As creative people, we seek out perfection—a story we want to tell, a sculpture we want to fashion, a photograph we want to take. Tennessee Williams called it inconsolability. That’s a word I like.
We are restless, itchy, even a bit frustrated at times. It’s the stone in a shoe. The grain of sand that makes a pearl. This is often how a good story, film, or piece of music is formed.
- Jim. Why didn’t she love me back? Why is the world so dark without her? Why do I suffer? So Jim, a musician, sits down and tries to write a love song. He tries to make sense of his pain. But he’s blocked: he can’t do it.
In our search for this ideal state of art—let’s be brave and big and call it art—we often get side-tracked. Down blind alleys that seem to take us away from the thing we were looking for. Yet we go down these alleys. Maybe we think it’s a short cut, or the graffiti is fascinating or in the distance we hear a faint throb of music. We follow.
2. Jim can’t write. In despair, he packs his bags and goes to Spain. It seems like a good idea. Here he meets lots of interesting friends. One—let’s call him Stieg—invites him to help out in a refugee camp in Africa. Jim is drawn into this world. Seeing real suffering makes him forget about the girl who didn’t love him back.
So now you are seemingly further away from the thing you want—the song, the poem, the story. You feel like you’re running away and maybe you are. Running away is never a bad idea—even if you play truant from work or escape into a good book. This alley is interesting, it draws you in. You want to know what’s on the other side.
3. Jim is on a connecting flight to London—he promised Stieg he’d meet him at a music concert. On the plane, he meets a girl. They get talking. She’s also going to the concert—there’s a connection. There’s a first date, first kiss, a night at his hotel. It’s a summer fling. It’s the best summer ever.
Sometimes the alley leads to a cul-de-sac. There’s nothing there. Other times it opens into an open field, a place of extraordinary light—an unexpected and magical door that takes you into a new world.
4. Jim. Back in his home city, Jim sits, drinking a beer in his favourite café and the lyrics for the song come. He remembers the pain of the break-up but he can even smile at the absurdity of the relationship.
Now, if he didn’t write the song that would also be fine. Maybe Jim stayed in Africa and founded a mission—his distraction led him to the thing he was supposed to be doing in the first place. Maybe he created a way for music to heal people and bring them together. It doesn’t matter. He went down the alley—he went looking for something.
Distraction is not the end of the world.
Taking a break from your creative project can lead to places of inspiration, insight and deeper experience. They may even help you find the truth—truth isn’t as clean as perfection, but everyone recognises its smell. It will be real.
- How to find workable story ideas
- The Locked Room – A simple way to test your plot
- Stamp out that cliché – How clichés and jargon can ruin your writing
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