Are you working on a book? A quilt? A new recipe? Do you paint, compose, crochet or knit? If you do, you know that some mornings you wake up and nothing’s there. No ideas, visions, plans, and most of all no energy. It’s time to find ways to nurture your creativity.
All creative people (and I think that means everyone) have lulls. I’ve never believed in writer’s block, although I believe that sometimes the creative well does run dry. Plus all people involved in creative projects have periods when they doubt themselves and their muse (what author Barbara Samuel calls The Girls in the Basement). We second guess every word, brush stroke, quilt block placement, and we set out to clean closets. (Which may not be the worst idea, see #2.)
Lately I’ve been thinking about this because my own creativity seems to be lying on the beach somewhere, soaking up the sun and not thinking about anything important. (Which may not be the worst idea, see #4). Luckily I know there are ways to deal with this.
Today I’ll share some of what I’ve learned during the writing of 70+ books.
#1 Putting your seat in the chair
An excellent article in The Guardian, So You Want to be a Writer, by Colum McCann, gives the following advice:
Don’t let the terror of the white page shrink-wrap your mind. The excuse that you have writer’s block is far too easy. You have to show up for work. You have to sit in the chair and fight the blankness. Don’t leave your desk. Don’t abandon the room. Don’t check the sports pages. Don’t open the mail. Don’t distract yourself in any way until you feel you have fought and tried.
You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.
He’s right, of course. Not putting the seat in the chair (or your body in front of the easel) and leaving it there for a good period of time defeats more first-time novelists and other creative people than anything else. Creativity isn’t a river that flows so fast the only challenge is to capture ideas as they roar by. Creativity is often a trickle, and our job is to wait and watch. In the meantime we look at the landscape, the rocks in the stream bed, the cloudy sky overhead. We let our thoughts drift and eventually life giving water appears, not always that day or the next, but eventually. Because suddenly we notice it’s been trickling past all along.
#2 Routine chores can be a godsend
Every creative person knows their best ideas appear when they aren’t looking for them. Sometimes they happen during a conversation with a friend, or a stroll on the beach. But just as often ideas materialize when we clean closets, wash dishes, or weed the garden. Sometimes not thinking about a project is the most productive way to move it forward. Keeping busy allows our minds to wander into new and different territory, and sometimes the answer we didn’t know we were seeking jumps in our path and waves us down. Just be sure to pull out your cell phone or a slip of paper and make notes. Which leads me to. . .
#3 Be prepared for ideas at any time and in any place
How many times have you had a great idea only to forget it by the time you can write it down? The muse is a mischievous and difficult, and you have to harness whatever she gives you immediately. Enough said.
#4 Try something new every day
Even in as interesting and diverse a place as Chautauqua Institution, it’s easy to get in a rut. One day this summer I realized that I always sit in the same section for lectures and concerts, that I usually take the same path on my morning walks, that I go to student vocal recitals but have never been to an instrumental recital. I decided right then that every day I need to do something new, something as easy as walking on a new street or as complex as abandoning a lecture to visit the art galleries on the grounds.
I got in the habit of planning something new but also started noticing when I automatically tried something different. And the new sights, sounds and stimulation gave me new ideas and energy.
This is such a simple idea, no matter where we live or the schedule of our days. Have tea instead of coffee. Dress up instead of pulling on jeans. Walk your dog on a path you’ve never tried. It’s addictive.
#5 Entertain yourself by doing something you think you won’t enjoy
Now that sounds weird, doesn’t it? But as someone who is reading her way through the Better World Books Reading Challenge, I can attest to the new doors books I’ve chosen have opened for me. Right now I’m working my way through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (my National Book Award winner), and while it’s anything but light reading, I’m finding so many insights into world events, history and the roots of evil. The book has nothing to do with what I’m writing, and everything to do with it.
Recently I saw a play I didn’t like at all, despite the fact it was beautifully acted and produced. But pondering what I didn’t like and why, has been amazingly instructive. It will always be a reminder of what I don’t want to do with my own books. If I’d missed it, I might have missed that insight.
#6 Expand your creative impulses into other forms and genres
Did you wonder about the illustration for this blog? It’s one of two collages I’m working on about my new novel. When my brainstorming buddies were here we spent an evening cutting pictures and headlines out of the huge stack of magazines I’ve collected, and then gluing them to poster board, to illustrate our ideas. I’m still working on mine, but as I page through magazines, ideas for The Perfect Daughter–my work in progress–expand and grow. Putting pictures to the words in my head not only fleshes them out, but magnifies them in new ways. I feel energized and ready to write again every time I work on it.
Although I won’t be entering my collages in any exhibitions, they will go on my study wall. They’ll be great to stare at as my mind drifts, while I have my seat in my chair, dusting my desktop, wearing clothing I never write in.