Would you take a pill to jump-start your creativity?

I was honoured that top Scottish blog Bella Caledonia recently described this blog as ‘ever-helpful’ and added generously that it “clears all writers’ blocks”.

Whilst regular practices like the morning pages really do help with creative problems of all kinds, I have to admit that being blocked still happens to me sometimes – and the thought of an instant cure is an attractive one, especially one that could bring out a previously untapped level of genius.

In fact one of the warning signs that I’m creatively blocked is when I feel the urge to retreat into mindless escapism, and there is nothing better for mindless escapism than the latest Hollywood flick. It was with this in mind that I sat down to watch the film Limitless, which has recently come out on DVD in the UK.

I was intrigued by the premise, which is about a writer who takes a pill which apparently releases the full force of his creativity, genius and intelligence, the majority of which has previously remained dormant.

The unshaven, scruffy protagonist (played by Bradley Cooper) is clearly suffering from writer’s block, and I had to snigger at the voiceover, which said something like “who, apart from someone who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, looks this bad? Only a writer.” I can certainly relate to that (I’m in urgent need of a haircut and a shave myself).

Once he inevitably takes the pill, the protagonist goes on to crank out the first few chapters of his book in one evening. The next morning he can hardly believe he’s done it, and neither can his agent. He soon goes on to complete the book.

Now I hate spoilers as much as anyone so won’t say anymore, but the film soon veers off into a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy/cautionary tale and unfortunately the ending is a confusing mess. But it made me think about how difficult it can be just to sit down and do our creative work.

It ain’t easy.

Whenever I sit down to write, my mind does seem to have an endless array of excuses to stop me getting on with it. Because of the nature of this blog, anytime I feel blocked I begin to feel somewhat of a fraud, which again makes me even more blocked.

I try to make myself feel better about this by reminding myself about all the other writers out there who go through similar things. There’s George R.R. Martin who famously took 6 years to write the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the recent Game of Thrones HBO series is based (I hope he manages to finish the series a bit quicker as I’ve just read the 4th book and whilst it wasn’t as thrilling as the first three, I still want to find out how it all ends).

There are other films which deal with writer’s block too – such as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant version of The Shining and Charlie Kaufman’s bizarre but highly original Adaptation.

And this excellent article in Slate is one of the few I’ve seen which acknowledges just how difficult writing can be, and draws on some academic research which goes some way to explaining it (thanks to @usherette and others for sharing it on Twitter).

Finally I think the hardest thing about being creatively blocked is actually acknowledging the fact at the time that it’s happening. I wonder how many stupid, self-destructive, self-sabotaging things I’ve done throughout my life just because I couldn’t progress creatively, without even realising what was the problem. The wise thing to do would be to take some time out and meditate, or do some exercise. That probably helps a lot more than getting blind drunk or eating a family size bag of Chocolate Buttons in one sitting.

Do The Work

I’ve recently started work on the first ever Clear-Minded Creative manifesto, which I’ll be announcing more details about soon. I can already feel the excuses crowding my brain, but I must fight back and be ever-vigilant about being creatively blocked. I’ll be reading The War of Art yet again, as well as Pressfield’s latest and equally great publication Do The Work, and trying to build my defences up.

But if you are attracted to the idea of a simple pill that could solve all your creative blocks, I’d recommend reading the original book by Alan Glynn which the film Limitless is based on – it’s available on the Amazon Kindle now for only 72p or $1.12 – a bargain. And the ending is much better than the inexplicable Hollywood-ised version too.

Do you ever get blocked creatively, and if so, how do you deal with it?

Don’t you hate it when Hollywood tacks on an ending and ruins a decent story?

Share your woes/tips in the comments!

Get Limitless by Alan Glynn at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Get Do The Work by Steven Pressfield at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Main image: edoardocosta Post contains Amazon affiliate links.

career-renegade

Clear-Minded Classic #5: Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields

I’m a big fan of author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, and I doubt this blog would even exist if I hadn’t discovered his book Career Renegade a few years ago.

After reading and massively identifying with the aforementioned Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, I started looking for more, similar information.  I can’t remember the exact path that led me to his blog and to downloading his free PDF The Firefly Manifesto, but I do know that I was blown away by the content and immediately pre-ordered Career Renegade (which at that point hadn’t yet been released).

By pre-ordering I also got access to something called Career Renegade Flight School which was a series of videos recorded by Fields to further illuminate the topics covered in the book, and made me feel a connection with him that the book wouldn’t have achieved alone. I also listened to his brilliant Renegade Profiles podcast series, which was my first introduction to people like Chris Guillebeau and other inspiring bloggers and creative entrepreneurs.

So, what’s so good about the manifesto/book?

