Coping with Creative Blocks

Life can be full of difficulties that block creativity but we have to keep going forwards.

Today we are saying goodbye to a friend who lost her life too young. Like most people nearing forty a number of friends have been lost along the way, and some dear relatives. It always take you by surprise.

Sadly, so many people have lost their lives with the pandemic too and we are all more vulnerable than we like to think. I am grateful today we can say a proper goodbye, many were not able to with the restrictions and lockdowns that made it more difficult to honour those passed over the last few years.

When death hits closer to home, it turns us inwards and outwards at the same time. We say I’m going to do the things they could not do. This vivacious woman could not go everywhere so let me go there. It also helps us reflect on where we are stuck.

I do feel stuck in my art and in trying to do so much for my family. I feel stuck inside my house because I am not well (though thankfully much better than I was). And this inward reflection shows up in frustration and criticism of any work I have done. It shows up in how I wrangle through the bureaucracy of school, how everything feels like a fight.

My morning journalling practice has been so valuable, despite writing only a few scenes in my novel, I have filled a large notebook with all my thoughts and feelings in the last few months. So perhaps, a bit like this rambling post, my mind can only cope with the fragmented thoughts and processing my feelings.

I think when you are stuck, blocked by life, there are some amazing tools out there, like The Artist’s Way but there is also something that you have to use too: faith that it will come again. If life is too big for the creative work you have to trust that the way you are living your life will help you show up soon to your art.

In the meantime, I have been taking my Artist’s Dates in exploring nearby, as well as using my flowerpress I have been elderflower picking and made tea and cordial for the first time. I am being creative in the kitchen – partly to help make the food stretch further as prices rise. And I am gradually finding ways through to my son to help him in this tricky time. I have to believe that treating life with this curiosity will gradually let my creativity unfurl.

The last of the elderflower harvest

So, as I prepare myself to go to the service for my friend, I think about what I can promise her. In the future, if not now, I will try to live my life to the full. I will do what I can each day to step towards my dreams of writing for a living. I will do everything I can to cherish the bright spirit she was.

Difficult times are not easy but death so young makes us reflect sharply – if not now, then when?

What gets in the way?

It’s hard to lead a creative life but here are ways I have found that help

I have been writing this blog for a few years and I thought it was time to reflect on how I help myself achieve my goals. So what is it that gets in the way of your writing? Because I have the answer for that. No more TEARS (Time, Energy, Artistry, Reading, Some Other Things) What do you not have enough of…?

TIME

It’s no joke not having enough time. I have explored on a number of occassions the way I schedule in small amounts of time to write. It is miniscule sometimes but it’s all chipping away towards the final goal: write the darn book!

I believe you can always do a little something towards your project.

And the best way to get some time to work is planning your time however messy life gets. And I use a Sunday reset to ready myself to take advantage of any slot of time that pops up in the week.

ENERGY

This is a big issue for me. I have a fatigue condition as well as lacking sleep from looking after my child. I don’t know why children are such morning people. I suspect the energy levels my child has is the real rate we are all supposed to have but for many reasons it gets stolen away as we grow up. Maybe by the fairies? Anyway if you struggle with energy start here:

Making the most of your higher energy moments by being just a little creative. Short creative activities can help you be more mindful, and also very calming. I also have to create on little sleep quite often and taking time for simple things like music, walks and meditation can have a surprising impact on your energy and your creativity.

ARTISTRY

I will recommend to everyone that you use The Artist’s Way programme if you haven’t come across Julia Cameron’s book, I have a series of posts about using the programme and how it helped. Here are some of the key things that have come part of my life:

You could try the Mum version of morning pages in my Imperfect Guide Each morning you write three pages of rubbish in your journal, get it all out and so when you do start your art, you’re ready!

I also use my journal in a number of ways and here I suggest some ways to use your journal to get more creative.

Finally, Cameron suggests you take two hours every week for an Artist Date. As much I would love to have more time at the theatre or at museums, I have a guide for some cheap and easy dates to take to inspire you. Whether it’s a wander around a market or taking photos of trees, I take weekly time out to explore a bit and feed my creativity.

READING

As a Mum, I have to work hard to get time to read . The biggest revelation in the last few years has been audiobooks. Having come to terms that audiobooks is actually real reading, I have actually managed to read some classics that I may have blanched at before because of their size and the concentration levels needed to track the cast! I loved Anna Karenina and Vanity Fayre and I am so grateful that, despite my fatigue condition, I have listened to these even when I haven’t been able to do much else.

SOME OTHER THINGS

I am a carer, under stress and have a fatigue condition. Life gets in the way. But I am always doing something, working slowly to chip away at my projects. The sites tag line is: if not now, when? So whatever I can do towards my goal helps. I suggest using vision boards and found an easier way to keep the vision updated by doing it online. I use Instagram and Pinterest to be creative and find ways to explore the world even if I don’t often go further afield, I always feel inspired in a new place.

How do you overcome your personal obstacles to be creative?

