creative block

How I Increased My Creative Output

Summer is quickly approaching and here in Central Texas that means months of long, hot, dry days. Temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees and by late July the Earth will crack right open, begging to be quenched.  

Relief comes, eventually, and usually in the form of a torrential downpour. Without warning that well-prayed-for rain can turn into a fast moving wall of water with no regard for anything in its path. Newcomers, certain tales of flooding are just that, Texas-sized tales, quickly learn why this region is known as Flash Flood Alley.

For a long time I thought the creative process was like those long Texas summers. You endure the dry spells, waiting for inspiration to sweep you up in a flood of creative genius. Oh, it sounds so artistic and mysterious and kind of sexy. As a Creative you’re this chosen being walking the Earth waiting for the gods to bestow greatness upon you. (Conveniently, it also means we don’t have to take any responsibility for your own creative output.)

I was certainly not one of the chosen and I assumed I was destined to remain firmly rooted in my left brain world. Then on the pages of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield I met the liberating truth: The muse rewards those who do the work.

So…

I didn’t need to be chosen?

I didn’t need to be labeled creative?

I simply needed to do the work and trust the rain would come?

It was the permission I didn’t know I needed. Permission to expand, to push the boundaries of my self-imposed limits, to rethink what I thought it meant to be creative.

The secret, as Pressfiled points out, is in the momentum of doing. (Inconveniently, it also means we have to take full responsibility for your own creative output.)

Start.

Then keep starting.

You’re likely to produce some real rubbish. That’s ok. It’s the movement that matters. The good stuff will come.

Seeding Creativity

In my own practice of doing I discovered I could improve my odds of getting to the good stuff more quickly by engaging in the activities that feed and free my mind.

My formula, in no particular order    

One part, Aspiring Novice. Because expertise is too limiting. I’m curious about so many things, most of which have no direct connection to my everyday work. Books, stories, speeches, great interviews – I can’t get enough.

One part, Dirt Therapy. The garden is the one place I completely lose track of time and my body pushes through long after it’s tired.   

One part, Pen and Paper. I must get the scraps of ideas out of my head and give them room to breathe. I prefer to go analogue with a Post-It Easel Pad and a pack of chisel point Expo markers.     

One part, Where the water meets the trees. A river bank, a mountain stream, a quiet pond. Worries fade. My mind slows way down. Clarity reigns. 

One part, Sleep + Exercise. I’m useless when I’m tired. I sleep better when I exercise.

Mix with equal parts Start, Do the Work and Keep Starting.

Apply regularly.

How To Find Your Own Secret Sauce

I’m certain, you too, have your own unique formula for priming your creativity. Start noticing…

Where do you unexpectedly find interesting ideas?  (Go here regularly.)

Where do you lose track of time? What’s the thing you can do for hours but it feels like minutes? (Do this often. Your brain needs to rest.)

Is there a place or activity that immediately releases the tension from your body and mind? (More of this please.)

When are you the least productive? Most irritable? (Can you eliminate? Mitigate?)

What’s your go-to tool for moving a spark of inspiration from concept to a concrete idea? (Use it!) Don’t have one? Experiment!

It’s Not A Silver Bullet

Imagine being able to set yourself up for creativity, setting favorable conditions for inspiration. And imagine the fun you’ll have discovering your secret formula.

But it’s not magic. It’s a tool to give you a head start, to aid you when you’re feeling stuck or when the anxiety rises or when you have too many ideas competing for your attention.  

All the tips, tricks, quieting your mind and moving your body is for nothing unless you sit and do the work.

Only in the doing, drop by drop, will the muse unleash the flood of your best work.   

What To Do When You're Feeling Stuck

The ideas are flowing so fast it’s hard for your pen to keep up with your brain. You are on fire for this idea and you dive right into the who, what, where and how of it all. 

But now those brilliant ideas are mocking you. Needy little snippets sketched out, spilled all over your desk, begging to be pieced together. And you’ve got nothing.

You know you are meant to bring this to life. Yet, you’re stuck. To be clear, this isn’t about execution. You can execute! No, you’re struggling with the finishing touches of bringing it all together. 

Creative block is real, you rationalize. 

You tell yourself you’re not ready. You need more data, more input.

Yes, sometimes those things are true, but this is not one of those times and you know it. From that first flash of inspiration you’ve known exactly how to make this happen.

You’re not stuck.

You’re scared.

Scared of being you. Scared of being right. Scared of taking your spot at the table.

This is Sacred Fear – the teetering between deep knowing and self-doubt. She appears every time you’re on the verge of answering the call of your soul. And while it’s tempting to surrender to the safety of this limbo land of inaction, I’m reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Do you want to settle? I didn’t think so.

Here are some ideas for rising beyond the doubts.

Embrace the Fear. Stop trying to out-brave it. As trite as it sounds, you need to accept Sacred Fear. She’s an abiding companion to passion, to daring, to rising and when she shows up you know you’re on the right path. Trust her.

Reflect. Think back to your original spark of inspiration. Remember that flutter in your stomach? Or maybe it was a whispered “uh-huh” with an assured nod of your head? In that moment, before you started second guessing yourself, you knew. Your body knew. Trust that.

Get Honest. Stop playing dumb. You know exactly what needs to be done. Trust yourself.

This is not a one-and-done exercise. Expect to be back here often, as often as you dare to take bold new steps. But you’ve got this.

You know exactly what to do. You’ve known all along.

We’ve been waiting for you.

This first appeared on BeingBOLD by Cyndie Spiegel, September 2018