Probably every writer in the history of mankind has experienced writer’s block: that persistent inability to produce meaningful text on command. It is a state of great dissatisfaction since it feels as though you’d lost your creativity and, to me, is not restricted to writers. Darren Rowse , the “ProBlogger”, speaks about “blogger’s block” and similarly, I’d like to coin the phrase “colorist’s block”. Doesn’t matter what you want to call it, they are just slightly different versions of the same phenomenon. You sit down and want to create something and you are just not feeling it.
Over the course of my university and work career in at least three different industries (software dev, engineering and finally, film), my bosses and professors kept telling me that this sort of creative block is a sign of a lack of professionalism. While that may sound really crass and insensitive when talking to a person who is right in the middle of a block, I have come to believe there is actually truth to this. It doesn’t matter if you write, manage, film or write code for a living.
We have to be able to keep doing it, even when we’re not kissed by the muses.
This is rarely fun and can be deeply dissatisfying, but we have to push through.
When I’m sitting in front of DaVinci Resolve and just can’t find the right approach to a grade, I’ve adapted a few techniques that are the basis of every “How to get out of writer’s block” article ever.
First and foremost, I’m a firm believer in Kill your darlings! in any situation and application. Kill your darlings! is somewhat like a far-eastern Zen method of accepting loss without grief. Wow, that’s deep. But it is actually true. Rather than improving upon a grade that just isn’t working, I will throw the whole thing out at some point and start fresh. A smart person once said, “You won’t invent the light bulb by improving upon the candle.” – same principle. Instead of fiddling with something that isn’t working and trying to make it work for hours, it comes to a lot easier to just start from scratch. Maybe have a cuppa in between or a smoke if you indulge in nicotine. Then try again.
Another great way of working through a block is doodling. This applies more to an earlier stage in grading, where I’m experimenting with looks. We are in the great situation that there is a giant palette of looks made popular by iconic movies that are always worth a try. Instead of straight up emulating a certain film stock or process, though, it can be just as worthwhile mixing-and-matching certain aspects of different looks. Even just playing with the controls in the grading suite to see what happens when you bump a certain value up to 100% can be a way of arriving at a solution. Naturally, the more random the process becomes, the less likely it is you will actually create something great. Instead of blanking completely, hoping for a lucky accident is still better than nothing, though. Also, doodling in this way is a bit like “free writing” or “stream of consciousness writing” where you basically write whatever comes into your head aimlessly just for the purpose to transcend the block.
Finally, here’s my default mode of operation when I’m lost for ideas: education. I will literally read anything and everything on a certain topic. It could be classic film looks, art schools or religious iconographic imagery. Another great resource to jump from one thing to another and lose yourself in material is Wikipedia or TVTropes. If you don’t know TV Tropes, you have been missing out. It is a site that has very wittingly written and unbelievably snarky articles on tropes – or conventions – found in TV and film storytelling with endless lists of examples. This helps me by e.g. looking up a character archetype that I’m lacking inspiration for and checking prominent examples of such characters in existing work.
So here’s my three methods I use to get past colorist’s block and actually work when I don’t feel inspired. I try to disregard the people that make us creatives feel bad for getting blocked. It doesn’t matter if blocks are just excuses or bad mood or a lack of inspiration: blocks exist in creative processes and thus we need methods to surpass them instead of dismissing them as weakness. What do you think, how do you try to get past lack of creativity? Comment, drop me a line or engage on Twitter.
Also published on Medium.