5 Ways to Fight the Blank Canvas

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Many spend hours preparing their presentation, their set list of music or the communication video reel each week only to succumb to the terrible, habitual blank canvass panic. This “blank canvas panic” (or BCP) experience raises your blood pressure and catalyzes the acidic wash inside your stomach. This is the empty page, the blank screen, the note-less and rhythmless song. Likely, you will recover. But, deadlines head toward you like a freight train on a mission.

I have put below strategies to help us creatives through the BCP. Better than breathing into a paper bag or bingeing on ice cream are some methods to calm the madness of your creative storm. Some anxiety should be celebrated and leveraged, but the tsunami production output is calling your name.

• Time Management Versus Distraction Management. All of us should engage in learning basic time management skills. However, distraction management may not be time-based. Essentially, this is discovering what to eliminate from your desk. My computer has a full-screen mode option when I write. I love Facebook, Twitter and important emails. However, elimination of distraction is like a form of strategic procrastination—you simply delay items, tasks and so forth that may be important, but not at the moment. Of course, you find a place to put them. Reaching your deadline is the issue. A huge canvas to create something inspiring is in front of you. Being lost in the act of creating is in and of itself a discipline. So, get yourself there by managing the distractions.

• Creative Input to Creative Output Ratio. How dry is your well? Author Gordon MacKenzie in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball compares a creative’s work to cows chewing the cud, with a slight against managers who threaten to butcher the cows if they don’t get back in the barn and produce milk. Obviously, cows make milk via the chewing of cud. How does this work? Your cud to chew might be visiting a museum, having coffee with a mentor, listening to music with headphones in the dark, taking a hike or being in solitude for a day. You need elasticity as a creative to perform at your best, not constant output. One exception is this: Creating for yourself may actually give you more energy to create for others. If your job is laying out graphics on the web, try hand-drawing a landscape. You get the picture, right?

• Solo Sport Versus Team Sport. Some of us shudder at letting others take our ideas. We are full of more ideas than we can or should accomplish. The idea of delegating tasks, sharing creative space and being open to editors takes courage and maturity. Beyond the actual work aspect of creativity, there is the community that often we forfeit for the results we desire. Do you make friends with people who support your work, or do you enjoy friends who get you and love you regardless? We need partners who are there to cheer us on just as much as critics who edit and challenge us to grow. Better to create in community, as God did as the Trinity, than to be one dimensional.

• Do the Hard Work of Imagination. Yes, imagination is the work of the creative. You must unleash your schizotypal side (as opposed to schizophrenic). Research over the years proves that creativity is a bilateral brain function and the eccentricity of highly creative people offers them the ability to imagine something as real that is not—while remaining sane, as opposed to being schizophrenic! To dream as a creative is like the mad man who can create delusional events or people, but the difference is that creative (or schizotypal) is filtering the thoughts with intelligence and purpose. That Eureka moment, that light bulb turned on, that angel in the midst of the stone is the work of being a creative. Embracing this rather than the way “normal” people think is a gift! If you want to reduce the panic on the blank canvas, see the full painting before you fill it in. Only non-creatives paint by number, after all.

• Mapping the Journey. Creating a lot of content requires a system. Once you know where you are headed, you need to find the best road–tools, people and process. The end of the road is where you want to be, but getting here is half the fun! When you create the process for your creative output, your values and vision should permeate the journey. Building your dream is marking the road. The blank canvas is not as scary when you have decided the way you will paint it. Your oil-based or acrylic based paint matters. The brushes you prefer matters. The time of day with the light temperature in the room matters. These decisions are the type that when executed give you the final go ahead to actually put paint on the canvas!

Fight BCP! Every conflict needs a battle plan. That evil blank canvas panic attack will envelop you if you do not have strategies to combat it. The joy of creation is easily lost when it is your profession. So, my hope is that you learn these and even better ways to tackle creation! I would love for you to engage in discussion these strategies or your own in the comments.