There must be something in the air. Over the past couple of months, my students’ biggest challenges have involved creativity — or rather, a lack of it.
One student couldn’t start his new novel. Another despaired because he’s writing a series, and his current novel feels stale and boring — he said it’s as if he’s recycling an earlier plot.
Yet another author is arguing with his collaborator over a book’s direction, which means that neither is writing.
Here’s the thing. Creativity is a flow state. Stress and conflict turn off the flow.
Creativity requires you to choose flow over force
You can’t force yourself to be creative. However, if you choose to trust your creative self, you’ll be rewarded with creativity.
In other words, you need to get out of your own way. This is difficult. It can seem impossible to do. For example, last Monday I realized that my current novel has a problem. The heroine’s insipid; the hero’s a cipher.
Although I was tempted to delete the whole thing (15,000 words) from my computer, I didn’t. I revisited the project each day, to see whether I could clear away the junk and blocks.
After three days, yippee. I deleted a couple of scenes, and the novel’s flowing again.
Let’s look at some tips.
1. Give yourself room to think, and breathe
You need space and time to be creative, but everyone’s busy today. The holiday period’s looming too, which adds yet another stress.
So how do you give yourself room to think and breathe?
Start by scheduling some thinking time — anywhere between five and 30 minutes. Lie on a sofa and relax first. Then think about a current challenge. If you start to feel stressed, take a power nap.
2. Make a mess: just do it — the results are surprising
When I’m coaching authors, I often encourage them to make a mess. They can:
- Write scenes out of order;
- Create large mind maps (large enough to roll up);
- Sketch their plot with colored markers (even if they think that they “can’t draw”);
- Create mood boards.
Your creative self is a child. Imagine yourself, at eight years old. Children like to play, and whenever you put pressure on your creative self, like any child, it baulks.
Julia Cameron’s brilliant book, The Artist’s Way, talks about taking yourself on artist’s dates. Your creative self loves artist’s dates. As with thinking time, schedule your artist’s dates.
3. Compassion is a virtue: you need to bestow it on yourself, too
Think about a current writing project.
What’s your inner critic telling you about the project? Write down some of the poison that your inner critic’s dropping into your mind… Unpleasant, right?
Here’s the antidote to that poison: compassion.
Be compassionate towards yourself, no matter what your inner critic says.
Be aware that compassion isn’t pity — being compassionate towards yourself doesn’t involve feeling sorry for yourself. Real compassion is kindness.
Your creative self needs compassion just as any child does. Dismiss your inner critic, and encourage yourself — then creativity will flow.
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