity provides a useful reset to the creative system.

4. Start a unique hobby or interest - this is more of a preemptive tactic that helps keep the mental channel full of ideas. For instance, a few months ago my daughters and I started taking karate classes together. We've now shared a variety of experiences, laughs, insights and lessons that I would have known absent those classes. I did the same thing with marathons, selling books online, teaching communication courses, inventing a product, creating animated movie shorts as well as book authoring.  Each experience has created a constant writing repository to draw from.

5. Be present and mindful when you engage people - I've found that other people are the single best source of content. Every day, whether you're at church, work, the gym or grocery store make an effort to engage somebody and find out something interesting about them.  My first news director out of college  told me, "There is something interesting about everyone and it's a reporter's job to find it." Take that mindset into every interaction and you'll start mining creative nuggets of gold.

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