Has the creative flow been sputtering? When you turn the spigot, does nothing come out of the tap? Did the well run dry?
No matter the metaphor, that feeling of stuckness – where the urge to do something creative is there, but the essential substance with which to do it goes missing – is familiar to many of us.
More familiar than we might like, perhaps. For me, when I’m feeling too tapped out to produce much of anything, I rely on a few questions to help me decide what to do next.
Am in fact tapped out?
Sometimes the answer is simple – I shouldn’t expect water from a stone (enough with these cheesy metaphors, already!) and the truth is I just need some rest. Pushing harder won’t do any good until I rest, hydrate, practice breathing, eat well, exercise, chat with a friend, walk in nature, escape into a book, or otherwise take good care of myself.
What if it’s not that simple?
What if I’m reasonably well rested and reasonably un-stressed, and I just can’t make the creative thing that I planned to work on happen? In cases like these, I need to look deeper,
with questions like:
Am I avoiding something? What am I not seeing?
Do I dislike this project?
Am I angry about something?
Have I defined this project?
What is one next step I can take?
Journaling to the rescue?
If you’re comfortable with writing in a journal, that’s a terrific place to bring your answers, for these and other questions. When I’m stymied creatively, knowing that I have place to bring my random thoughts and flashes and intuitions gives me comfort. Then, when I’m writing in my blank book, I know I can say anything at all. I trust my synapses to come up with words and as much as possible I stay out of their way, watching my hand directing the pen across the page, line after line.
If you don’t have an existing journaling practice, consider giving it a go. Consider the great benefit to you of having a private, completely uncritical, safe place where you can test out ideas, speak the truth, spew disorganized half-thoughts, blurt ridiculous combinations of emotions and experiences, imagine impossible outcomes, explore a dream landscape, jot down things to add to lists, and doodle to your heart’s content.
A new way of seeing
Whether in the pages of a journal or not, the main thing is to find a way to gain a fresh view of your situation. We stay stuck when the stuck situation keeps looking the same. Seeing it differently is a key to getting out from under its influence. The stuckness loses its power over us when we shift perspective.
Why am I doing this anyway?
You may have noticed that sometimes we can forget why we’re doing a project. We can get so mired in the minutiae, for example, that we lose sight of our big reason for engaging with this material. That moment, for instance, when your search for the best name for a subsidiary character pulled you completely out of the scene you’d been writing in your novel. You needed to reorient before you could pick up the narrative thread. Or that time you felt overwhelmingly bored with your poetry collection – until you picked up the framed photograph that prompted this entire creative enterprise, and all the original force of your vision came rushing back again. Or that month in the library by the end of which you thought you’d never be able to pick up a leatherbound book again – until your tireless research brought you to the key to the whole puzzle your book intended to solve.
When an internal change of perspective isn’t working, it can be effective sometimes to walk away, in real life. Your preferred methods for shaking off the toxic influence of stuckness may involve putting in time on a bicycle, behind a kitchen chopping block, or in the pages of a journal. You may favor shaking things up with an unfamiliar creative pursuit, or a physical challenge, or volunteer service. If you’ve been doing creative projects for a while, you’ve probably identified several techniques that work for you — and you’re likely on the lookout for a few more.
Learning to trust
It’s important to trust that you are able to adapt compassionately to your circumstances. When you run up against stuckness, you can step back to see whether you’re simply in need of rest and basic care. If that’s the case, you’ll likely know exactly how to remedy the situation. If the answer is less straightforward, you can develop ways to look deeper, and to ask yourself more questions. You’ll know to try several approaches, refine or rediscover your purpose, and live to create another day. You’ll know how to change that dry well to an Artesian one.