At the last songwriter’s guild meeting, Ben brought up the idea of block – not just writer’s block but getting seriously, cripplingly stuck in any craft. And he showed this TED talk of Sting:
I don’t want to add much more to this because I want to hear from you in the comments V , but I would mention that McKee talks about writer’s block in Story and shows us an escape route:
You’re blocked because you have nothing to say. Your talent didn’t abandon you. If you had something to say, you couldn’t stop yourself from writing. You can’t kill your talent, but you can starve it into a coma through ignorance. For no matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas… The key to winning this war is research of memory, imagination, and fact…
[For memory], lean back back from your desk and ask, “What do I know from personal experience that touches on my characters’ lives?”
[For imagination], lean back and ask, “What would it be like to live my character’s life hour by hour, day by day?”
[For fact, hit the library].
It’s interesting that Sting got blocked, but then tapped into this deep well of knowledge that had been waiting for him. Sting went into music to run from the shipyard but communities raise up artists. It was only natural for him to eventually give back to the community he once escaped.
Your community cannot be you, but the manual arts always precede the fine arts – someone had to build the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo could paint it. Yes, the artist’s nature seeks liberation from limitations. However, limitations work like prophecies for the future inspiration of the artists they restrict:
- racial injustice from the eyes of a child and Harper Lee
- gospel and Rembrandt
- a bad breakup and Adele
- mad men along the open road and Jack Kerouac
When an artist gets blocked, he can find breakthrough by returning to those creative limitations as sources of inspiration. He can do this regardless of whether the communities he left sent him out or kicked him out or even ignored him until hefinally fled like a refugee. The secret to breakthrough is the community you left, but still remember. The community you’ve suppressed, but still imagine. The community you’ve ignored, but once studied.
Are you running from the place you just left?
Maybe, if you’re lucky, your previous community was healthy enough to send you to your current place and position. Or maybe you’re unlucky and you wanted to get out of Dodge. Or Springfield. Or Salem. Whether healthy or broken, the longer you run from the things you know, the more you create in cold blood.
Trust me: it’s much easier to create in a white-hot fury of passion.
For me, that means I’ll someday need to write about abandoning the craft of carpentry, of growing up under three different nurses (mom and her sisters), of living in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America the summer after I lived in the poorest, of limping through the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, of learning Arabic and Spanish in cross-cultural contexts, and of the awkardly enlightening experience of attending bible college and church camp (among other things).
What about you? What experiences are you suppressing? What memories have you ignored?
What “knowings” are you running from?
Ariel picture from Disney Wiki
No Face picture from The Entertainment Nut