How can you solve problems, not wallow in them?

I've been going through what the book, The Expert Expatriate, calls a transition slump. Apparently it's very normal. But it kinda sucks. It involves a lot of frustration over how complicated daily life can be in an unfamiliar place mixed with acute homesickness and newfound identity issues that accompany the role of being a trailing spouse.

Anyway, despite (and because of) my personal tempest I keep asking myself the title of this post. How can I solve problems, not wallow in them?

And I've decided to share because it occurred to me how much this same question pertains to creative endeavors.

Have you ever gotten stuck with a project you are working on? It could be a novel, it could be a painting, it could be a quilt you were making for your grandson. Have you ever gotten to that place where you are just tempted to throw your hands up in disgust and stomp away to eat popcorn and watch bad t.v.? (Maybe you even did watch a little t.v. and eat some popcorn.) Anyway, my point is: if you are an artist of any variety you know the place I'm talking about.

We all face barriers and road blocks in our work at times. Barriers and roadblocks are par for the course with art. At least I've found that to be the case. If you haven't -- I don't believe you.

It's my job, any artist's job, to figure out ways around and over and through those barriers. It's my job to be a problem solver, a brain-stormer, a solver of puzzles and a maker of solutions.

Are you the sort of artist that abandons ship in the midst of a tempest?
If you've been an artist for any length of time, I'd be willing to guess that the answer is no. You'd never make anything if that were the case.

So I thought I'd tackle the question of my title, at least in regards to my art.
What do I do to solve problems, rather than wallow in them?
  1. Forgive myself some tears and hair-pulling. A little wallowing is to be expected.
  2. A few distractions (like mindless crafty projects, sudoku puzzles, or even television) are okay to a limited degree -- they can help me get over myself and regain my focus. Plus a few healthy distractions can gift you with a bit of perspective.
  3. Don't abandon ship. Making a commitment to a piece that is close to my heart is important to me. I do think lots of artists bail and work on something new when they reach a stuck place with a work-in-progress -- this works for some people I suppose. But for me, I find that whatever the new piece, it too will have it's own problems. If ever I'm going to finish something, I've got to make a real commitment, less I wander from project to project to project always ignoring the very problems I should just be facing.
  4. Don't spend too long on #1 and #2. The time will come that you have to and should just face your problems. Set a time goal for when you will just ditch #1 and #2 and deal.
  5. FACE THE PROBLEMS IN YOUR WORK. You can't ignore them forever if you are ever going to finish a piece. Look them square in the face and try to identify them. List them. Ask others, your critique group perhaps, to help you find them.
  6. Brainstorm solutions. I brainstorm a lot. I also try to get others to help -- maybe my critique group or a trusted writer or artist friend. I remind myself to keep brainstorming even after one or two helpful ideas come, it's helpful to flood my mind with possible solutions that will empower me to take action.
  7. Try things. Lots of things. Take some action. Just trying things will probably lead to more brainstormed solutions and more things to try. At one point with a manuscript revision (that's currently next in line to make a dummy for), I wrote 3 VERY different re-worked versions of the same old story to see which was a better aim towards fixing the story's problems. Incidentally, that was how I reached a break-though.
  8. Understand that solving puzzles takes time. Sometimes the pace is glacial, in fact. Even when I feel like I'm moving with the speed of a glacier, I have to remind myself that glaciers are amazing powerful things that carve out breathtaking mountains and views.
  9. Embrace the challenge. I wouldn't be an artist if I didn't like to solve puzzles. I like to remind myself: you so can do this, it's just like an especially juicy and complicated sudoku puzzle. It wouldn't be as fun if it were easy.
Thanks for bearing with me through this post. It feels a bit like an indulgent pep talk I needed to give myself. Hopefully you can take something away from it too.

Now, what about you? How do you go about solving problems, not wallowing in them?