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Creative Block: Finding the Light Switch
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®
professionals spend their days inventing and reinventing.
Sooner or later fatigue sets in. On occasions the
creative light appears to all but disappear as we
grope in the dark only to find an old torch with
tired batteries and a rusty switch. Some call that
state in an author 'writer's block', however I believe
this state applies to any creative area and so I'll
be referring to it as the 'creative block'. Here
are my thoughts on the subject and how one creative
mind struggles to find the light switch.
Once in a while a person makes a lasting impression.
For me Richard Feynman was such a man. I saw, along
with millions of others on TV, his intelligent exuberism,
compassion, and constant efforts to connect and
understand the world around him.
On one of those winter TV documentaries that livened
up a gray day I watched as he recounted a tale of
his early childhood. As with any tale that strikes
a cord I've made it my own, so forgive me if my
recounting of the event strays from the original.
Richard's father was of profound significance in
encouraging his son's journey towards becoming one
of the great scientists of the twentieth century.
As a young boy Richard went to his father one day
after trying to solve a problem. He had tried this
way and that of finding a solution but to no avail.
He looked up at his father somewhat discouraged
and said 'it's no good dad, my bag has run out of
ideas'. Richard's father had always tried to illustrate
the solutions to understanding the world with simple
concrete examples and Richard had perceived ideas
as somehow being stored in some hidden place, and
had reasonably assumed they could all be used up.
Richard's father turned to him and smiled.
Where ideas come from
Ideas are unlike anything else we know of, they
come to us like the sun breaking through clouds
on a showery summers day. We know the sun is out
there on a day like that but we're often surprised
by the rush of warmth that greets us after the sun's
An idea is closely related to a 'feeling' (by 'feeling'
I'm referring here to mean a state of mind, a 'gut
reaction', or intuition). A 'feeling' is an invaluable
mechanism that combines all the conscious and unconscious
elements of experience, knowledge and our own temperament
into a single guiding 'principle of movement'. This
'principle of movement' creates a positive, negative
or neutral action or reaction.
Feelings act as our immediate guide as to what actions
(or inaction) we take in the world. The mechanism
of feeling requires little or no time, we 'know'
how we feel to a given social or practical situation
in an instant. We are ready to act on our feelings
even though we recognise the information we have
about a particular social or practical setting may
be very limited.
The more we grow in our experience and knowledge
of the world, the more our feelings can be trusted.
There are sound evolutionary reasons why we as a
species developed such a high capacity for feeling
and intuition. In a complex social structure our
ability to make judgements about others, their behaviours
and actions, is of crucial significance. Without
the social skill of feeling we would be vulnerable
and ineffective in forming larger social groups.
I have an idea
An idea is something that comes to mind. Ideas are
not limited to thoughts that come to us as words
or sentences. Ideas can also show themselves as
relating to any of our senses. We may for instance
have a musical idea that consists of a collection
of sounds, tones, and textures. We all have ideas.
Every moment, every day. They come, they go. Sometimes
we act on them, most times we don't and they slip
from our conscious life into oblivion.
When we talk about creative people we seem to distinguish
their ideas by suggesting their control and manipulation
of ideas is often more conscious and organised (composition),
and that the combination of their ideas is novel,
enriching, or enlightening (the creative work).
The creative block then is when the stream of organising
ideas in this way is in some way temporarily or
Switching on the light
The creative block feeds on self doubt and insecurity.
If you dwell on it, worry about it, let it become
your focus, it'll get worse and it might even seize
your idea machine right up.
When it seems my head has run dry of ideas I've
found the most effective solution to switch on the
light again is to watch a movie in the dark. Not
just any movie but one that will stimulate and energise
the mechanisms that make up my creative kernel.
Whether it be watching A Bugs Life with my four
year old son, or Contact on my own, a good movie
effortlessly connects and manipulates an intensely
visceral and emotional response. Such a movie never
fails to set my idea machine in motion once again.
Perhaps it is that a movie is a collaborative effort,
and that unlike so many other art forms, I am less
likely to fall into the trap of comparing a single
creative mind with my own.
Creative people are essentially ego-centred. Perhaps
our challenge as creative people is to discipline
and channel our ego into constructive activity,
and that the creative block is a state where the
ego's focus is negative. As we remind ourselves
about the positive so the fear of creative impotence
subsides. There's a lot out there, be inspired...
de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®.
Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music
composer, photographer, print and web site designer,
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