Photo: andrew smith

You’ve been writing, photographing, shooting videos every day. The work seems to insist on being done. There are a half-dozen stories, images, videos waiting at the edges of your mind for you to bring them through. Then – on a day like any other day – there is Nothing.

You google writing tips. You have a few beers. You sit for hours staring into Nothing. Nothing works – at least in your favor. Here are five simple ways to be with the Nothing – and the stories, photos and videos that lie beneath it.

1. Fight the Power. – Not: You don’t fight a creative block by attacking it directly. The block is part of your psyche, so if you go after it, you are committing aggression on yourself. Use Aikido, the martial art in which you enter your opponent’s attack and redirect it. Give in. Walk away from what you have been creating. Literally. Leave your workspace. Wander without plan. When you come back, do whatever you do to relax yourself.

2. Put the Block in a Suspect Line-up. Take a notebook and crayons (or colored pencils) away from your workspace. As quickly as you can, sketch a line-up of at least four suspects. (Stick figures are great.) They can be human, animal, a memory of a teacher, a parent or anybody who invaded your creativity.

3. Mess with the Block. Put your drawing away. Don’t look at until at least four days later. Same instructions re: notebook and crayons. Open the notebook to the suspect line. It’s almost 100% certain that one of the suspects will stand out more than the others. Copy that figure to a blank page and dress it up in a ridiculous outfit. Put a hipster soul patch on it; a clown face (unless you’re scared of clowns); a feather boa and a garter belt.

4. Honor the Block. Frame your drawing and hang it over your workspace. If you don’t have a central workspace, use it as a screen saver. Set a timer and write a thirty minute conversation with The Block. Write as fast as you can. When the timer goes off, sit doing nothing for ten minutes. Then set up two chairs. Read the dialogue out loud. Sit in one chair as The Block, the other chair as yourself. Read slowly.

5. Thank the Block. This step is crucial. The Block exists in you. You weren’t born blocked. You didn’t emerge from the womb and think “I better not do that.” / “I’m not good enough.” / ”I don’t have anything to say.” The Block has often kept you safe – or at least free from anxiety. Thank it in writing, mail the note to yourself. When it comes in the mail (real mail, real paper, real writing), read the thank you and burn it.

The only sure antidote to oblivion is the creation. So I loop my sentences around the trunks of maples, hook them into the parched soil, anchor them to rock, to moon and stars, wrap them tenderly around the ankles of those I love. From down in the pit, I give a tug, to make sure my rope of words is hooked onto the world, and then up I climb.
— Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put