You have been there, I know it. Your desk piled with research material, a blank Word document, a blank canvas, and no sign of progress. The digital clock next to you tracks forward in time, your 84 track playlist is long over, you heard every possible Mal Waldron tune in existence, and still… no words on that Word doc, and not a shape drawn on that canvas. You are in the midst of ‘writer’s block’ and you blame it on the stress of uncertainty or modern day laziness. It’s been analyzed for centuries yet there is not one contending solution. Only vague speculation and ‘to each his own’ solutions.
There are some famous remedies to mental blocks. Beethoven used to dunk his head in ice-cold water from time to time and Nietzsche would slam on the keys of a piano with his elbows. The habits of genius are always extreme. I once asked brilliant saxophonist and friend, Reza Mahojer, to explain his remedy for any type of mental ‘block,’ and he related that listening to orchestral remixes of Giant Steps by John Coltrane got him past any hesitation whatsoever. At first this tactic seemed bizarre to me, but after having a listen, the fusion of both Coltrane and orchestral instrumentation definitely accelerates brain activity.
One very interesting solution I encountered while wandering inside the very old, (probably now closed) Greenhouse Studios in Long Beach, California came from a doddle I saw pinned to someone’s desk. I’ve recreated the illustration below to the best of my memory, as it has since been permanently embedded in my brain:
This paradoxical solution hit me like a ton of bricks. The tongue-in-cheek play on ‘drawing yourself to work’ is strangely true when you realize what draws you to perform your craft. In the case of the unknown illustrator, drawing himself working was a clever way of pushing through.
So to defeat ‘writer’s block’ or any mutant form of it, first understand that the block will pass. That is a natural fact. The final part is to use the block against itself. The fact that you’re having a ‘block’ is proof your brain is working. There is always something about the task at hand that will draw you back in to work. Either way you go at it, the end result should be the same. And if all else fails, remember the great Voltaire: “Not to be occupied and not to exist, amount to the same thing.”