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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« The Practice of Writing #3: Registration is now open! (Update: RE-opened) | Main | Just a small block. Nothing to worry about. Probably. »
Tuesday
Mar052013

Go ask me: how to overcome a creative block 

You know what's funny? I'll tell you what's funny. Oh ho, you are going to split your sides! Both of them! And then your guts will tumble out and you'll scream WHY ALICE WHY while you scoop them up with both hands.

As I was saying before I launched into that disgusting aside: here I was, whimpering about my lack of writing productivity, when I myself have doled out advice on this topic for years. Last week I reviewed the various emails I've written to readers who needed help. I discovered that I am extraordinarily wise. I applied my own advice, and promptly got tons of writing gone, made progress, and felt inordinately proud of myself. Not to mention my skin cleared up and my least-favorite ex-boyfriend instantaneously combusted.

Maybe you would find this helpful as well, I thought. You, my patient reader, who comes here expecting something beyond goats. So here's my advice, which I took, and now give to you:

Reduce your expectations. Then reward yourself.

Imagine that your psyche is a puppy. It's cute to think about, isn't it? Your mind's all floppy-eared and wet-nosed! Your mind just fell on its bottom!

(I had a point with this, and it was not to hop on over to Cute Overload. Resist. Come back here.)

You don't train a puppy by sitting it down and saying, "Look, here's how it's going to be. Your bathroom is the outdoors, and only the outdoors. You don't gnaw on people or furniture. You sit when I say, you stay when I tell you. Oh, and no humping my leg."  Puppies are idiots, and can't understand a word you're saying. Instead, you offer positive reinforcement (high-pitched cooing, pets, treats) for each small step that brings the puppy closer to your goal.

You can punish a dog when it's not doing your bidding, and you may get results, but you're also going to wind up with a sad puppy who's not so into you.

Negative reinforcement doesn't work, and yet we plow ahead like this time maybe it will. We heap on the self-criticism when we're not getting the job done. We compare ourselves to everyone else, we decide we're not good enough. We get nowhere, and then we heap on more criticism. It's like whipping a horse to run when its legs are broken. (I'm into animal metaphors today.)

Meanwhile, all our puppy-brains want and need is small goals, positive feedback, and treats.

What's your ultimate goal? Break it down into steps that seem laughably small. On my first day, I sat down with my novel for five minutes. I didn't have to write. I only had to read it over and think about it. Once I did that, I told myself, I could have some chocolate. (Only a little.) I ended up writing (!) and doing so for ten (!) minutes. And after I was done I got even MORE chocolate because I was such a good girl.


Change it up.

If you write only on your computer, try writing longhand in a notebook. (Or vice versa). If you write sitting down, stand up at a counter or tall table. If you write at home, get out--go to a coffee shop, the library, the park. Write in the morning instead of at night. If you normally write for two-hour stretches, carry a notebook with you and write one sentence every few hours. Experiment, and make the experiment the point, not the writing. What you're doing here is shifting your focus. By the time you determine, say, that the counter is not the best place for you to write, or you're much more efficient at night than in the morning, you'll have gotten stuff done. Block: fooled!


Do stuff.

Any action is better than inaction. Go for a walk, do some push-ups. Whatever you do, don't sit around and think. Psychically spinning your wheels is not going to get your anywhere. If you're not getting stuff done, get up and move.

And examine what else you're putting off. That crap gunks up the works. You can't think clearly when there are too many to-dos weighing on you. Set some non-creative small goals, reward yourself accordingly, and your burden will feel lighter.

Or maybe write a blog post that's mostly a video of yelling goats. Hell, that's something, and is therefore superior to nothing.

Bitch about it.

I'm weary of the whole power-of-positive-thinking, vision-boarding, manifesting-The-Secret message I seem to find everywhere I go.  I don't think it's wrong, but I do think many of us took it too far and are now convinced we must never feel bad. Because then we'll manifest more badness, because the universe hears us, or something. Stay positive! Manifest abundance! BATHE YOUR SOUL IN WHITE LIGHT!

