Creative Friction

(This is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I’ve been watching myself and some friends get blocked on various creative projects, or find them hard going. This occurred at the same time I was working with some Agile teams. So Agile and Creative efforts? Yeah, you know I got thinking about why we were having creative trouble.

As often mentioned, I actually don’t believe in writer’s block as we normally think of it – it’s at best a descriptive term, at worst a way of thinking that makes the actual situation work. I’m always looking for new ways to look at Creative blockages that don’t invoke writer’s block.

Looking at things that were messing with my friends, I began comparing them to problems in software creation and productivity. I realized that many so-called “blockages” were cases of various things interfering with creative work – it wasn’t a “stop” so much as slowing down – it was a form of friction. Things were not exactly stopped, but slowed as the creative efforts were “grinding” against something else.

Friction: A Way TO Look At Creative Problems

So here’s a new way to think of your “creative blocks” – your creative efforts are experiencing friction. Something else in your head and in your life is disrupting the creative effort, grinding up against it, slowing it’s flow. I’m calling this “friction” as it doesn’t hint at blockages (and thus reviving the idea of Creative Blockage which as noted I dislike).

So don’t think of any impairment of creative effort as “here’s a wall.” Think of it as other things going on (probably) in your head, that keep grinding against your creative effort or banging into it disrupting it. The problem is not the creativity or some magic block – it’s a bunch of other things screwing it up.

Ever feel like your creativity should “flow” and doesn’t? You get the idea.

Resolving Friction

Using this metaphor of friction, I began thinking about ways to reduce creative friction. Let’s try out this metaphor – how can you overcome friction (or at least do better when facing it).

Forcing Through: Just keep writing/drawing no matter what – and no matter how painful it may be. The idea is to keep pushing through until the creative act wears away anything slowing it down. I personally find this can work, but sometimes it’s psychologically difficult.

Lubrication: Find something that “lubricates” the creative experience. Maybe music, a noise machine, music, etc. help you be more creative. Maybe you do things in a different way (writing on a notebook instead of on a computer). Find something that acts as “lubrication.”

Clearing Out: Try to find something that “blasts away” the elements causing friction. A good walk, a separate creative effort, etc. Might help clear out the elements causing friction.

Sanding: A combination of “Forcing Through” and “Clearing Out,” this is where you deliberately – and often slowly – work to “sand down” the elements in your mind and life causing friction. This could be addressing life stress issues, gradually upping your writing time, etc.

I’m sure you can use other metaphors to get other ideas.

Moving Forward

So with this new metaphor, I hope it helps you – and me – out a bit more in our creative efforts. Besides, it’s a way to get over the idea of some kind insurmountable writing block. For myself, I can see how a lot of my work is best served by Forcing Through and Sanding. What can I say, I’m not a subtle person.

So let me know what other insights you have . . .

Steven Savage