A famous playwright once described his creative block as attempting to tune a radio but never finding a station, only static. It can feel very painful to be disconnected from what is so important and fulfilling. Over the years I have come to my own understanding of how to avoid my own barren and dry periods or to quickly overcome them when they start to arise.
You as a creative process
Generally, the most useful attitude to creativity is to become a creative process yourself. In the long run this approach is the most effective deterrent to losing touch with creativity. It strengthens the very foundations out of which creative actions arise.
So the main emphasis needs to be on developing as a creative person. With this approach you are the working ground, and your ideas and feelings are the material that are changing and being created.
In my sessions as a creativity coach, I talk with people from a wide range of craft, artistic and cultural backgrounds. Losing touch with their creative spark is one facet of what we explore. Sometimes what causes the losing of creativity is unexpected. One client who has been a successful hit-producing songwriter was seriously out of touch with her creativity for quite a while. During a mentoring session I noticed and brought to her attention her tendency to be distracted and jumping off from the topic in hand.
She never finished sentences and could not keep a sense of continuity on any one thing. I led her through a very simple mindfulness meditation on the breath, which she subsequently did everyday.
The results were were quite dramatic: she started to keep continuity on what ever she put her attention to. In quite a short period of time she re-engaged with her considerable potential for creativity.
As a result, she feels that she is back to experiencing whatever she puts her hand to, as creative.
Being distracted in ones’ everyday life is not an obvious culprit for blocking creativity, but being able to connect wholeheartedly with what you are doing and keeping a sense of continuity with it is an important factor in a creative state of mind.
When you are in a distracted state with your mind running and jumping all over the place it is hard to be in a richer more instinctive, imaginative and intuitive frame of mind which is so essential to creativity.
For a lot of people dealing with their tendency to be anxious and worried is a major way of clearing a space in which the more relaxed and fluid nature of creativity can be entered into. Being attentive without jumping ahead of yourself is crucial to any creative process.
There is an important relationship between being relaxed in your mind and having your attention lightly applied to what you are doing or thinking about. This synthesis of just the right kind of effort for what you are doing and being relaxed, allows for a state of mind where all your energies can flow freely.
In this creative state your attention is neither too forced and over controlled or too laid back and lackadaisical. If you are too tight or holding on to wanting things to be a certain way the pliancy of your mind is made rigid resulting in a blocking of free-flowing creative energy. If your attention is too vapid then it cannot crystallise around a project in any useful meaningful way. Being disconnected or distracted from a whole sense of yourself in what you are doing is a big factor in losing touch with creativity.
When the faculties of clear thinking, imagination and intuition are combined, it is much easier to commit to a course of creative action. Leonardo Da Vinci seemed to be constantly attempting to explore a coming together of applied thought and imagination. He saw the two tendencies of science and poetry as a melting pot of creative synthesis.
There is a creative tension between these two seemingly contradictory states of mind that needs to be resolved for creative vision and ideas to emerge.
A useful way of approaching this is to see it as a creative process in itself. I find that if I flip between experiencing myself in terms of image-based metaphor and objective-conceptual thought I get two very different points of view.
They are two different faculties and ways of perceiving what is actually happening. Flipping backwards and forwards between the two faculties of rational and imaginative perception helps to make them less mutually exclusive, and find common ground between them.
Being too rigidly literal in terms of ideas and facts being the only way of getting a reading of what is going on is a sure way to block creativity.
Likewise when the imagination takes you away from a direct and real sense of your experience it is called fantasy. Sometimes we have to make the transition from fantasy back to a way of experiencing metaphor as giving a direct and vivid relationship to what is actually going on. Like experiencing your creativity as a deep, flowing and sparkling river.
Alive to your experience
Another essential aspect of creativity is aliveness to who you are and what you are doing. Anything which stultifies you or closes you down from your sense of life and vibrancy will block and deter you from creative acts.
The first primary faculty of creativity is awareness of physical vitality and instincts. The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci is a great example of this and if you want to have a model of someone who embodied life as a creative process, he is a foremost master. He wrote a lot about the importance and experience of feeling alive and physical vitality as well as taking care of your health. He was very clear that being able to maintain your vitality is a foundation to being in a creative state of mind.
A successful and prolific writer recently wrote that she attributed her creativity to being alive to her experience and vitality. I have an artist friend who is very prolific, especially when he is consciously in touch with what he calls his psycho-sexual instincts. It’s not that what he paints or draws has particularly sexual content but he draws energy from deep primal sources within him. It gives his work great depth, which is often compelling to look at and is easy to resonate with at a visceral level.
The vibrancy and energy of wellness allows you to meet challenges and difficulties and be resilient. It just makes sense, when you’re feeling physically well and vibrantly alive, it positively affects your whole state of mind and ability to be effective. When you look after your ability to be vibrant, you are engaged in one important aspect of the process of creativity within yourself.
Part of the nature of a creative process is experimentation and adapting to what is happening, this is as true for yourself as an individual as it is for what you do in your craft making or artistic process.
To be in a creative frame of mind relies on being flexible and freshly responsive in the way you relate to what you are doing. The antithesis of a creative process is mechanical repetition and unconscious habit.
So the main working ground of overcoming a loss of creativity can be in discovering which ways you are being habitual or on auto-pilot.
Deciding to be aware of your habits and overcome them is an important part of being creative within yourself.
You can always tell when someone is coming from a creative state of mind because it shows in everything they do, from their craft work to their relationships, it does not look at all habitual but arising freshly out of the moment.
When you consciously decide to be in a creative process, you need to learn what helps maintain that process and what takes you away from it. So learning and development are important strands of the process.
In learning curve theory the beginning of a new learning or development process can often feel very uncomfortable because the new process or working ground is unfamiliar.
It’s the same with tackling habit, but it is complex because we also have habits about how we deal with difficult situations like overcoming habits. We often have all kinds of habits that arise when we are in a new or unfamiliar situation. The habits that limit or distract you are the ones that need to be seen for what they are and overcome.
Reflect on a habit that undermines your sense of being relaxed and responsive in a fresh way. Watch out for when you enter the conditions where you tend to respond with that habit, such as getting tense or cutting off from your feelings. The skill here is to keep the sense of continuity over time, so that gradually you come to the point of catching yourself as the habit starts to kick in. At that point, you actually have a choice not to act on the habit. Doing this over time stops feeding the habit and it can gradually fade away.
Being without habit can at first feel very strange and unsettling. The process of letting go of even destructive habits very often leaves an uncomfortable feeling of being awkward and incompetent. Staying with that discomfort and working through it, is an important phase in the skill of maintaining and strengthening your creative development.
The moment you fall prey to being habitual and mechanical, you have lost an aliveness to creativity as a living process. When your creativity as a personal process of development is of primary importance to you, it is so much easier to be creative, no matter what you are doing.
©Ian Currie, Creative Engagement, London, December 2009