Sam Horn - Intrigue

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Got Writers Block? Running Out of Ideas?

Have your ideas dried up? Has your creative project come to a screeching halt? Are you staring at your computer and the words won't come?

You're in the right place.

I love to write. There are many times when my mind’s on fire and it’s a joy to have my fingers flying on the computer keys, trying to keep up with the flow of thoughts pouring out of my head.

It was a surprise then, when I was working on my book Tongue Fu! for School, and writing became hard work. I was grinding it out because I had to turn my manuscript in to my publisher at the end of the month, but I wasn't liking what I was producing.

I would re-read what I had written (I know, a fatal error) and would go “Euch.” I knew it didn’t sing, knew it wasn’t “alive,” but I kept slogging it out because I had this deadline to meet.

I was creatively procrastinating one morning (reading the newspaper instead of writing) when I came across a fascinating article in USA Today about David Kelley, Hollywood’s former “Golden Boy.”

The article pointed out that, for a while, writer/director Kelley could do no wrong. He was the first person to receive an Emmy for Best Comedy (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice) in the same year. Incredibly, Kelley was writing and directing BOTH shows at the same time – a grueling, almost unimaginable feat.

Then, for some reason, his pilots were getting cancelled and his shows were tanking in the ratings. The reporter’s opinion was that his plots were getting increasingly bizarre and middle-America viewers were having a hard time relating to his unrealistic story lines.

When asked why Kelley seemingly couldn’t do anything right, a TV critic said tongue-in-cheek, “Of course he’s lost his golden touch. He’s married to Michelle Pheiffer, he lives in a $15 million dollar home, and all he does, 24/7, is write, drive to the studio, direct the shows, and drive home. He's become disconnected.”

A light bulb went off in my head. Here I was trying to write a book about dealing with difficult people in schools – and I wasn’t spending any time in schools. I had lost touch with my audience and writing had become an intellectual exercise. I was trying to think up the book instead of accessing my target audience and asking what THEY thought, what THEY wanted, what THEY encountered.

I got up from my chair and drove over to my sons’ school. That day I interviewed several teachers, the principal, a guidance counselor, and a few of Tom and Andrew's friends.

Sample questions included, “What do you do when a parent accuses you of not caring for their kid? What do you when teachers complain that they’re not getting paid enough (which is true)? What do you do when a fellow student bullies you?”

By the end of that day, my mind was filled with the angst, frustration, mini victories and mixed feelings of pride and powerlessness that are a fact of life for many educators and students.

I sat down to the computer that night and the incredibly compelling stories I had heard, the confrontations I had been told about, the insightful responses they shared poured out. One afternoon of re-connecting with my intended audience renewed my passion for my project and brought it alive – because I had gotten out of my head and into the world of my readers.

Has your creative project come to a screeching halt? Have the ideas dried up? The passion disappeared?

Perhaps you’ve allowed this project to become an intellectual exercise. Perhaps you’re grinding it out because you’ve got a deadline and you’ve become completely detached from your topic, audience, and purpose.

That doesn’t work because that’s isolated creativity. That’s simply purging what’s in your head – without intent. If your intent is simply to finish your project, you can accomplish that – but that won't make it sing. You will have a completed project, but it will be lifeless and working on it will be joyless.

For creative work to become transcendent, we must have a clear intention of how it will deliver tangible value for people. We need to visualize individuals in our target audience and imagine how this project, product or program will solve a problem they’re facing. We need to get up from our chairs and go out into the field and talk with our readers and customers and ask what they think. Find out what keeps them up at night and then go back to work with their voices, issues and concerns in your mind so your project, program or product reflects and meets their needs.

Do you have a suggestion on how to keep those ideas coming? Have you developed a way to beat writers block? If you're one of the first three people to share your idea-generating suggestion with these blog readers, I'll send my CD I Can't Believe I Wrote The Whole Thing to you, free.

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3 Comments:

At 8:43 PM , Blogger hipsurgery said...

What an excellent post! One of the things that I appreciate about your work is that - while your intended audience is likely writers - these techniques make a lot of sense for anyone that must constantly engage in the creative process. It can be grueling, monotonous, and unsatisfying, but a quick reminder that we simply need to focus on the needs of our audience is quite refreshing. Thanks! Made my day!

 
At 7:20 AM , Blogger Sam Horn, POP of Mind said...

Thanks for taking the time to get back in touch with your post.

It makes my day to know people are reading my blog and finding these tips interesting and useful.

Write on!

 
At 7:10 PM , Blogger Yellowfruit said...

This is a very good post! It was very helpful to me. Keep posting.

 

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