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Reblogged:A Time Block -- Or Block-Time?

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Statistician John Cook writes in part about the happy situation of setting aside a block of time to do deep work on a topic one is unfamiliar with:

I'll eventually block off some time to dive into whatever it is, to get to the bottom of things. Then in a fraction of the time I've allocated, I do get to the bottom and find out that I wasn't that far away. It feels like swimming in a water that's just over your head. Your feet don't touch bottom, and you don't try to touch bottom because you don't know how far away bottom is, but it was only inches away. [link omitted, bold added]
I've had that happen before, too, and not just when trying to understand something more deeply. It sometimes also happens with writing and it's great when it does.

Unfortunately, that isn't something that reliably occurs. And becoming a good writer requires finding ways to overcome the opposite situation: You set aside some time and discover that you're stuck. One possible cause is that, as with study, you sometimes do learn that you have more work to do than you thought. That's a relatively straightforward problem to solve: Spend some more time on research. (Sometimes, this can mean setting aside a topic indefinitely, if one discovers enough of a knowledge deficit.)

But there are many other possible causes for block, not being clear about what one wants to say being a frequent one. I've been running into that quite a bit lately, and have been thinking about how to not lose quite so much of the time I set aside for writing.

Two pieces of advice I ran into recently strike me as valuable. One involves conscious effort and the other involves leveraging the subconsious. Both I found at Jean Moroney's Thinking Directions site.

Here is the first, which is meant to guide some thinking on the subject, and comes from Ayn Rand's Art of Nonfiction:
Image by Aaron Burden, via Unsplash, license.
When you feel overburdened by the problems [of writer's block] I have discussed, one of the best solutions is to ask yourself what you want... Remind yourself what you sought in writing, and what great pleasure there is in having your say about life, reality, or whatever subject you choose. (85) [format edits]
As you can see if you follow the link, this advice will not necessarily solve the problem on its own, but I plan to try it the next time I am blocked.

But what if this doesn't quite get me over the hump, to where I am writing? I plan to leverage my subconscious, to try what Moroney calls "incubating:"
Often fresh, new ideas occur to you after a period away from your work. That's why many authorities on creativity recommend taking breaks to let this process happen. But just taking a break isn't enough. How often have you come back, after a break, and been in exactly the same stuck situation as you were before?
And, later on:
[N]ew ideas don't come by magic. They come when you prepare for them, by describing to yourself (in whatever terms make sense) what new ideas you wish you had. When you do this, you set up a "standing order" to your subconscious. Then, as you go through your day, something you run into by chance can trigger a new connection that is just what you needed.
I plan to implement this by giving myself a set amount of time to try writing, after which I will think about what I wish I could figure out. And then, I'll move on to some other task in my hopper for the time being.

This second technique isn't too far from how I did the work for my math major back in college. I woke up from naps with sketches for proofs all the time. The difference between that and writing is that in math, the problem statement did half the work. So when I try incubating, I will "state a theorem" first.

As I see it, the worst case scenario with this strategy, from a time management perspective, is that I get part of a block of time back and end up with better morale by making progress on something in the meantime.

-- CAV

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