If You’re Stuck Try Automatic Writing

Writers and artists are not the only people who sometimes find themselves stuck, unable to unleash the creative impulse.  Most of us have to write something important during our work careers, we have to create a big presentation, write an evaluation of an employee (or a colleague or boss), or make a brilliant and original marketing plan for our biggest client.  There are times when we have to do something creative in our personal lives as well.

Somehow, it’s at these most critical moments that we are most often stuck, and unable to either write or create the thing that is so important to us.

Many writers and some artists employ strategies or tricks to either break through or simply go around whatever is causing a writer’s block.  One of the best I have found is automatic writing or drawing, a technique developed initially in the Dadaist movement in the early twentieth century.  For Dadaists, automatic writing or "automatism," is a powerful way to break out of the conventions of bourgeois art that impede a direct connection to the irrational creativity within us.  

This form of creation has since been adapted and integrated into art and writing practice by many other artists, including Andre Breton, one of the leaders of the French Surrealist movement of the 1930’s.  His book The Automatic Message (1933) is an important theoretical work about automatism and automatic writing in particular.  Artist and writer Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way  and many other books about art, writing and creativity also employs automatic writing techniques in her work.

For many writers and artists, automatic writing is a way to unleash the unconscious mind, and to unblock the editorial thinking of the conscious mind that places barriers between the wellspring of creativity its manifestation in art and writing.

In principle, all of us can tap into our inner selves to the place where inspiration and pure creativity lives within us.  Using the tools of automatic writing is a great way to break through whatever your mind or psyche is doing to prevent you from the creative work you want or need to accomplish.

The simplest exercise to try, whether for writing or drawing, is to put your pen down on the paper, and start writing or drawing whatever comes to mind, and following your "stream of consciousness" go wherever the words or lines on the page take you.  Do not allow your rational editorial voice to stand in your way.  

Accept that anything you create this way has or will have value to you, regardless of the "quality" of the work.  You’re not creating a product!  Just let the words or art flow from within.  Write or draw for no less than 15 minutes.  If you do get stuck at any point, just write the same word over and over until a new word appears.  Enjoy the moment, savor the words you hear passing through your mind, or the way the lines you draw flow across the page.  Allow yourself to get lost in the moment and be as close to your creative voice as you can possibly be.

When you’re done writing or drawing, just stop.  Don’t read or look at your output for at least 30 minutes.  Then come back to what you created and see what you did.  If you’re lucky, you won’t recognize the voice of the writer or the hand of the artist you were while you were creating, and you will be amazed at what your inner self has created.  

Doing automatic writing or drawing (or painting) at least once a week is a great way to keep your creative self active and in practice.  Many people work out their bodies one or more times a week as a way to keep their muscles in shape.  Your creative self is no less in need of being exercised and in shape.  And if you regularly exercise your creativity for the pure joy it brings you, then when you need to do creative work, you’ll be ready, and your creative self a lot more willing and able.

Posted by David Wilk on 05/27 at 03:34 PM
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