Every Friday I and a few others meet with our pastor to help him brainstorm ideas and applications for his Sunday sermons. He shares the verses that will anchor the sermon; we offer ideas about our interpretation of the passage and brainstorm ways he might make these verses relevant to congregants.
This pastor is so smart and funny, so humble and funny. And funny! Plus he was an English major. I have a wee pastor crush. But each week he feels blocked and stuck and ill-equipped to put so many ideas into a twenty-four-minute sermon. He asked me a few months back about writer’s block.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t believe in it. I think it’s just an excuse people use when writing gets hard.”
Later, thinking about my quick dismissal, I realized I was full of hooey. Writer’s block terrifies me, and I don’t want to admit that I have experienced it. But because scary things often lose their power when we discuss and deconstruct them, I’d like to chat about what writer’s block is and from whence it often comes.
Psychologists use the term “fixation” to describe what happens during writer’s block. Essentially we become stuck in a development phase. We cycle, and we cannot break free from the mindset or thought pattern. That sounds about right. When I am blocked, I feel dull and unfunny. I cannot unstick myself. I cannot create. Unfortunately, the ability to create might be the most fundamental element of writing fiction.
So let’s talk about what happens in the creative process. In the 1950s, creativity researcher J.P. Guilford coined the terms “divergent thinking” and “convergent thinking” as the two main elements in the creative process. First there’s the brainstorming (the divergent thinking phase) where the “there are no bad ideas” ideas are dumped onto the playing field. Next comes the convergent thinking phase during which we consider all the brainstormed ideas, gather ideas that feel sticky and meaty, and see how we might arrange and organize those best ideas into something that can build a story. [Read more…]