Tag Archives: Writing

8 Essential Steps to Unblocking Creativity

13 Jul

All of us have creative slumps. The question is what do we do with artistic impasses and how do we avoid eternal inertia? Is there any benefit to a slow period or is it indicative of self-sabotage and stagnation? How do we self-correct and get back on course?

Creativity has its ebbs and flows. That is its nature. Yet when this vital force becomes inhibited, we lose traction in our work. We then squander our creative energy and impede productivity. To get back on course, it can be helpful to diagnose the issue and take action.

Usually, there is a combination of inner and outer factors- some minor, some major- that all contribute to resistance. We may be battling powerful inner demons or more insidious things like multi-tasking, lack of focus, and spending too much time doing things we don’t want to do. Here are eight essentials for getting back on course to pursuing your dreams:

  1. Invite Curiosity and Compassion

Beating ourselves up about being blocked will never solve the problem. It will just leave us feeling more defeated. Instead we can invite curiosity and compassion into what is going on. This provides invaluable information that we can leverage.

Sometimes we get blocked because we’re going through a hard time emotionally and have personal issues in our lives that need to be addressed. It’s wonderful when we can channel our immediate feelings into our art but sometimes we need to focus on the problem at hand and to heal. This allows some perspective and distance we can later incorporate back into our work. Regardless, our very “stuck-ness” might be rooted in issues that could be mined for gold.

Compassion invites ease into the creative process because we’re no longer trying to strangle things with our efforts and frustrations. Instead, we’re problem solving.

  1. Distinguish the Business Side of Things from the Creative

When creativity is our vocation this creates tension between creative tasks and administrative ones. We can’t abandon our craft, nor neglect the business aspects required to get our work out into the world. We must do both.

Clarity on how to strike this balance creates more space for creative execution. Marking, raising funds, and tending to details are paramount but they need to be treated as separate from raw creative output. Otherwise, we’ll feel frustrated and unfulfilled when we get too sucked into the business side of things. We need time for the muse as well.

And yes, social media is good for self-promotion but it can also deprive us of precious creative time. Consider only using social media at specific periods during the day or hiring an assistant to help manage it.

  1. Seek Mentors

When it comes to mastering a craft, we want to learn from the best. Seek out professionals whose work you admire when it comes to learning your specific art form. There is always something to learn, no matter where we are on the path. When Jane Fonda was hired on “Grace and Frankie”, she immediately started working with an acting coach despite being a veteran in the field.

Mentorship helps us stay accountable to our goals and saves us time. Why reinvent the wheel if someone who has paved the way before can give us some tips? Not only that, art is collaborative and based on relationships. Mentorship helps foster the relational aspects of the industry that are so vital to success.

  1. Let the Field Lie Fallow

In farming there is the tradition of letting fields lie fallow so the soil can replenish itself before planting crops again. For those of us running on empty, burnt out from work and responsibilities that have left us bone tired, we need periods of inactivity. Without pause, it is difficult to get in touch with our creative impulses, particularly when our lives are moving at such a fast pace that we can barely keep up. Creativity demands periods of down time. This allows us to refill the well and fosters dreamtime. Some of the most innovative ideas come when lounging on the couch, washing the dishes, going for a walk, or reading a novel for pleasure.

There is a story about a goose that laid a golden egg a day. Her owner became greedy and forced her to produce more. Eventually, she stopped laying any eggs.

  1. Explore the Tension Between Surrender and Will

Creating is a weird balance of surrender and will. We need to take action. For instance, a screenplay doesn’t write itself. We have to turn on the computer and type. On the other hand the real magic lies in being receptive to ideas that emerge when we aren’t necessarily “trying” so hard to create. When we push too hard for an outcome, we can strangle the moment- on the page and on the stage.

If you’ve ever surfed, you know that catching a wave requires being out there in the water. You have to suit up, show up, and paddle. However, you actually catch the wave by sensing its momentum and allowing it to propel you. The wave takes you just at the moment when you are in the right position. Then you pop up on the board. Creating is like that. It’s a tension between exerting effort and then letting go.

We work through blocks when we practice “being” in the midst of doing.

  1. Go Where the Juice is!

Sometimes we’re blocked because we’ve lost our passion for a project. When this happens, it can be helpful to explore something that excites us instead. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never complete what we start. We need to finish projects even when the going gets tough and tedious. However, sometimes we need a shot of vitamin B. Moving in a different direction might supply this boost.

Tracking where there is artistic desire and pleasure is helpful. We don’t need to know why we’re drawn to certain projects. Sometimes our most creative ideas come out of left field. Be open to surprises! This is the beauty of the Mystery.

  1. Keep the Train Moving

I’m a huge fan of the Nike commercial, “Just do it!” Often what we most need to do is to lace up our sneakers and get our butts out the door. Momentum is essential for moving through creative blocks. No matter how much we might be prone to procrastinating, we must keep the train moving. If this is as struggle for you, have an accountability partner. Schedule tasks and times to do things. Despite the block, keep moving. Even if you have to take a break from one project, work on another one. Or, if you’re super stuck, try creating in a different medium for a while. Just keep doing something. This primes the pump.

It can also be helpful to note that the root word of discipline is “disciple.” Instead of viewing discipline as drudgery and rigidity, think of it as sacred. We when our devoted to our craft we engage with the Divine.

  1. Conceptualize Your Life as a Work of Art

Even though we all might dream about Oscars and fame, creativity is a process, not a product. Furthermore, creativity is inherent in all aspects of our lives: building and maintaining relationships, raising children, making meals, growing a garden, even getting dressed! Keeping this perspective reminds us of how vital creativity is to our wellbeing. It is our life force.

