6 Ways to keep the ‘creative well’ full

  

I’m the first to admit that self-doubt and fear of burning through my ideas, or letting my ‘creative well’  get dangerously low is something that has stopped me from pursuing things in the past, so i’m not an outstanding example of creative persistence. But I did promise to start this year with a fresh perspective, and in doing so I have found a determination that wasn’t there before. So here’s my game plan to stop the creative well from drying up or stagnating, no matter what projects you’re working on:

1. Set big goals

What are your creative objectives for this year? Consider what would be your ultimate year in terms of accomplishments and get them down on paper or in a word document. For example, for my writing my goal is to post a blog post every week, and write in my journal everyday. For pottery my goal is to create an entire dinner set for myself. Set up a spreadsheet or track it in your journal and make small steps towards the end goal that you can cross off the list so there’s always that sense of moving forward.

2. Do other things

This one sounds a bit backwards, but for me, when i’m digging at the bottom of my seemingly dry, dusty well with a plastic McFlurry spoon, stepping away and working on other things is exactly what I need to recharge. It can be something i’ve had on my list of things to do like walk the dog or do some laundry, or something I consider fun such as working on my sculptures or going to the pottery studio to get on the throwing wheel. Often when i’m doing these other things that I can come up with more ideas or find a new way to approach an in-progress piece of writing

3. Know when your most productive time of day is and plan accordingly

Are you most alert at 5am, or are you up at midnight smashing out projects? Recognise when you’re generally most on your game and make plans to dedicate it to the work. Personally, I work best when I sleep at 10 or 11pm and wake up at 5am. Mornings are the quietest time of day in my house and I love the feeling of getting my writing practice done before i’ve even really started the day. But whatever works, pick that time slot and plan your day around it.

4. Keep a log/journal

Log your day to keep the ball rolling. Before I start anything i’ll first consult my journal, my catch-all second brain as detailed in this blog post. I use the journal to see what I have to do for the day, and to write down a few pages of whatever is bothering me/comes to mind to clear out the muck that bogs down my writing.

If you have different projects to do throughout the day, map them out. If you’re worrying about what groceries you need to get later, sort out the list now and get it out of your head so you don’t have to keep reminding yourself to buy avocados and tampons. Also damn, avocados are expensive right now, are you rich or something?

5. Organise/minimise/declutter

It’s pretty hard to concentrate, much less keep the creativity flowing when your laptop is precariously balanced on a stack of old receipts, books, and last night’s dishes. Sort out your workspace before you even sit down.

If you have stuff to do and it’s not going to take too long, try and get your chores out of the way or at least write them down for later so you’re not doing the mental recital of “dishes, laundry, clean the fungus out of the fridge before they grow legs and eats me in my sleep” etc. If it’s going to distract you, smash it out and triumphantly cross it off your list for the day.

6. Give yourself permission to give up the hunt temporarily

Your plastic spoon broke, your fingernails are worn to stubs and you’re feeling pretty damn shattered. It’s ok, maybe your well is tidal? Sometimes sitting there willing the well to do it’s damn job and deliver the goods isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s important to look after yourself and trust that tomorrow will be different. Walk the dog, watch a movie you’ve wanted to see for ages, recharge. You’re not being abandoned. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

A x

On writing things down 


Help! I need a second brain – my first one is full of crap.

Recently I discovered how nice it feels to write things down, and how quiet my mind is after i’ve organised my thoughts. I saw people posting their fresh new diaries and was reminded how nice it is to work in analog. Filling in a blank page with words is intensely satisfying, similar to hitting publish on a blog post that i’d been mulling over for a week – like this one! A few weeks ago I picked up a Moleskine from Officeworks and designated him as my second brain for the year. Let me tell you about how Inigo, yes, I pretty much name every important object in my life, has changed me for the better.

 

I’m not one for glitter pens or planning my day into 30 minute increments in pastel pink, but lists? Lists are amazing. My previous method for writing lists and appointments would be to jot it down on the nearest piece of paper (receipts, labels, toilet paper etc.) and then lose the list immediately. This method is great if you’d like to spend your day worrying about what you’ve forgotten to do rather than writing, doing creative projects etc.

