How To Conquer Creative Blocks & Find Inspiration No Matter What
I have a committed writing practice that nurtures me both personally and professionally. After years of writing a personal blog with weekly entries, I have recently become steadfastly determined to write a book and dedicate myself to the discipline. Even though my heart knows that this will be an ever-evolving creative process, my mind craves the knowledge that things are moving along, that progress is being made.
In starting this journey, I spent a lot of time crystallizing the perfect schedule for writing my book. I'd wake up by 6:30 a.m., be done exercising and getting ready for the day by 9, sit and write intently in front of my computer until noon, and then spend the rest of my workday on client calls. I was so intentional in developing these guidelines that I had worked diligently with a mentor of mine to draw out my schedule.
With big sheets of parchment paper rolled across the ground, I held multicolored markers in my hands. I mapped out my timeline with utmost precision, making sure that every moment of this month away would be accounted for. I was focused. I felt important. I knew that I had something to say.
"This is just the beginning," I remember telling myself.
So here I am, a few weeks into my big, bold, and rigidly defined routine for creativity, and I have only written five pages of my book. And it isn't due to a lack of desire or interest; it's because I forgot to account for the energetic process of creativity. The art of creativity does not come from you—it comes through you. When you've put it into the confines of a locked box, it lies there defeated, whimpering for fresh air and space to breathe. These are the moments when I witness my inner critic rise up and my shadows playfully dance with their own silhouettes.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes,
Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.
Now, I strongly believe that manifesting an idea and actualizing it into reality take hard work. You have to hit the pavement with relentless commitment to the process and unabashed acceptance of the unknown outcome. You have to be willing to constantly learn and grow and change. And, maybe most importantly, you have to get out of your own damn way.
"What you make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all." The magic happens when we begin to let go of the self-importance and ego that often arises from our shoulds, coulds, and woulds and simply create space for our actual treasures to shine.
In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant—it is conserved over time. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Additionally, momentum, defined as "the quantity of the motion of a moving body," is calculated by multiplying mass times velocity.
So here I am, pulling out my hair because creativity is supposed to be spilling out of me like an eruption of lava, and I feel stuck. The energy is still there since it can neither be created nor destroyed, yet it feels trapped in its ability to build momentum because I have created a kingdom of monumental expectation around it.
Christine Hassler defines the title of her book, Expectation Hangover, to mean,
"The myriad of undesirable feelings or thoughts present when one or a combination of the following things occur:
- A desired result does not occur (check!)
- Things don't turn out like you thought they would or wanted them to (check, check!)
- You are unable to meet your personal and/or professional expectations (ugh, check, check, check!)
- An undesired, unexpected event occurs that is in conflict with what we planned (ughhhhh, check, check, check, check!)"
It's the same feeling as having one too many cocktails with not enough food and far too little sleep. You feel paralyzed in action because none of your systems is operating optimally.
Here's the thing. Over the past weeks, I have been building momentum. Even if minimal letters and words have been typed onto a page, I sit down daily to work on writing exercises. I am participating in a three-month writing workshop that meets weekly. I've continued to write my blog. I've thought about research I need to do and books I need to buy for my project. I've been making affirmative, public statements that I AM writing a book (if that doesn't count as energetic flow, I'm not sure what does).
In the early stages of planning my new schedule, I didn't take a moment to pause and reflect on the realities of adjusting to new territory, to big changes in routine. Some people are quick and easily adaptable, but I'm not and never have been one of those people—so why would I hold myself to unrealistic expectations of inevitable failure?
Yesterday, amid my feelings of anguish, I decided to close my computer and get into my car and drive without a destination along the windy roads of Marin County. I committed myself to not using navigation, stopping when something looked intriguing, and only turned back around when my heart felt full. For 90 minutes I rode alongside the brilliant Pacific Ocean, seeing grandiose forests, vineyards, and bright, golden light from the sun settling into its evening glow. At one point, I stopped the car and climbed up onto some boulders overlooking the sea.
I paused and took a breath.
In the rise and fall of that single inhalation and exhalation, I felt the force of creativity coursing through my veins. My thoughts began to form sentences, my sentences began to form paragraphs, and I picked up my pen and my notebook and began to write.
I truly believe that one of the most powerful things you can do in your lifetime is to let go of your attachment to outcome and to release yourself from the shackles of expectation and self-criticism that keep you imprisoned and paralyzed from moving forward.
Toward what, you don't know. You'll never know. If you did, you'd be ultimately disappointed and bored with what was to come.
Instead, may you be open to the wild and unexpected ways that inspiration arises. May you stop beating yourself over the head when creativity or forward movement toward some goal feels distant or impossible. May you remind yourself of the laws of physics, the universal truths, and the "strange jewels" as Gilbert says that permanently reside within the house of your soul.
And every once in a while, when you're feeling stuck, uncertain, insecure, or self-critical, may you walk outside, get into your car (or bike or running shoes!), and go along for the ride.