Dating Your Inner Artist

There are always ways in to creativity, I tried an Artist’s Date this month

April’s writing has been hampered by the school holidays and my hand injury. I did work out I could type using voice dictation but frankly by the time I had made corrections to Google’s guess at my brilliant prose, all the flow had gone. If the problem persists I may have to overcome my embarassment and ask someone to type up my work. Instead of getting frustrated with my lack of creative output, I have take the chance to indulge in Artist’s Dates.

Taking Artist’s Dates is a key practice from The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. She suggests we take a couple of hours each week to engage in something different and I have a list of ideas that you can do cheaply.  I tend to take it as advice to play more. That the act of being creative even just a little bit, has the effect of making your life more playful.

There is a great quote from Tim Burton, “Anyone with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child.” Well, as a child I had a wild, untamed imagination. I had dreams and pretend friends and a passion for singing and dancing. And so when I try and connect with both my inner child and artist, I am wistful for the child who could become completely absorbed in her play and try and take this principle into my Artist’s Date.

To recapture my dreamy inner child, I have been revisiting my childhood with a series of Anne of Green Gables novels on audiobook. Recently listened to Anne of the Island and found the perfect quote to inspire my date.

I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday,  sweet and fragrant, between it’s leaves

L. M. Montgomery

It was finally time to get out my flower press. This was a find in another recent Artist’s Date where I looked around the charity shops for anything that inspired me. I think I had a go at flower pressing as a child inside the Complete Works of Shakespeare but this made it a more formal pursuit. I picked some dandelions and wild growing bluebells to try out.

Such a sweet find

The flowers are pressed between corrugated sheets of card and onto acid free paper so you could make something with the final product.

Tightened it up, looks like you could do a number of flowers at a time

After a week in the press I had slightly mishapen flowers but a pretty first attempt. I put them back a bit longer as clearly the idea is to take them out once dried. The advice is to always pick your flowers on a dry day. To finish off my week I bought a seed bomb of wild flowers for my backyard to see if I can make my own flowers to press.

Like all art when you first try it, it may not be the most beautiful thing ever created but this was a great chance to try something new.

Have you tried Artist’s Dates? How does it inspire you?

These are a few of my favourite things…

When times are tough it is the simple things that get you through

Slim notebooks, green pen, making a coffee in a favourite cup, all these things help me write. It is often the simplest things that make me happy. I knew this week would be a tough: some appointments, some work commitments and the world news have all reduced my energy levels but this is when I dig deep to find something I can do.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I use the morning pages system from The Artist’s Way– three pages of unedited thoughts dumped out each morning. In this flow this week, I came up with an idea to work on. But what to do with so little time? Writing a few notes on my phone or folding the corner down on my journal sometimes works. But instead this week, I tidied up and tucked myself into the corner of the kitchen table.

My Artist’s Altar

Across from me is my Artist Altar, more a decorative feature where I change over the quotes seasonally. I found this vase on one of my charity shop hunt Artist Dates . Having a pretty place to write pleases me, as do the family photos just beside me on the wall. There is something about taking these positive steps to give myself a little space that helps me work. I set a timer and write a few paragraphs, not sure yet how the scene will play out. And if I am honest, I don’t get that far.

But having this time and a little energy is such a privilege. My son was off school ill the rest of the week, though not too unwell thankfully. So though it is not progressing the scene very well, I take the chance to do something restful with him. We both need a gentle week. I get out the thick socks and we have time under blankets on the sofa. I listen to audiobooks and tackle a jigsaw puzzle. It might not be the productive week I had hope for with my writing but I am feeling appreciative of the things that make me happy right now.

The best thing to do when you are having a difficult time is to surround yourself with your favourite things. (And yes that song is now going through my head too!) Hopefully with some more time to mull over my ideas, I can get back to the page very soon. Afterall my most favourite thing of all is sitting down writing.

Amazing encouragement from The Artist’s Way

If you feel discouraged, The Artist’s Way can help you recover your spark

Since completing The Artist’s Way programme in 2019, I have constantly turned to the exercises in the book. Here are the BEST quotes I return to over and over

‘Our focused attention is critical to filling the well. We need to encounter our life experiences, not ignore them.’

I’ve missed my times in cafes whilst the pandemic and illness have kept me away. I would sit and scribble for hours if I could – although sometimes it’s about the cake -it is also about being out amongst life, seeing people and hearing snippets of conversation. Cameron posits that taking in images around us, feeds the inner artist.

‘Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance’

It’s fine to be a beginner, and Cameron encourages us to develop our open mindedness, believing in synchronicity in our lives that bring ideas forward.

‘Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations. In creative recovery it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.’

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Cameron really believes that there is synchronicity in life and therefore ideas that are occuring to us, things that keep coming into our life is us at play with the universe. It is interesting to keep an open-mind to these ideas as we work.

It can feel hard not to have a sense of loss for the time you didn’t write or draw or express yourself creatively. As Cameron says…

‘Recovering creatives commonly undergo fierce rage and grief over their lost years…instead, make changes, small changes, right where you are.’

I love this advice because for me taking time to be more creative is a slow process. It’s about making time in my current life “write now” rather than waiting for the perfect time.

How has The Artist’s Way encouraged you?