Thursday, 1 May 2014

Staring at a Blank Page

There is nothing more frustrating than sitting at my desk staring at a blank screen like a brainless idiot.

When I suffer from this affliction, my brain has somehow switched off and no amount of coaxing can kick-start my thinking engine.

Writers and bloggers will of course recognise this condition as writer’s block, something I have suffered from in the past, yet there are other forms that affect people other than those who are trying to put pen to paper and create something from their imagination.

For example, I have found myself sitting at my desk at work, trying to figure out the best and most efficient way to create a bit of software to solve a particular problem, yet my brain refuses to cooperate. It’s almost as if my brain has been replaced by a lump of jelly.

And the harder I try to think, the worse it gets.

It’s like trying to catch formula one car while riding a bike.

I have read in the past that the pinnacle of creativity is achieved first thing in the morning, soon after waking up, and as the day goes on, your creativity diminishes in favour of more analytical tasks.

And I have used this to my advantage at work.

It didn’t take long for me to work out that if I looked at solving a problem with some clever software, it was always more of a struggle as the day wore on.  I would stare at my computer screen at five o’clock and think “How on earth am I going to solve this?”. When confronted with such a feeling so late, the best thing to do is simply to give up and go home.

The phrase “sleep on it” leaps to mind and in my case this works because, first thing in the morning, the problem that was bamboozling me the previous evening is suddenly incredibly easy to cure.

“Now why didn’t I spot that last night?” I exclaim – every single time.

I recently read that there are other aids to creativity. One in particular seems very appealing.

Basically, if you are struggling to be creative, all you need to do is get up and go for a walk.

I discovered this is a bizarre fashion. I am currently trying to teach myself Spanish and occasionally challenge myself by attempting to read BBC Mundo, the Spanish version of the BBC web site. My Spanish is nowhere near good enough to translate the articles thoroughly but I do get the gist of quite a few, mainly because the articles are about newsworthy items and a little knowledge of what is going on in the world helps.

I found an article titled “Caminar aumenta nuestra creatividad” or “Walking increases our creativity”.

As I struggled with the translation, I found myself fascinated with the concepts as the vague English formed in my head.

The article describes a study which confirms that exercise boosts your creative mind. This is great news for me because I try to go for a walk every day of the week. At work, every lunchtime, I leave the confines of the office and embark upon a brisk walk around the block, a distance of just under two miles. At the weekend, Mrs PM and I try to go for a walk too; we have a regular three mile walk around Fletcher Moss along the river Mersey in Didsbury, but sometimes drive out to the local countryside and embark upon a bigger walk up to say six miles. Moreover, when we go away for the weekend or on holiday, we enjoy a leisurely stroll around the place to take in the sights. Last year, in Hong Kong, I worked out that we walked for ten miles around the city, just visiting old haunts. In Oxford, earlier this year, we walked eight miles in a day just exploring the city centre.

How do I know this? I have a pedometer; it was a surprise Christmas present a year or two ago and it is surprisingly accurate.

Anyway, back to the point; my brisk two mile walk at lunchtime every day aids my creativity. For an hour or so when I get back to work, I am refreshed and able to look at tricky issues with the same sharpness as I have in the morning.

Just walking around the area surrounding the office, with music in my ears to accompany my pace, my mind starts to wander into creative realms.

I know it works because today’s creative thought was all about how walking can help combat writer’s block. When I returned to the office, I opened my trusty little notebook and wrote it down.

And here I am writing the post (although it is now ten o’clock at night – a time when theoretically I should be winding down for sleep).

Next time I get a touch of writer’s block I will go for a walk and see what happens.

So what about you, dear reader? 

Do you have any tips to boost creativity and help combat writer’s block or jelly brain syndrome?

I’m very interested because I am looking for alternatives (as walking is not always an option sadly).


Pandora Behr said...

Necessity being the mother of invention, force yourself to blog daily for a month. That gets the juices going.

Go on, you know you want to...


River said...

I don't need to write for a job, so this isn't a huge problem for me. For my Wednesday Words though, if I'm blocked I'll shut down the computer and have a nap or read a book until sentences containing the necessary words start forming in my head.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

I noticed you had started a marathon monthly blogging session.

I've done the before and I intend to do it again. Sadly I need to find a suitable month to do it.

There is a possibility of June or October - but we'll have to see.

And, yes, I do have a theme.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I've read that walking away from the problem helps. Allowing your mind to drift away into different realms can bring clarity.

Good advice.




H2B said...

Writing is a big part of my job. I hate the blank screen. So, I tend to percolate the first paragraph away from the screen. Walking helps, but I find having a long shower works the best. Thus, I tend to work from home if there is a major piece of writing to be done.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

I write technical documents as part of my job - and I find that relatively easy.

A long shower sounds a good idea.