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

Writing Thoughts: Focus, Not Limitation

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

Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done.  My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ.  Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.

However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.

We don’t want to limit ourselves.  We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen.  We want to do it all.  Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.

We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways.  Triage. Limitation.  Pairing ideas down.   Killing your darlings.  We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.

Thats the problem.  So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms.  Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.

Think of it as:

  • Focusing on the best choices you create.  You decide on what brings the most benefit and do it.
  • Curating the most important works you can do.  You’re like a librarian or a DJ creating a best-of for people, chosing what they truly need from your infinite repertoire of possibilities.
  • Cultivating a garden of possibilities.  You choose what to “grow” in your works and nurture it to life.
  • Being a steward of ideas.  Perhaps that means not just developing them, but also knowing when to pass ideas on to others.

So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational.  Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively.  In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.

You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.

– Steve