“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.”
We word wizards call it writer’s block, but creative clogs can happen to anyone in the idea industry.
It’s scary when creativity’s river suddenly dries up and panic sets in, making the problem worse. Soon, we become paralyzed, unable to produce anything and we fear we may never be able to create again.
Calm down. Make a cup of green tea. It’s going to be okay.
A long time ago I made the conscious decision that as a writer, I would never run out of things to write about. I realized that I was in control of my own creativity at all times. There was no fickle muse messing with my head and doling out tidbits of inspiration according to her unpredictable whims. Nope. I’m my own muse and I make the decisions around here.
Over the many years that I’ve been writing, I’ve come up with several simple strategies to keep my imagination in motion. Inspiration is a universal energy available to everyone all the time and I’d like to share my tips on tapping into the creative flow.
Creativity is Infinite—creativity and love are a similar kind of energy. The more we love and the more we create the more we have to give. Love and creativity are infinite resources that cannot be used up.
Everyone is a creative person.
I used to teach art classes and my students, feeling intimidated, would often tell me they just weren’t creative. No way. Everyone is creative. The essence of human nature is that we are compelled to create. We just do it in different ways.
Creative people are conduits for the universe’s ideas.
First listen to this interview on Radiolab with Elizabeth Gilbert discussing inspiration. It changed my life. Imagine that there are zillions of ideas orbiting the earth like tiny glowing stars, waiting for us to bring them down and make them real. We are “portals.” Talk to the ideas. Ask them to come through you. Science-fiction master Ray Bradbury says in Zen and the Art of Writing “That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.”
I have this wacky thing I do in yoga where I visualize the crown of my head cracking open and rays of light pouring in from above. In every reverse swan dive and backbend where I stand with my arms open, I imagine creative prosperity raining down on me like glitter from the universe and my arms filling up with it. By the end of class, I am overflowing with new ideas.
Do not limit yourself.
One of the keys to my (so far) modest success as a writer is that I allow myself to write whatever I want. Anyone who has read my blog knows that there is no theme whatsoever. I write exactly what I feel like, when I feel like it. Sometimes I’m funny. Other times I’m serious. If I want to write about parenting, I do. Other times I feel like writing about my childhood, friendships or fears and sometimes I feel completely silly and write straight up comedy and biting satire. One day I might decide to write for kids or write science fiction or fantasy. Who knows?
Whatever happens, I’m open to it.
Lately, I’ve felt drawn to food writing and I basically cooked my way through February, so I went with it. Shoot, maybe one day I’ll write a cookbook even though I never really thought of myself as a cookbook author. Why not?
Create in a different medium.
I’ve been painting pottery for far longer than I’ve been writing and now, although writing is my primary art, whenever I get a little bored or stuck, I paint pottery. Lots of artists create in different genres. Singers paint, actors write or make music, dancers act, writers cook. I know some writers who are avid knitters!
Sit by the water.
Breathe in those negative ions and let the fresh air and sun invigorate and refresh the spirit. Works for me every time.
Stick to a routine.
Creativity requires discipline. It’s not flighty. I do my best work when I stick to a schedule and think about it, if we show up at the same place and same time the ideas will know exactly where to find us.
Spend time with inspiring people.
Meaningful human interaction with nurturing people is my single greatest source of inspiration. Seek out deep conversations and purposeful experiences. Make the time with others count; talk, listen to their stories, share your own, ask a lot of questions, laugh, cry, confess, hug.
Enjoy the creations of others.
Read a great book, see a fantastic movie, listen to beautiful music, attend a performance even if it’s something as simple as a school play.
Allow for mistakes and imperfection.
Probably the number one cause of creative block is the fear of failure, but the creative process is all about screwing up, revising, rethinking.
Creation is a pattern of stumble, fall, get back up and keep going. There’s no timeline. There is no maximum number of revisions allowed. Make as many as needed. Think of it like this. Does it really matter if you make an ugly painting once in a while or if your poem kind of sucks? In the grand scheme of things, does every single little thing we do have to be magnificent?
No way. I’ve written a bunch of crappy stories and painted some pretty hideous pots. The world didn’t end. I just kept on practicing. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. Not a big deal.
Go do something.
Inspiration comes from experiences. Seek them out. Learn, visit, attend, look for, travel, accept, say yes to the usual nos, wait and see what happens.
Change the scenery.
When I was trying to crank out my master’s thesis (a book of poems) I found myself in a rut, so I immediately made travel plans. I needed a different view and since alas, I am not a glamorous movie star, my budget didn’t allow for me to jaunt off to Paris or Tahiti as I might have liked. I went to Delaware instead, but the rural quiet of the country landscape, the fields, old homes, big trees, muddy bays and still lakes were exactly what I needed to find my last several poems.
We create because it is our nature. It is how we honor the Universe and show our love for the world. Let the ideas in and make something amazing.
I’d love to hear some more ideas. How do you overcome creative struggles? What tricks have worked when you were in a rut? Please share your experiences in the comments.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman