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The Creative Block: Finding the Light Switch
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

Creative 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.

Richard Feynman's Father
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 short absence.

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 permanently dammed.

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...

Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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