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.

11 Comments

  1. Actually your description of blocks sounds like what I would call resistance or procrastination. A block for me, is something that might last for days or weeks. It’s thankfully rare but when it does happen I just go back to basics – for me that’s drawing from observation (I’m a visual artist). This is basically just taking my skills out for a little exercise – sort of like playing scales and usually gets the ball rolling again.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment and the useful tip for getting back into being creative. The procrastination I described is a symptom of feeling blocked but I know what you mean. My overall feeling is one of being blocked because it has continued over a period of time, even though I have been able to be creative in fits and starts during that time, if that makes any sense! Also The fact I was unaware of the deeper reason behind the procrastination suggests a block to me. Clearly I didn’t explain it too well!

  2. That’s funny Milo, I just watched Limitless too and had the EXACT same thoughts lol.

    I’ve dealt with all kinds of writers blocks in my life as well and just like Stephen Pressfield recommends, I just “do the work” and work through it.

    I would say that one minor difference for me though, is that I try not to think of it as a war. The more I try to fight against something, my creative block just goes stronger and stronger.

    Instead, I’ll just try to loosen up. I’ll tell myself to stop taking it so seriously and to just play. Sometimes that’ll lead me to doing a “freewrite” where I just write whatever my creativity wants to pour out (sometimes its just rants on how shitty being blocked is lol) but almost always, just letting myself go and have fun will produce a new “spark” that’ll lead me back to a creative path.

    So for me, instead of fighting it, I try to just do the opposite.

    • Hi Jaemin, great minds think alike!

      I know what you mean – there seem to be two camps when it comes to dealing with this, those who think of it as a constant battle and those that suggest being a bit more compassionate with yourself. I agree that lightening up about it can be the best method. I’m always having to remind myself of this, so thanks for reminding me again!

      I think it’s important to also focus on a small thing you can do right now, as opposed to getting overwhelmed by thinking about the multitude of things you have to do.

  3. yes, give me the pill!

  4. Ohhhhh Yay! I’d take the pill!! In a heartbeat. I think it’s sometimes fear of success and fear of failure that hold us back and create blocks. That being said, I deal with it by: (a) sticking my head in the sand (drink, eat, shop, clean house — anything that distracts me from the work at hand — like this response I’m rambling on about); (b) trying too hard and getting frustrated; (c) just doing the work — often times in the middle of the night when my best ideas come to me…..just got to be open to the creative when it shows up!

    thanks for the post,
    Marilyn

    • Hi Marilyn, thanks for the comment! I’m the same in that I seem to get ideas the minute I get into bed and turn off the light which is what makes it difficult to forge a regular routine, though doing some writing an hour before I go to bed does help this.

      Unfortunately in the book the pill doesn’t have very positive consequences, but maybe we could use our creativity and visualise ourselves taking a(n imaginary) pill – to remind us that we can ignore our fears and be creative!

  5. Perhaps rather than saying we feel ‘blocked’ we should say we feel ‘creatively constipated’. The reluctance to say such a thing would surely spur us all on to do something then!

    • Damn right Paul. Being constipated is neither cool or sexy. maybe we should start up a Twitter hashtag? #creativeconstipation

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  1. Is a picture is worth a thousand words during writers block? Imagine.