“Creativity is our true nature; blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.”
~ Julia Cameron
If you’ve ever had some sort of creative block, where the juices stop flowing and the ideas dry up, then you’ll probably just find the quote above to be irritating, maddening and mocking.
Yes, we are all supposed to be creative. Yes, creativity is meant to be our natural state. But what happens when it’s not? What’s wrong with us? Why can’t we be creative like everybody else, or like we used to be?
I actually believe that creativity is a little like a bicycle-powered juicer. You have to start pedalling BEFORE there can be enough power for the juice to be extracted. It’s the same with creativity – once you have some momentum up you’ll find yourself in flow, even if you weren’t there to start with.
Sometimes we can’t even get on the darn bike.
Before you start gnashing your teeth, and muttering self-loathing thoughts, or committing to epic self-evaluation or a psychiatrist’s couch, ask yourself the following questions:
- Has sleep been an issue lately?
- Is there something on your mind?
- Are you unwell?
- Suffering from anxiety and/or depression?
- Is there a situation that threatens your financial security?
- Is there a situation that threatens your emotional well-being?
- Are you stressed to the max, with too much on your plate?
- Are you raising very small and demanding children (or bigger children who are going through ‘stuff’)?
- Is there a safe and amenable place for you to practice your particular brand of creativity?
- Have you already created something big recently?
- Are you being creative and productive in another area as part of your work life?
- Are you suffering from burn-out in ANY area of your life?
Sometimes we are simply just too tired, too sick, too worried, too stressed, too overwhelmed or too broken to be in a productive and creative space.
And that’s okay.
The biggest gift you can give yourself creatively when you’re in this place is time to rest and heal, and time to attend to the things that are sucking up all of your energy and head space. Get that thesis finished. Get that tax out of the way, or the divorce, or the bathroom finally renovated enough that you can shower and brush your teeth instead of standing outside with the garden hose.
There is a difference between ‘not feeling in the mood to create’ and being wrung out, battered, bruised and exhausted by life. Sometimes we need to rest and fill up the well before we can begin again.
Think about what you want to create or the vision you have, or did have for a creative project. (If you can’t even THINK of a project, then go with the desire to create rather than naming an actual project.)
Now tune in to your emotions. One a scale of one to ten how is your energy towards this project right now?
At 0 we are excited, motivated, happy and raring to go. We are emotionally engaged and enthusiastic about our project, and we are already sitting down and getting on with it. In fact, in the moments where we are not working on our project we find ourselves thinking about it, planning for it and wanting to get back to it.
At 10 we can’t even think of a project – it’s just a big black sucking hole, or a misty grey fog, or some other equally miserable and barren wasteland. We are flat out breathing and coping with life and that takes ALL of our energy.
What to do about it!
Strangely, one of the best medicines for a lack of creativity is creative exposure. Take some time this week to sit down with your journal and write a list of creative pursuits and activities that you have a flicker of interest for, but that are NOT your life passion.
For example, if you want to write the Next Great Novel, steer clear of anything to do with writing. If you want to be the next prima ballerina, avoid anything to do with ballet. If you want to be a chef, stay away from food. Are you getting the picture here?
Instead think of other cultural, artistic and creative pursuits. Could you take up beading, chainsaw ice sculpting, macrame pot holders, hair braiding, decoupage, dancing the tango, painting some old chairs, making your own sourdough (no chefs – you guys go learn to make and fly your own kites!) etc. Do something that sounds interesting but where you don’t care whether you set the world on fire with your macrame skills or ability to compost garden scraps.
Make a list of music you’d like to listen to, bands you’d like to see, DVDs you’d like to watch, books to read, movies and theatre to see, galleries and cafes and markets and other places it would be interesting to visit. Think about painting those chairs on the back deck, or making a meal with a Moroccan Tagine. Just because it’s fun. Just because you can.
Over the next little while, dip into your list. Don’t expect the Muse to turn up. You don’t need her right now. You just need some restorative time, some time with no pressure, no deadlines and no expectations.
That’s truly the meaning of Art as Therapy. We do something a little creative and it restores a lost or damaged part of us to ourselves, so that we become fuller, more rounded, more whole.
This post is part of my 2013 Creative Challenge Project. If you’d like to read more, visit these posts: