Writers are supposed to be magical beings who live somewhere in the glorious wilderness between insightful reality and abandoned creativity. Sometimes that’s exactly what the writing life feels like: heady with inspiration, swirling with visions of people and places beyond the prosaic world in which we actually live. Everything has meaning and wonder. Who needs drugs, man? It doesn’t get better than this. Except it’s very easy to find ourselves not feeling creative.
It’s one thing to be creative. There are protocols for that. If you understand how the pieces come together, you can pretty much make creativity happen whenever you sit down at your desk. But the joy of creativity is a little more slippery.
Originally, I was going to write this post over on my “personal” site KMWeiland.com, since it’s inspired by a deeply personal quest. But then I realized it really is an instructive post, because the pursuit of creativity is something all authors understand and that many of us will struggle with at one stage or another in our lives.
Why Is Creativity Associated With Childhood?
I rolled over into another decade this year, which naturally is a good cause for reflection. How’s my life going these days? Is it headed in a direction I’m happy with? Are there any changes I need to be making?
Whenever I’ve written out my list of personal goals these last few years, something that has repeatedly jumped to the top of the list is a desire to “focus more on creativity.”
What’s up with that? Am I not an author? Don’t I write full-time? Isn’t my life a great big whirl of creativity?
I answer that last question with regret: no. There are too many days when I find myself not feeling creative.
And that’s a new thing for me. What happened to me in the last ten years?
Basically, I got busy. I started writing full-time–which really means that what I started doing was running a business full-time with a couple hours of writing on the side each day.
In short, I grew up.
Being busy is a good thing. Being an adult is a good thing. Writing full-time and running a business: very good.
What wasn’t so good though was the realization that somewhere along the line I’d lost touch with that manic wonder of childhood creativity. That‘s what Neil Gaiman was famously talking about:
The world is brightest, our brain cells burn hottest when we’re children. Everything is new. We don’t yet understand life well enough to be fully pressured by it. Our creativity and the resultant stories are entirely ours, with no demands placed upon them by what others want (or we imagine they want). Brendan Kiely, co-author of All-American Boys, noted in an interview in the January 2016 issue of The Writer:
Kids grapple with the immediacies of their life because they aren’t out there in the world in the same way as adults. Their world is pretty close.
The trick for us as creative adults is to recapture that precious mindset. It’s the key to everything we do.
On Adulting and Not Feeling Creative Because We’ve Let It “Slip Away”
I (like a gazillion other people) find great truth in YA author Stephen Chbosky’s famous line from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, spoken by a teenager in those magic twilight years between the end of high school and adulthood:
I read that, and it was like somebody sucker-punched me. Totally. That was totally the feeling I had about *everything* when I was young. Every song on the radio mattered because it held the promise of potential in my own life. Every movie and book mattered. Sunsets were bigger than just sunsets: they were portals to all that unexplored everything out in the world.
Back then, I breathed and dreamed stories. They were with me every step of my day. I lived them, literally acting them out. Characters were always talking in my head and through my mouth. Everything I was physically doing in the real world became a part of a story. It was, as Julia Alvarez writes in the afterword to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,
…the wonder of the world seizing me with such fury…
And why not? I didn’t have anything else to think about. Do a few hours of school, keep the horses fed, wash the dishes, devour some books. My schedule wasn’t jammed. There were no deadlines to meet. There was just me and my right brain having fun.
I’ll be frank: I’ve lost that. And I miss it. And shame on me.
4 Ways to Purposefully Feel Creative Every Day
It’s true life only gets busier the older we get (until a certain point when, God forbid, there’s nothing left to do but watch Gunsmoke reruns and Judge Judy on TV). It’s also true (lest I give the wrong impression in this post) that I adore the busyness.
Yeah, while we’re being frank: I thrive on the busyness. I’m totally addicted to it. The necessary scheduling and organizing and checklisting makes the OCD hamster in my brain run constant circles of adrenaline-laced delight. I love everything (well, almost) about the business side of writing.
That’s part of the problem. I’ve let the left side of my brain take over. My creative side used to run the show; now, it’s firmly strapped into the backseat.
If you’re like me and you have any reason to lament the lost wonder and ease of childhood creativity–if your daily busy life is taking over in spite of or because of you–then let’s do something about it, shall we?
Here are four steps I’m taking this year to reclaim the wonder in my life.
1. Schedule Creative Atmospheres
Most of my day is taken up by thought-intensive work: write a blog post, edit a novel, balance the budget, pay attention to story structure while watching a movie. Unlike when I was a kid, there isn’t enough mentally free time in the day for me to spend just “imagining.”
So I have to consciously and purposefully create regular moments in my month when I can fall into my creative zone. For me, this means fire nights. It’s my adult recipe for wonder: fire pit, music, moonlight. Real life–adult life–slips away, and I’m right there in the world of make-believe with my characters.
2. Minimize Daily Distractions
For every important task taking up our brainpower during the day, there are probably six significantly less vital tasks clogging up the works. Last year and again this year, I’m getting ruthless with pointless distractions.
Last year, I notably cut out news consumption, streamlined my process for responding to emails (which is why it can sometimes take me up to two weeks to respond to writing questions–sorry), and moved my writing time to first thing in the day instead of the last thing.
This year, I’m focusing on the 80-20 rule (80% of your results come from 20% of your effort), trying to weed out all the dead weight in my work and personal life.
Your goal should be to eliminate the nonessential non-creative aspects of your life, so you have the time and energy to focus on staying in the creative flow.
3. Control Your Thought Patterns
Back in the wonder years, I had so many story ideas going in my head that I literally assigned one story idea to a day and just cycled through them (yes, I was OCD even back then). I’d be out walking the dog or grooming my horses, and I’d consciously focus on that day’s assigned story. That’s what I’d be thinking about all day long.
What am thinking about these days? Schedules, emails, the state of the world, funny cat memes–anything and everything but creativity. Serendipitously, last night, I happened to read prolific author Julianna Baggott‘s interview, also in the January 2016 issue of The Writer. She said:
I have four kids and my life is very demanding, loud, messy and chaotic. I had to get into these spaces mentally where I was creating and visualizing scenes while cutting vegetables, driving in a car pool or waiting for somebody’s soccer practice to be finished. If I found myself thinking about things that were not really important, I would stop myself and envision a scene.
Bingo. That’s what we need to be doing. We think of creativity as some airy-fairy thing that just flows easily. But it’s not. It’s a discipline, and now more than ever. Discipline your thoughts to focus on what’s truly important–not the latest bit of celebrity gossip or the state of the neighbor’s lawn.
4. Seek the Wonder
As children, wonder is all around us, to the point we don’t even give a thought to the idea that we might have to pursue it. But we do. We have to court it assiduously, with tenderness and adoration. We need to make a priority out of–not just the act of writing–but the act of wonder-seeking. We need to re-learn how to see the world through our child eyes, to see the potential in every sunset, the awesome infinity in every choice.
Are you with me? Shall we make 2016 a mass return to wonder and the joyous lifestyle of creativity?
Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What interferences in your life are most likely to leave you feeling not creative–and how can you overcome it? Tell me in the comments!
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