The feeling of trying to remember everything and worrying about what i’ve forgotten is enough to leave absolutely no room for creative thinking. I’ll sit down to write and all I can think about is “socks, socks, buy some damn socks you trench-footed baby adult.” The volume in my brain is turned up so loud that I am completely stalled in whatever i’m doing. Writing things down in the one spot is like letting my brain breathe, leaving plenty of room for my weird little ideas to convince me that they need to be written about. I know exactly where to go when I need to look at lists, timetables, rosters, and have somewhere to write if I come up with something and i’m not within arms length of my macbook.

If you also feel like writing things out is helpful, I loosely follow the bullet journal style of cataloguing and you can watch a quick video about it here.  I’ve found this method of logging daily tasks to be the best to ensure I get things done while giving me the freedom to write down anything, take up as many pages as I need, and know that I can still locate important information.

Keeping track of things and using method of organisation that condenses my useless internal chatter into an A5 rectangle?

Inconceivable!

inigo

Thanks Inigo.

*Seriously please watch The Princess Bride if you haven’t already, we’ll understand each other much more easily.

What is my writing process?


Let me tell you a thing: I don’t spend a huge amount of time writing. I don’t write 2000 words a day. My writing comes in waves, some days i’ll sit around thinking about writing all day, and other days some magical force picks me up and gets my fingers moving at a lightning pace. At the end of this strange possession-like period of zooming fingers I usually have something that doesn’t require a huge amount of reworking, and mostly makes sense. It looks a bit like this:

kermit

But some days I don’t wait around for the magic, and I have a go at forcing out a piece i’ve had kicking around in my Moleskine for a while. Sometimes it works, but it’s definitely not the same. It’s generally a bit of a hard slog and the words might not have that natural flow to them, but it’s undeniably satisfying to get something down after a fair bit of internal struggle. Other times, however, it’s more like trying to mine a nugget of gold from an old rotting compost heap using my 2 year old sister’s silicone Dora The Explorer spoon. Those days tend to not be as productive on the word count front, and I think it’s totally ok to throw down the dirty spoon and say hey, things aren’t working out today, let’s pick this up again tomorrow.

I think a lot of people think that I spend my every waking minute hunched over my word processor, and admittedly a lot of high-volume writers do that and it works for them, and ultimately I think i’d probably prefer to work like that just for that feeling of ‘working’ everyday. But I know myself to know that’s not going to produce my best work.  But what works for me is a slower paced method that occasionally involves waiting for some little house elf/gremlin-like creature of inspiration to come over and prod me into gear with a rusty knife with a loud guttural battlecry of “LEZ DO DISSSSSSSS!” It’s worth hanging out for, because  it’s like i’m not even typing, and I write things that perhaps I think in my head but dismiss as not even worth writing down. It’s not until either I or my partner read back over them with a chuckle that I realise what i’ve written, both surprised that I had that sort of language in me.

I used to think on the days that I didn’t write anything, that i’d failed, or had an unproductive day and I would beat myself up about it. But now i’ve realised that the days I spend thinking about writing are just as valuable, because those internal brainstorming days set me up for those moments of frantic writing. A book that has helped me stress less about my writing volume has been Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It took me a while to get past the acid-tripping bright cover and bring that baby home, but i’m so glad I did. It’s nice to know that other people, and a best selling author no less, has moments of stagnation, but also gets this feeling of being pushed along by an external force. If you’ve ever really struggled with your creative process I really encourage you to check out this book, it’s like the warm reassuring hug you never knew you needed.

Just to get an idea of my frantic bursts of writing thanks to my Inspiration Gremlin, I wrote all of this in as little as 10 minutes, and i’ll have it edited and posted in another 10. That might not be surprising to some people, but to me writing 700 words in that time that needs very little editing is crazy. It feels great when inspiration shows up.

What’s your process? Do you battle it out until it’s done, or do you wait around for those lightning moments? Or something completely different?

*Edit: It took me a fair bit longer than 20 minutes because my backspace got stuck and decided to chew up a whole paragraph – save frequently folks! Or at least don’t sit there panic-stricken as your computer slowly eats your work and do something other than mashing the keyboard.