Career Renegade came out at the height of the economic downturn. In the Firefly Manifesto however, Fields had a slightly different angle on things to the usual doom and gloom.

He proposed that being made redundant, whilst a painful and difficult process to go through, could have within it the seeds of opportunity. What better time to rebuild your career from the ground up, and make a living from doing something you enjoy?

Now I hadn’t been made redundant at the time, but after over a decade of jobs that had the opposite effect of making me want to leap out of bed in the morning, I was equally ready to try a different approach.

And what Career Renegade does is help you look at your creative talents/interests in a whole new way. It asks: how best can you use your talents to provide value to others?  This is the key to making your creativity sought after, and rewarded financially, instead of ignored and keeping you poor. Here’s what Fields says:

 The simple truth is that you can turn nearly any passion into a big, fat heap of money. However, it often requires mining aspects of those passions you never knew existed or bringing them to life in markets and ways that defy the mainstream.

At the time I was putting a lot of time outside of work into writing about local music and recording a podcast. But I wasn’t the only one – the number of people doing similar things was increasing all the time and soon I didn’t even feel that I was adding anything new to proceedings.

Not only was there a lot of competition, there was nobody there waving a cheque book and offering to pay me, and putting on gigs and running a record label felt too daunting a step to take.

I had never, ever been in it for the money, but as much as I enjoyed the camaraderie and community of what I was doing, it was taking up all of my time outside of work, and didn’t seem like it could lead to me leaving the job I was doing for something more suited to my talents and interests.

Basically, I needed this book.

How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love

Fields’ own story of going from high strung lawyer to yoga teacher and health club owner following a health scare has been well documented elsewhere, and is also outlined in the book. He also highlights several other real life examples of people who have found a lucrative outlet for their passions.

Fields argues that we all need a good standard of living, and being creative doesn’t mean we have to be completely broke all the time. Which was good news for me, as I have a mortgage to pay and shiny gadgets to buy…

The first step is to identify what you love to do. Here, he brings the concept of Flow into play, from the now much quoted book by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  To summarise this concept crudely, ask yourself what makes you lose track of time and lose yourself in the sheer enjoyment of it, because that’s probably what you were put on the earth to do. There is much more to it than that though, and he goes into further details in the book.

Secondly think about the people you want to have around you. This has a much bigger impact than most of us imagine on how much we enjoy our work/lives.

In the next stage, he talks about a variety of ways we can “move beyond the mainstream” and create a path for ourselves that will lead to us making a living doing what we love.

One of the best examples of this is how to “redeploy your passion in a market that places a higher value on it” – Fields shares the example of an artist who paints vineyards and sells them to the customers of the vineyard, thus targeting her paintings at an audience who are keen to buy them and have the means to do so, rather than letting them languish in her studio forevermore.

Now some might see this as selling out, and prefer to go down in history as the unappreciated genius who never sold a painting. Whilst that may not be as romantic, it does require a lifetime without recognition or reward, which doesn’t really sound that attractive to me – but whatever floats your boat.

The other topics covered are a lot to do with leveraging technology to both identify a market for what you do and to package your existing expertise in a way that’s desirable to other people. It’s a treasure trove of tips and insights and for me was a window into a whole other world of online opportunities and resources.

Gargantuan

Almost singlehandedly, this book inspired me to completely change the way I thought about my writing and my work. For over a year I went heavily into R&D (research and development) mode and read a huge number of blog posts, books and info products, all of which provided more proof that making a living doing what you love is possible. Now I just had to take some action – not always my strong point.

Eventually however I have taken slow steps towards creating a more rewarding career. Of course I wouldn’t claim that it’s been an easy process or that I’m all the way there – as Fields himself puts it:

Creating your life and livelihood to deliver maximum passion and prosperity is a gargantuan challenge.

But since starting out on this path I’ve been promoted to a job where I work with the web and digital communications, started working as a freelance copywriter and have started this blog, so I have a lot to be thankful to Jonathan Fields for.

As do a lot of other bloggers and creative types – I’ve seen his book mentioned many times by other people I admire as being a key inspiration to them also. Of course that just means that the competition out there is even greater than ever. So what are you waiting for?

Do you feel it’s possible to earn a decent living doing something you love? Have you read the book or do you intend to? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Download the free Firefly Manifesto (updated version)

Buy Career Renegade at Amazon.com: paperback Kindle edition

or Amazon.co.uk: paperback | Kindle edition

 

And look out for the next book from this author on the topic of turning uncertainty into creative success which is due out later this year.

Disclaimer: This page is littered with affiliate links, which means when you buy the book I get a small percentage of the profit. And by small, I mean miniscule, e.g. if 100,000 people were to buy a book via one of my affiliate links, I might be able to buy an iPad (this is not based on any actual calculation).