Guest Post by Elise V Allan
What’s your creative temperature at the moment? Are you creatively on fire, are your projects simmering nicely – or are you burnt out? Do you have creative work staying warm on the back burner, or did the gas go out when you weren’t looking? What if you feel lukewarm towards your creativity, or even frozen to the spot, unable to do anything? Or I wonder if you’re feeling hot and bothered and the idea of a chilled state of mind is more appealing?
I love when ideas and action are cooking together nicely, new possibilities bubbling up constantly. Creativity requires energy, or heat. But sometimes the build-up of energy or tension is uncomfortable, whether created by a deadline or by naturally occurring waves of creative tension. For years I misinterpreted that discomfort as an indicator that something was horribly wrong with me or my life, but I eventually learned to normalize the restless building tension.
In an ideal world, we would be able to respond creatively to that tense energy just as it reaches the right degree of heat. But sometimes life presents us with an obstacle that can’t be ignored just when we’re all fired up – maybe responsibilities around income or family – and it can take effort to turn down the heat and put our project on the back burner. Taking a deep breath, we might need to gently release some of that build up, in order to be able to speak civilly to our partners, our children, co-workers or parents. Water and earth are both useful for damping unwanted fires; water in the form of tears is not always convenient if we’re around anyone other than an understanding companion, but it is good for honoring disappointment and for recovering. Earth helps more discretely; while taking that deep breath to realign myself, I like to bring my attention down to my feet, feel every point where each foot makes contact with earth, socks, or shoes, and then take my attention further down into the earth, attuning to how it’s supporting me. This grounding can be done quickly and imperceptibly, and if the people around us are more used to a heated response, they will no doubt appreciate the difference.
The excessive heat or wired-up energy that builds, when there’s an impending Big Project challenging our abilities too much for comfort, can bring us out in a sweat. A return to creative work after a long break can be just as anxiety provoking. The artists with long term block that I’ve coached all remembered their past moments of creative magic with affection, but had forgotten the art of managing the build-up of tension that so often precedes creating, and were caught in flight or freeze responses. When this happens, staying nicely chilled helps to ease us out of fear. Even a small level of heat feels like it could burn. If our return to creative work, or our Big Project, can be broken down into tiny steps – so small that they don’t feel worth doing – we can ease into nonchalance, which can shift into welcoming a little surge of heat when we’re ready and able to work with it. And once the fire gets going, we will find ourselves able to work on acquiring enough fuel – ideas brainstormed, research, notes, etc. – to feed and maintain it.
There can be long spells where it’s difficult to get even a tiny spark going. There was a period of months when I felt lukewarm towards every idea I tried, apart from a single minimal idea – the word thread. It felt more like a candle with a frustratingly short wick than the blazing fire I yearned for, but I kept working with it, and eventually it caught and a whole series of work resulted. Just now, after a very intense period, I’m enjoying a period of flow which has resulted from turning the heat down and keeping it chilled.
What do you need right now? To chill or to turn up the heat? Increased friction – a deadline, a target, working quickly with as many brainstormed ideas as possible within a defined period of time – will create heat; if that’s what will best nourish you and your creativity, then go for it! And if your system is pleading for some time to chill instead, keep it small; allow yourself to dabble, write down a line while watching TV, doodle while on a Zoom call. Sometimes making work without trying so hard brings joy back into the process.
So, how will you adjust your thermostat?
Elise V Allan has an appreciation of the challenges faced by artists and other creative people who have found their way to making art – or writing – with or without a formal education. She coaches artists, designers, performers and writers. Elise is a visual artist who has pursued personal development for most of her life, and also works part time as a lecturer at Glasgow School of Art, where her pedagogical research has been focused on enhancing and supporting motivation, and getting past resistance and blocks. You can find her blog at https://www.elisevallan-creativitycoaching.co.uk/blog
Elise V Allan Creativity Coaching