How to Know When to Jam
I’ll go out on a limb here. If you’re reading this, you write a lot, code a lot, or do both a lot. Going a bit further, you probably get stuck from time to time. Here’s when I know it’s time to jam.
At this point in my life, writing articles or papers for school feels about the same as writing code for clients or students. I can handle it for a few hours at a time before I need a break. Sometimes all it takes is to get up and walk around for a few minutes, but I have found that music really does spur my creativity.
When I am stuck on what to write next or how to do the next step in some code, I will sit down with my piano or play guitar for 20–30 minutes. More often than not, I can zone out of the other work enough for the solution to just come to me. I cannot count the number of times I have been unsure about how to get ggplot2 to just make the stupid graph in R or how to get a few more pages written for a paper in my PhD only to jam for a bit to have the solution flash into my mind.
For those of you who do not play, turn on different music than you would normally listen to. If you list contemporary bubble pop, try some old funk or 70s disco or some 80s hair metal for a bit. The point here is to go out of your way to get a new stimulus.
It is so easy to get stuck in a rut of doing the same things over and over again habitually, but music has this ability to get a new mode of thinking into your mind.
Personally, I like switching between extremes when I am stuck. Normally I like to write and code in quiet, but it is a fairly regular occurrence to have music range from Iron Maiden to Dua Lipa to Paco de Lucia to Bloodbath in less than an hour when I’m trying to think through a roadblock in a project.
When the brain fog really hits, I have found that a small break couple with some other kind of creative work can help get over the hump. What are some of your favorite tricks to beat writer’s block?