Everyone faces problems at work. Some you feel responsible for (either in the making or the solving) but at the end of the day you do your best to separate yourself from “work issues,” and head home–to your life. Writers, musicians, visual artists, and other creative types have a harder time differentiating their problems from their person. It feels like something’s wrong with you when your book is rejected or the art jury doesn’t select your work. You are the problem–that’s the way it feels.
Giving up, moving on, avoiding, denying–these aren’t really problem solving strategies. Trust me, I’ve done them all. Here are a few things that are helping me work through my creative problems.
1. write a letter to your issue. Talk to it. Tell it how frustrated you are, but then take it a step further ask it what it needs. Time? Space? To talk to someone who has had a similar situation? Getting it on the page really helps.
2. Break down the problem into bite-size components. The whole book doesn’t suck. Your whole portfolio doesn’t need chucking. Let go of the dramatics and become a tinkerer. Chunk it out, make a list, and look at each component of the problem and seek solutions for smaller segments.
3. Investigate how it’s not working. So your plot stinks. How does it stink, at what page number does it start to fall apart? So you love the melody but the bridge just isn’t working. Keep going. Maybe it’s the key you’re playing in. Maybe it’s because you got lazy at a certain point.
4. Find a mentor. Not a mentor who’s never had a problem. Find a mentor who openly discusses just how infuriating the creative process can be. Talk to somebody who gets where you’re at. Sometimes you need to think out loud–and a mentor is the perfect person to actively listen, ask new questions, and push you past your comfort zone.
5. Take a break. A long break–and go create something else. Don’t let a creative problem paralyze you. So one song isn’t working. So one novel (or two) is in a box under your bed spending some quality time with the dust bunnies. So what? Doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Not all creative projects pan out. Do you really think that Michaelangelo didn’t have any busted half-done marble busts out back? Of course he did. Attempts, even lousy attempts are part of the process.
6. BONUS: Do one thing different. If how you have your novel arranged isn’t working, then try the opposite approach. Change first person t third, or shift protagonists–remember Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby? Not your typical viewpoint, but it worked. (BTW, the book didn’t sell all that well and Fitzgerald died thinking it was pretty much a failure–now it’s considered the quintessential American Novel). Consider getting physical–shoot hoops, put on some music and dance till you sweat. Flood your brain with fresh oxygen and amp up those endorphins. New ideas need new blood flow!
I read in Michael Gelb’s Think Like a Genius today that the word problem solving root meaning in Latin is pro–to be active blema–to move forward, and solve/solving is to loosen up (such as a solvent), so problem solving is to actively move forward by loosening up! Amazing.
As I’m writing this I’m about to tackle a novel that has a snag in it. Honestly, I wrote this post way more for me than for you, but maybe we can kind of help each other through a hard patch. Creative problems need creative problem solving, so I guess I’ve got to dive in and see what happens.