Not My New Year’s Resolutions

  
Everyone likes the idea of a fresh start, and when that clock ticks over and suddenly a whole new year is spread out in front of us, it’s hard to ignore the call to make promises we probably won’t keep in the glowing optimism provided by finally getting to write a 6 instead of a 5 at the top of our crisp new journals. But I guess that new year glow is dulled somewhat for some people at the realisation that they’re just copying their 2015 resolutions into their new diaries with the promise to tackle the things that didn’t happen last year. This is why I don’t make resolutions. I think it’s ridiculous that so much importance is placed on New Year’s celebrations and counting down till the clock ticks over. I think everyone is making something out of nothing because nobody wants to admit that it’s just another day. Someone grab the sparklers! IT’S ALMOST MIDNIGHT LET’S START THE NEW YEAR WITH A SPECTACULAR SHOW OF FIRE AND LOUD NOISES THAT MAKE OUR DOGS TERRIFIED.

I don’t like fireworks.

Any time of the day/month/year is perfect for making a change. There’s no better time to start doing shit than right now. So here’s a few promises that are not my new year’s resolutions, but things I know are achievable or at least easy enough to work towards for myself:

  • Spend less time in the black hole that is Facebook
  • Drink more water (I forget until my eyes are raisins, my brain is shrink-wrapped and I feel like rolling into the nearest body of water to receive hydration via osmosis)
  • Write more, blog more, read more

These are not goals that i’ll be looking back on at the end of 2016 with a sad little smile and a shrug, it’s something to work on that is ongoing. Except the water part, I should probably be hitting the water hard and frequently.

 

“Oh, how creative.”

  

There’s no arguing that creativity can be a messy, confusing process no matter what it is you’re into. Something I’ve found to be just as if not more frustrating than actually doing the work is trying to explain the thing that you’re doing to people who don’t really want to understand.

If you are one of these people whether you make candles, poetry, miniature train sets or play violin at the local train station — chances are you’ve had to explain yourself to someone who doesn’t understand, or someone who sees creative thinking as a frivolous pastime. It’s incredibly frustrating to have people ask when they don’t really care, or already have a preconceived idea about how you live or spend your time. Creativity isn’t just an excuse for creative people to sit back and allow everyone else to slog out the 9-5 while we, the throng of creative do-nothings, roll naked down a grassy hill.

As a person with my creepy skeleton fingers in many weird-tasting pies, I’ve received the dismissive comments about what I do many times, and for a while it stressed me out so much that I just stopped telling people. Meeting new people left me with heart palpitations and boob sweat because I knew at least a third of the encounter would be me trying to explain myself, as if I was apologising for doing something that brings me so much enjoyment.

Between writing, ceramics, and making jewellery out of oven-hardening clay, the response I receive quite often is the same variation of “Oh, you do (insert creative skill)? – that must be nice, to have so much time on your hands …” or when people half-heartedly asking how my “little writing projects” are coming along as they stare off into the distance wistfully noting that they don’t even have time to paint their nails anymore. I just didn’t see the point in putting myself through that, until I started answering these half-hearted questions so honestly and with as much confidence as I could gather that people either stopped giving me the not-so-subtle put down or I just didn’t care what they thought because I was doing the work that was fulfilling and exciting for me.

I sound like I’m oversimplifying the solution if I say to ‘just stop caring’. But really, I just stopped giving a shit what everyone else thinks of me/my work, and it sounds brutal but I honestly don’t think a lot of people care what anyone else is doing, and that’s alright. When you consider how wrapped up everyone is in their own problems and how little time they spend thinking/talking about you, it just makes it a lot easier to stop worrying. Just be ridiculously excited about what you’re doing, let everyone know about it if they dare to ask, and if they’re dismissive or condescending – that’s cool, just don’t waste your time having any sort of similar conversation with them again. 

As Chuck Wendig notes in his blog post 25 Things You Should Know About Creativity, he’s devised the perfect way to deal with the “Oh, how creative” mindset:

“Hey, fuck those people. Fuck ‘em because they don’t grok the fact that creativity is what makes this whole human race not just function, but evolve.”

