By Trent Rentsch
This seems like a good time to revisit The Wall, especially since I seem to have hit it. You know the one… you’re cruising along fine, knocking over every Creative project that comes your way, when suddenly, WHAM! In front of you is The Wall. Too wide to work around, too tall to work over, too thick to work through. You are stranded, frozen in front of an imaginary barrier that has sapped you of all of your Creative juice. To say it’s frustrating is one of the great understatements. It can leave you feeling stupid, humiliated, and utterly useless. The Wall always appears at the worst possible times; when you least expect it, and/or when you’re faced with a deadline that’s written in stone.
Okay, it might not be The Wall for you, but whatever you call it, it bites. The good news is that it’s not impossible to knock it down and get back on your Creative track. After all, even though the physical stress and anguish it can cause is very real, it’s really just imaginary… and all in your head. You just need to come up with the right imaginary Wrecking Ball to demolish it. Even better news, there are many tools available for the job… for all of your imaginary wall destroying needs (sorry, as I mentioned, I’m dealing with my own Wall at the moment).
So, you’re facing The Wall, which tool to use? The first one I usually try is Going Back to Square One. Think about how it all began for you, this whole Creative process that you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in over the years. Did it start with a story you wrote as a child, perhaps with crayons? Then get a box and start writing with whatever color strikes you (I find black is always my first choice when facing The Wall, as my mood improves I may switch to blue or red). Maybe you “produced” your first audio with an old cassette machine, making up the sound effects with what was at hand… like, oh, your hands and/or mouth. Dig that old machine out of the closet and rediscover the fun of serious low-fi audio work. Maybe you were a rock star; playing lead on your Dad’s tennis racket and singing into a broom handle microphone. Whatever started the Creative process for you, re-visit it. Will you look silly? Stupid? Out of your mind? Hey, if you’ve hit the wall, you already FEEL all of these things…
Okay, maybe that’s too crazy even for a wildly Creative person such as yourself. I can live with that. Don’t go back to Square One… just go back a few Squares. I decided to go back to a time when I would write this entire column freehand on a yellow legal pad. I didn’t have a computer at the time (few people did), so I’d write it out, then slowly peck it out on the station’s Macintosh… usually in the late evenings when the news staff was finished with it. Even when I got my first PC I would find myself with the legal pad first. Eventually, my typing improved to the point that I could almost get my thoughts down as fast as writing them, but now I still go back to the legal pad when The Wall rises in front of me. I’m sure someone smarter than I am has some scientific explanation as to why Going Back to Square One works, I just think it wakes up whatever it was inside of you that came to life in the first place during your first finger painting session, sing-a-long with the radio, or bad President Nixon impersonation. And when it wakes up again, you remember why you are doing what you’re doing and The Wall tumbles.
Here’s another imaginary brick buster. Run away. I’m serious… run, run like hell! Go down the block and get some ice cream, jump in the car and take a drive to your favorite bookstore, or what the heck, just run around the block. No time? Okay, go to the break room, go talk to whoever happens to be hanging around the front desk, or even retreat to the bathroom and hide in the stall for five minutes. It might seem like you’re running away from the problem, but it’s quite the opposite. When you come back, it will be a different you approaching The Wall, and that fresh perspective can be just enough to knock it over.
The last tool is probably the most vital, because it is more of a vaccine than a cure. Don’t let “The Wall” become such a big issue. When it rises in front of you, don’t freak out… relax. Close your eyes, take a breath or two, say to yourself, “This isn’t real,” and push on. The first time is next to impossible, but you will make it through. The next time is easier, and it gets to the point where The Wall is only… the wall. And soon, it’s just a minor distraction, something you can laugh at and work right on through. The problem with the wall, or writer’s block or whatever you want to call it, is that we have built it up in our minds, brick by imaginary brick over the years to the point that it IS a big deal when it happens. But, it only is if we let be… we built it, we can blow it away, with just a thought.
The mind loves to play tricks, but it’s especially good at messing with Creative-types and their over-driven imaginations. Remember, your imagination is a good thing, don’t let it become your enemy. I might have been facing The Wall, obsessing over what I would write about this month. But one look at my yellow legal pad, and the wall came tumbling down!