Everyone who tries to do something creative knows the frustrating feelings of being blocked – or not having enough time to make progress – or working so sporadically that you can’t maintain your focus.
One solution is Creativity Boot Camp. You tackle your project in an intense, concentrated way, and push yourself far harder than usual.
I saw this when I wrote a novel in a month. That’s right, a novel in a month. A passing acquaintance told me about Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem! in which he lays out a program for writing 1,167 words a day, to produce a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, while keeping your day job. (50,000 words is about the length of The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye.) I immediately went to the bookstore, bought the book, and started three weeks later. It was a fantastic experience.
I saw the same recommendation in one of my new favorite books, Scott McCloud’s brilliant Making Comics. He recommends “The 24-Hour Comic”: “Draw an entire 24 page comic book in a single 24-hour period. No script. No preparation. Once the clock starts ticking, it doesn’t stop until you’re done. Great shock therapy for the creatively blocked. Over 1,000 artists have given it a try so far.”
A friend of mine just started a blog and was having trouble meeting her goal of posting two or three times a week. My advice to her was, “Post every day.” Although she thought this was crazy, she recently told me that writing every day helped a lot.
I think the Boot Camp approach helps the creative process for several reasons.
Because you’re racing, you don’t have time to listen to your internal editor criticize every move. You just put something on the page and keep moving, instead of sitting, paralyzed.
Progress itself is reassuring and inspiring. Panic tends to set in when you find yourself getting nothing done, day after day.
Because you’re so focused on your project, you begin to make deeper connections and to see more possibilities, instead of being constantly distracted by outside concerns.
Because of the intensity, you can hop in and out of the project, without having to take time to acclimate yourself. I have a writer friend who’s married to a painter, and she says their test for working well is when they can sit down and work if they have a spare ten minutes.
You lower your standards. If you’re producing a page a week, or one blog post a week, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be pretty darned good, and you fret and fuss about quality. Often, however, folks get their best work from grinding out the product.
Practice, practice, practice. My novel was terrible, but I think the sheer doing of it helped my writing, just the way practicing scales helps a pianist. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
Because you have a voracious need for material, you become hyper-aware of everything happening around you — and ideas begin to flood your mind.
You can use this approach even if you’re working on a creative project on the side, with all the pressing obligations of a job, family, etc. Instead of feeling perpetually frustrated that you don’t have any time for your project, you MAKE yourself make time — for a specific period.
It’s fun! I don’t have the urge to climb mountains or run marathons, but I got the same thrill of exertion from writing a novel in a month.
Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill is in paperback now, and if that doesn’t seem substantial enough for a gift, consider pairing it with Churchill’s fantastic, funny, beautifully written and (rare for Churchill, one volume) memoir, My Early Life.
Both books are perfect either for Churchill aficionados or for people who know nothing about WSC. And if you don’t know anything about Churchill, run out and read SOMETHING, because he had an unimaginably interesting, exciting life.