I’m not suggesting that creativity is the cure-all for everything screwed up in the world, but I just think that those who think that creative people don’t work hard or don’t ‘grind’ as much as everyone else are being ridiculous. Everyone works hard. A lot of people work multiple jobs and still come home with swollen ankles and do their dance practice, or spend nights painting while the kids sleep. Even if it makes no money, if it goes nowhere in the eyes of others, and it’s something you would do regardless and it makes you happy – I think that means you should definitely fucking do it irrespective of what everyone else might think.

Fear and Possums

full-fathom-five

For the next instalment of Alissa and Fear – lets talk about fear some more and the way in which I scare myself on an almost-daily basis, and why it’s ridiculous to be scared all the time.

As a child I was very highly strung. I remember wailing at my mother from the bathroom door as she showered, lamenting that I would never ever be able to tell the time, or pleading with my mother to promise me that my arm hair wouldn’t grow back black and wiry because I’d shaved it after following the advice of a friend.

I have my overactive imagination to blame; just see my last post which included an attractive little anecdote about me screeching in the street because I’d stepped on a passionfruit and my brain immediately deduced that I’d squished the life out of a frog, or refer to the time I drove off from a friends party and ran over a stick, which I really knew was a stick, but all the way home decided that it was definitely a baby possum and I had killed it and it was all my fault and had to text said friend when I got home just to make her go out and check that I hadn’t Jackson-Pollocked a baby possum on her driveway. It was of course, a stick.

Basically there’s endless examples of me being afraid of silly things, and while I can look back on it and laugh, it was definitely a genuine feeling of fear that I was experiencing at the time. It was something that I couldn’t, and still struggle to snap out of.

When it comes to writing, fear is what has held me back from sharing my blog with my friends and family. The comforting anonymity felt safe, and as soon as I opened my blog up to those that I knew I was expecting ridicule or judgment. Instead, I received a flood of heartwarming support which made me wish I’d shared it sooner.

Obviously, in some instances, fear is healthy. It’s what keeps us alive and stops us from doing stupid shit like attempting to jump off a cliff to see if we can fly. But in a lot of ways – and for me a lot of ridiculous ways – fear holds us back, self doubt stymies us and we only have ourselves to blame for not pushing on and following our passions or taking a leap. Maybe it’s a case of standing up to that part of you trying to ruin your day and telling it to shut the fuck up, or at least to quiet down for a bit.

How do you overcome fear? Asking for a friend.

 

Mad Plant Monday: Writing and Bravery

  
I’ve seen everyone in the writing community gushing over Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel Big Magic, and I couldn’t help but grab the soft cover in my clammy little paws when I saw it’s colourful goodness sitting on the shelf in my local bookshop. If you’re in a creative rut or looking for a summer read i’d highly recommend it from my very limited view of 45 pages deep. I was really heartened by the chapter on fear. She discusses the importance of acknowledging fear and accepting its’ place in the creative process, but knowing when to ignore it and push on with things.

“You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

So basically there’s no better time to suck it up and be a brave little cookie. This is something i’ve struggled with, being brave. I’m scared of a lot of things. Yesterday afternoon I stood on a fallen passionfruit while walking the dog and squealed bloody murder because my first thought was FROG FROG I’VE STEPPED ON A FROG. So between that, grasshopper legs, crinkle cut chips and terracotta, i’m a delight. But there’s something that probably scares me more than grasshopper legs, and it’s my problem with sharing my work. This has been arguably my biggest setback. I judge too harshly and never feel ready to let my work go and be what it’s supposed to be. But how is that helpful? When will it ever be good enough?

I’ve started trying to accept that i’ll never feel totally ready to declare a piece finished. And the less i’ve stopped hoarding writing in the depths of my writing folder and more i’ve put out there the easier it’s all become. Writing begets writing, success begets success and so on. There will always be more ideas, a new way to examine something, a better word – but there’s never going to be a better time to have a go than right now.

For more words on bravery and a little tough love be sure to check out this recent post by Chuck Wendig entitled Go Big, Go Weird, Go You, And Fuck Fear in the Ear. He’s really subtle about it.

Ax