Recently, we read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit which included a section on an exercise she refers to as “scratching.” Essentially, this is the time when your creativity has stopped and despite your dedication to practice, you are stuck. Writers call this “writer’s block.”
I decided to analyze the way I perform my version of a Scratching Exercise based on my preparation for a final project I have due in a little over a month. This is what I determined, ultimately, I have the heart and mind of an English major.
The strategy I generally take when trying to generate some form of creativity is less full of action and more of methodical thinking. This is something that I have been doing for a very long time, although I never had a name to put to it. Basically, these are the steps. First, understand the problem. What am I trying to figure out? What is the real question? This could involve reading the assignment and studying the key elements or it could be considering a challenge I have in work. Second, I let the idea bounce around in my head for a while. This could be hours or it could be days depending on the amount of time I have to get to the answer. Third, I sit down somewhere and I think of all the possible components of the answer and I write them down in a list. Often, only a few of the items on the list actually go into the final answer but it is important to examine all aspects in order to get an idea of what the issue and possible solutions are. Fourth, I research. Research is a loose term. It could be sitting, staring at the wall and allowing my thoughts to travel down one string of ideas to a conclusion, then traveling down another and another until I come to the realization of what I must do. Or, research could mean going to a book and reading something that seems related. I could do this on the internet as well by searching for information on one of those items on the list I wrote down. Eventually, I gather a lot of information during the research stage. Fifth, I look over the research I have gathered and I try to arrange it in a logical manner. This could be chronological, cause and effect, or some other way based on the issue. Sixth, I write. I don’t consider what I am writing too deeply beyond the fact that it takes in all that I have generated up to this moment. At the very end, I will review and edit out what no longer fits or add in what I now realize I am missing. Basically, the scratching exercise is methodical, like Tharp suggests about being creative. But even so, this is just the beginning of the creative process or something that I do to generate more ideas. Now, with this information, I have my blank canvas to express my art. In the picture below, you can see the aftermath of a scratching exercise. Notes throughout, books, computer, iPad, too many pens, and some zen. I must have pens and I must have zen.