Not only that, creativity allows us to organize the chaos of our lives- and to make something of beauty from it.

Our lives are works of art. We get to call the shots- if we maintain this perspective. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will take me from A to B– imagination will take me anywhere.”

Leaning Into Transformation….

1 Feb

I haven’t had much time to blog lately but I just finished an interview for the book I’m working on: “Leaning Into Transformation: How Our Wounds Become Our Gifts.” The video is posted below.

A Room of One’s Own

11 Nov

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When I was a toddler, I was told on a family hike not to play too close to a stream in case I fell in. Of course I did, although it wasn’t certain whether this was an accident or my own orchestration. I also drove my tricycle straight into the swimming pool. I was a small child, not fully aware of danger or the concept of defying my elders. I was however beginning to make choices, one of which entailed playing in water at all costs.

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People who know me, know that I have an almost bizarre need to be in water. It is as if I need to return to that element from which we came. Colleagues I travel with joke that I am grumpy until I’ve had my swim and have learned that a hotel with a pool is my gold standard. And this weekend, at a retreat where I was one of the speakers, I was teased as the uber person out there at 6:00 a.m. getting a workout in. I don’t know how to explain that being in the pool had nothing to do with some compulsive need to maintain fitness. It is merely a by-product of a much deeper compulsion.

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Virginia Woolf, in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” makes the feminist case that female writers need “a room of one’s own” and financial means in order to write. Otherwise, without quiet, solitude and time, too many elements intrude, inhibiting women from staking out a professional claim to their work.

Even as a young person, I sought out a “room of my own.” I was an only child so I had my own room at home but even in public spaces, I would stake out a private one. Many of my high school lunches were spent in the library where I could get a few moments to myself free of the social demands of teenage life.

I am now a woman. For better or worse, I am free of the domestic challenges Woolf claimed were such an obstacle for female writers. But nonetheless, there are plenty of distractions and demands that can rob me of my creativity, including my own work that helps finance my passions. Yet I have found that no matter how busy I am or how stimuli-overloaded I feel, if I can get myself into a body of water, my life force returns. It is my “room of my own” – the one place I can get away from everything, including my own mind. Underneath the water, I hear nothing but silence. Looking up at the sky from the water, I see no one but the hand of God. The water is my baptismal font, my ctrl-alt-delete, my rebooting and renewal. And although the exercise plays a role, it is so much more.

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My favorite book, aptly named, “Crossing the Unknown Sea” addresses some of these themes. The author, David Whyte speaks of the need for rejuvenation if we’re to maintain our vocation. Quoting Joseph Campbell, he states, “You must have a place you can go to where you do not know what your work is or who you work for, where you do not know who you are married to or who your children are” (p.157). He then warns of how work can trap us in a type of “postmodern serfdom,” (p.163) if we’re not careful and don’t carve out niches of time for our deeper soul needs. Then while addressing how we so often say, “yes” to everything that can rob us of work/life balance, Whyte states: “With regard to our marriage with time, to say yes would be the equivalent of promiscuity, of faithlessness and betrayal. Stress means we have committed adultery with regard to our marriage with time” (181). Those two gorgeous sentences explain why I swim and surf. The water is my form of marriage counseling when too much is coming at me or when I’ve made other things my idols. It is how I keep myself from cheating on my own soul and God as well.

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Confessions of a Homebody

15 Jun

The fact that I’d rather be at home on a Friday or Saturday night reading a book is probably one of the many contributing factors to why I’m still single. Why battle the bar scene when one can be safely ensconced in the comforts of one’s own abode?

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I have always been a homebody. Not much has changed since I was little. When I was a girl visiting my grandparents in Wisconsin my grandma would suggest I play with the neighborhood kids and I typically elected not to. I preferred to just hang out at the house instead. My grandma and I would bake cookies and she would help me on knitting and sewing projects. When she was busy, I’d play in the yard, explore in the basement and attic and spend hours reading.

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Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-social or agoraphobic. But underneath the deceptive exterior, I am a true introvert.

By some miracle, for the most part I work from home (when I’m not teaching a class somewhere). I also have an office where I see clients but it feels like an extension of home. There are chairs and a sofa and a lovely view. And most important, it’s quiet.

Some people like suiting up each day where they can collaborate with others and sit around a table. Yet the days when I had to work a 9-5 pm job forty hours a week at a cubicle were torturous. I would fantasize about eating lunch at home and doing work from my own desk with a cat on my lap. I day-dreamt that one day I would hear the sound of birds chirping outside my window while my fingers tapped on my personal key board. And I would feel a gentle breeze coming in through my screen door during the middle of a week day.

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When they give people career aptitude tests they should also ask questions about what kind of environment best suits a person because it is quite important. We spend a lot of hours working. Best to make the time magical.

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On the Road

25 Jan

When writing, we take a journey, thinking we’re going to wind up one place only to discover that we take an entirely different route. I have found that the best writing occurs when we allow ourselves to deviate from the plan. While it’s good to have a general feel for the direction we’re headed, we don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s better to risk getting lost and to find alternative routes.

Thus, I find it fascinating that poet Richard Blanco’s parents wanted him to become an engineer because his writing would “never take him anywhere.” How ironic then that his writing took him to the White House where yesterday he read his inaugural poem.

I’ve never been one for GPS.

Here’s to being on the road…and not always knowing where we’re going or how we’ll get there. But how exhilarating to roll down the windows, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the ride.