Saturday, 6 October 2012

On Being Creative Creatures

"Some days the genius will be in you, and you will sail. Other days the lead will line the slippers, and you’ll be staring into the void of your so-called creative mind, feeling like a fraud. 
It’s all part of the big ole cycle of creativity, and it’s a healthy cycle at that."
Musician Jamie Lidell echoes Tchaikovsky

Let's talk a little bit about creativity and inspiration.

Art Room at St. Mary's School in Sagada, Mt. Province, Philippines
It's true. There are days where we can write, create, invent, remix, paint, shoot and develop/manipulate material with no problem at all. We've all had those, right? Where the ideas come pouring in and you can't stop moving your hands and your spirit to arrive at a magnificent piece of art.  A blog post melts on white space like butter on a hot pan.  Paintings emerge effortlessly on the canvas; your vision and reality a complete match. Song lyrics float in the air. Photos speak a thousand narratives just from the light hitting the subject's eyes.  It seems like, when our muses cooperate, the work is easy. When the ideas are within our reach and are overflowing, the process feels like a relaxed day sunbathing by the beach, cold mango smoothie in one hand, an annotated book in the other.   

What happens though, when it's the opposite? It's as if you're facing a brick wall and you feel like the corners of the same cramped room are closing in?  We've all been there too, right?  Your nose is pressed against the gray grooves of the exposed brick. There is no way left, right, up or down. You can't see your own hand an inch from your face and all that's real is the deep rise and fall of your chest from your belabored breathing. You eventually conclude that Humpty Dumpty scored after all. At least he could see the horizon where he sat on the wall.  Well, right before plummeting to his death, of course.   

I guess you can say that I am 'I see the glass half full' kind of person.  I like to focus on days like the former and less on the latter.  I usually like to ride the seasons and not force the issue when am not feeling so creative.  I also try not to believe in writers' block.  I try not to feed it, enable it, acknowledge its existence.  I constantly deny that it ever happens to me.  Most of the time,when my muses don't appear and the words  or my photos just don't come out right, I chalk it up to sleep deprivation, carbohydrate withdrawals or joy (yes, I have a very easy time when I am miserable or in pain but not so when I am content and happy).  When I let some time pass, lurk in twitter, have meals with good friends and maybe after a power nap, the words and ideas eventually come.  So I don't sweat it.  Like I said, my glass is half full not half empty.

Anyway, as budding bloggers, you will probably have to develop a strategy of your own to fight these creative slumps. Because yes, there will be days where writing a post will be a cinch, a walk in the park, easy as 1, 2, 3.  But there will be other days where even just responding to a  unit question will be like pulling teeth. (First one to spot all the cliches I used in this paragraph will win a prize).  :)  On days like this, it won't hurt to refer to the advice of other writers who have been there and done that.  For now, check out these two great artists, Craig Costello, creator of KRINK and Jack White from the White Stripes.   From being a risk taker to pushing yourself  outside of what's comfortable to developing a disciplined work ethic and surviving failure, these two creators speak candidly about their process and habits of mind.  

Here's more advice from other great creators/thinkers:    

My strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive. At our farm in the summer, I paint the barn or mow the hayfield or pick berries or cute fire wood to length…. I don’t even try to think about the problem, but more often than not, at some point in the middle of the not very challenging activity, I’ll find myself mulling it over and coming up with a new slant, a new way of tackling the issue, maybe just a new term to use. Engaging my brain with something else to control and think about helps melt down the blockades that have been preventing me from making progress, freeing up the circuits for some new paths. My strategy could hardly be cruder, but it works so well so often that I have come to rely on it. - Daniel Dennet 

How can you defeat the snarling goblins of creative block? With books, of course. Just grab one. It doesn’t matter what sort: science fiction, science fact,* comic books, textbooks, diaries (of people known or unknown), novels, telephone directories, religious texts — anything and everything will work.  Now, open it to a random page. 
Stare at a random sentence. Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac.  By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited.  Marvelous. -  Jessica Hagy 

How about you?  Do you believe in writers' block?  OR the artists' dry spell?  What do YOU do when you are confronted with either?  What's your strategy to get back on with your muses when you feel like they've all gone on vacation?  
I  would love to know.   Leave a comment or blog about it.  :)   What would you suggest to others going through the same thing?  

post inspired by Brain Pickings.


  1. I don't know that I agree with writer's block - we can all write if we have to - but I do believe that good writing sometimes has to be given time to grow. A half discovered idea sometimes needs a little time to discover itself and oddly, the best thing is often to leave it alone. It fascinates me that when I prod and poke an idea, it often only gets grumpy and backs away. When I leave an idea alone to discover itself, it will sometimes surprise me by jumping on my bed and waking me in the morning or appearing around a corner where I would never have expected it.

    1. Ah yes. Distance almost always works. Like a dance between two lovers at the threshold of the honeymoon stage coming to an end. Once you ignore the need to write that one perfect thing or anything actually...the words flow and seduce you again. Now deadlines...that's another one that will squash all notions of blockage. Works like a charm.

      Love the imagery about ideas jumping on your bed to wake you up. Awesome.