It's more pressure, and pressure wears you out. Who can be creative when you're suppressing how you feel? Go ahead and bitch. There's energy in bitching. Experiment with dramatic wallowing, perhaps a little low-grade keening. Let it out.

You don't have to share it with the Internet, like I did.  Stab at your journal, draw horrible faces, call your best friend and enumerate all the ways the universe is conspiring against you. You might find yourself inexplicably cheerful afterward, and ready to get some work done.

 

Reader Comments (13)

I have much I could write about -- in English -- but I'm working as a composer. Nevertheless, it is the same thing. Sometimes it's purely mechanical: I feel I don't know how to "put one word in front of another" or in this case one note in front of another. But, for sure, just picking up my clipboard with manuscript paper, grabbing my pen, and knowing I sat and did something is good for my self esteem.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dyer

I would much prefer, and put to better use, I'm sure, a DUMP IT button for my mind. Press the button and all the words come out the way they're supposed to, the way I want them to. Until said button is invented and explained just how in the hell that'd actually work without mah brain goo leaking out with the words (because wouldn't you think the goo would be necessary IN there?), I'm going to take your advice and change things up. There will probably be Skittles.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArnebya

Thanks for including "Bitch about it." I've been thinking about this recently and you are so right. It's too much pressure to be constantly trying to focus on positivity all the time - and worse, it can easily turn into a denial of what you are feeling. I'm thinking it's better to feel what you feel, get it out with appropriate not excessive wallowing, and then move along.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

See? You have such good ideas, I knew you'd come out of it okay. (I'm a former student, so I KNOW about the good ideas!)

And p.s. you have also kept me from doing the "mea culpa" routine today when I'm operating on 4 hours sleep and will have put in 40 hours on the job come Wednesday morning (my job is SO disrespectful of my writing time!!!!). I was about to beat myself up about not writing for the past two days... and instead, now am going to have compassion and REWARD myself when I get there tomorrow. After having just bitched about how hard things are. So I thank you.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren P.

Thank you. I will do my best to remind myself of this, even though I'll be applying it in contexts much less exciting than writing a novel.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

As I'm sure you know these good ideas work for almost anything....doesn't even have to be creative....

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHappydog

Oh Alice,
How much do I love thee?

or

Absolutely. Yes!! Gosh that makes sense. And OMG, ain't that the truth?!?

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermairsydoats

Good points all. And timely. I'm finding that blogging isn't *exactly* like riding a bike. Close, but a few different muscle groups, mostly.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Yay Alice! I love that it was your own advice that got you out of this. And that chocolate was involved too.

Also, I believe "Small boots" would make a very fine t-shirt to wear around Park Slope. Anyone?

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I haven't written anything substantial since December. Tonight, I decided, was my night to sit down and write. Write anything. Any words would do. Only they wouldn't. I got so frustrated after two sentences I gave up and I ended up here reading this post.

And now I'm going to open that document back up, lower my (extremely unreasonable) expectations, and try again...with chocolate. Thanks for the push.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Doty

"Low-grade keening". Oh my God that's exactly what I need to do!!!! The Effing white light is sooooo irritating.
Thanks for the tip! :)

March 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan B

Reduce your expectations...the reward thing.

I KNOW THAT!!! I even got credit for helping this random person finish their dissertation with my 'get a 30 minute massage for every 30 pages' technique.

But I totally forgot about it. What is that about?

Change it up also works well. That's also true for location--go to cafe, or write in a different room.

Bitch about it doesn't work for me. But talk about it does because I tend to fall into denial so talking is denial-breaking.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterozma

Thank you so, so much for sharing this, Alice! You don't know how many times I've been using the concept of a puppy brain to get things done this weekend. Now I am amazed at myself (wrote, washed windows, wrote, ate ice cream per instruction). My puppy brain is wiggling all over with good feelings. You rock! *random puppy kisses*

March 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

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