Surviving Creative Blocks

"CREATIVITY Next Exit" Sign (innovation ideas imagination team)

Eric Maisel’s book Coaching the Artist Within, catapulted me out of my creativity rut. Days after reading his book, I found myself spending more time on my writing and being gentler with myself during the creative process. These tips helped me break through my resistance, disorganization, and self-defeating paralysis. I hope you find these pointers useful and that they develop into healthy habits to help you create more in your life.

Generating Energy

In one of the first chapters, Maisel asks the reader to make note of what generates and depletes mental energy. He asks the reader to ponder: What generates your energy to create? What depletes your mental energy? Lastly, what do you do to replenish your energy? The exercise encourages you to write about these questions to help determine how to increase your energy and know when to give it a rest. By doing this personal assessment, you gain awareness that you can use the next time you are on the couch, not motivated to pick up your project.

Yesterday, I was fighting fatigue while trying to write. I gave up, took a 20-minute power nap, and then came back to my computer. It was like a light bulb went off. I knew I was losing an uphill battle, so I took time to replenish my energy, and it paid off. After my nap, I was able to complete my train of thought with more ease and focus.

Creating in the Middle of Things

Another lesson Maisel offers up is taking time to capture your ideas right when they hit. Maisel illustrates this point in a story about how he witnesses a writer who stops mid-sandwich, wipes his hands on his pants, and writes. I know I have had several ideas surface while in the midst of driving, or walking to an appointment, and I have let the idea escape me because I didn’t take the time to stop and capture it when it was hot. I’ve noticed when I attempt to go back to the thought later that it has lost its momentum or that I can’t recall the details. Now, I make sure to take time when inspiration strikes to write them down or use my iPhone to voice record my thoughts.

Honoring the process – Taking the good with the bad

Maisel encourages the reader to accept all parts of the creative process. He describes the parts that are disliked and how you may not be pleased with your output. In order to continue our creative pursuits, we have to recognize there will be pieces we are not proud of. We have to acknowledge this and push forward. He says you have to write the bad paragraphs, or you may not write anything at all. So true.

We also dishonor the process by fantasizing that this is easier for others. Comparing one’s self with others is a major trigger for low self-esteem and shame. How can you create with these feelings? It’s important to recognize these thoughts, and then allow them to keep flowing past you. These thoughts are not helpful so let them go. I found this section encouraging that I’m not the only one that fantasizes about another writer somewhere else in the world turning out beautiful masterpieces with ridiculous ease while I am belaboring my sentence structure and ridiculing my writing voice.

Rather than spend negative energy focusing on the parts you hate or comparing your work to others, Maisel proposes you can say something to yourself like, “Even though this project is frustrating me right now, I know I can do it.” This change in perception shifts your attention and allows you to stop struggling. Embrace the creative process and make some changes to your routine. Perhaps, you start writing your project earlier in the day or schedule a block of time dedicated to your craft. How could you do a better job at honoring the creative process? What could you do the next time you get stuck or start beating yourself up?

Make Your Plan Simple

When you think of making a plan, you may feel pressure to make your goal specific and detailed. The purpose of a plan is not to overwhelm but to help you organize your thoughts and aspirations. Maisel suggests keeping your plan simple. For example, your plan may be: “I will write every day.” This takes away from the added stress to write X amount of pages toward your final product. Sure, you may want to quantify your goal, but this addition may only backstab your confidence and motivation. Keep it simple by making your plan reasonable.

I, for one, can easily complicate things, which adds pressure to do it all and in perfect condition the first time. But to say, “I will write daily” is so much more inviting and doable. There is more ease in this plan, and I have written every day since reading Maisel’s book.

Dream with a hint of reality

“The dreamer rejects reality, the realist rejects the dream, the artists embraces both dream and reality” – nicely put, Maisel. In other words, be sure to nurture both the dreamer and realist within you. Maisel recommends a dream-upholding journal to keep you moving forward in actualizing your desires. Start by describing your dream and then writing ways you will uphold your dream that day. What separates you from your dreams?

I like this spin on journal writing. I’m too much of a realist, so dedicating some journal writing toward my dreams seems to be a nice counterpart. Dream affirmations, I can get behind that!

What a wake-up call this book was to me! I’ve started to take a short nap when my energy wanes, create when the idea hits me, honor the process, make my plan simple, and keep affirming my dreams. For more strategies on the creativity process, I highly recommend you check out Eric Maisel.

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