struggling to be creative

Are You Struggling to Be Creative? This Might Be Why

struggling to be creativeI talk to my wonderful mother on the phone every night. We talk about everything from health to books to psychology to faith to whatever might be making us grumpy at the moment. This week while discussing health and diet, she shared something she’d read that said she was now at the beginning of the Third Act of her life. According to the same math (every thirty years equals an act), I’m at the beginning of my Second Act.

Naturally, as a storyteller and story theorist, this language appeals to me. It made me think about how my thirties are the opportunity not just for a deepening of my story, but for a new beginning of sorts. I quite like the idea of thinking of myself not as a thirty-three-year-old who is supposed to (and doesn’t) have it all together, but rather as if this were my second time to be an innocent, expectant, wonder-filled three-year-old—who just happens to have thirty years of experience and knowledge. (To expand the analogy, this means my mom is experiencing her third time being a six-year-old—but with sixty years of experience and knowledge behind her.)

I particularly like this right now as I find myself, rather painfully, stripping myself back to basics. As I examine the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical load I’ve been adding to for the last thirty years—some of it good, some not-so-good—I find myself longing to return to my three-year-old self’s easy trust in the sheer magic of life. As a professional creative, I not only want this, I need it.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is Neil Gaiman’s disarming response to someone who asked, “I want to be an author when I grow up. Am I insane?” He replied:

Yes. Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author.

The older I get, the more I agree. Mostly, this is because the more and more grown-up I get, the less and less I see life’s magic and the smaller and smaller my window of creativity becomes. I know I’m not alone in this, even (especially?) among writers.

As I’ve hinted before, the last few years have turned out to be a crucible of sorts for me. Although there were contributing reasons and events, I now see them more as just an inevitable, if dramatic, conclusion to the growing-up pains of my twenties. After an unexpectedly stressful move a year ago, these growing pains bottomed out with me feeling more disconnected from my creativity than ever before.

During the last few years, I kept plodding faithfully, finishing one book and starting another. But during this time, I was also largely in denial of my growing panic. I had been creative my entire life. I had been a storyteller my entire life. I had felt life’s magic always. And now, increasingly, for years, that magic was becoming only a bare flicker in my soul.

Was my creativity leaving me? Was my writing meant only to be a short chapter in my life? And if I wasn’t meant to soar on the wings of my creativity anymore, then God help me, because what could ever replace that?

As of this month, I now believe this crucible of what has been a dark night of my soul has finally begun to reach its Climax. Perhaps the best and most encouraging insight I have uncovered from a larger host of insights glittering up at me is a realization about why my creativity seemed to desert me—and, even better, what I can do to reclaim this most precious part of myself.

If You’re Struggling to Be Creative, Ask Yourself  “Where Is Your Energy Going?”

Creation is a deeply energetic act. As we’ve covered in discussions of whole-life art, being an artist or an author isn’t so different from being an athlete. Both require not just talent and dedication, but the cultivation of holistic health so that we will be able to bring optimum focus and energy to the act of creation.

As finite beings, we each possess a finite amount of energy. Every day dawns with the same possibility for productivity, but each day also dawns with a limited (if renewable) supply of energy. Our ability to turn that energy into creativity requires we wisely husband it, allot it, and utilize it. Energy spent on one area of our lives—be it hanging out with a loved one or worrying about finances—is energy that cannot be spent on creating.

Because creativity is an output of energy, it necessarily requires an input. The well can be filled by feeding all parts of ourselves a healthy diet—books and art for our minds and imaginations, proper diet and exercise for our bodies, satisfying relationships and fulfilling work for our emotions. Whenever we find ourselves struggling to be creative, we rightfully turn first to checking that our energy inputs are flowing properly.

But sometimes this isn’t enough. Sometimes you can be doing everything right to fill yourself up with good energy on every level—and still you find yourself struggling to be creative. This is incredibly frustrating. What else could there possibly be left to do?

That was the question I was asking myself. For a long time, the only answer I could see was “wait.” Wait and surely something will change. But if things were changing, they didn’t seem to be changing for the better. If anything, I felt my window of creativity getting smaller.

But then, just recently, I had a breakthrough. For years, I’ve been interested in depth psychology, including the idea of the “shadow” (the theory that aspects of the self are unhealthily repressed into the unconscious). In reading Beatrice Chestnut’s excellent book The Complete Enneagram, her description of the shadow as simply the place where we put the things (emotions, desires, pains, fears) we do not want to look at clicked for me. She wrote:

The Shadow represents everything we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves that nonetheless impacts the way we behave.

As I started examining afresh what it might be that I did not want to acknowledge, I was astounded to realize not just the sheer load of stuff I started digging up, but also how much energy I have been putting into resisting looking at these things.

That’s when it clicked. The reason my level of creativity had plummeted in the last few years was not that I was becoming “less creative,” but rather that more and more of my daily allotment of energy was being used to wall off more and more of the things I found too painful or overwhelming to face.

Creativity is an energy that wells up from our very life force. It is an energy of flow. It is an energy of opening ourselves to our own vulnerability and emotions—even our own pain sometimes. By its very nature, it is antithetical to the energy of resistance and repression.

What Are You Resisting?

Creativity is limited along a spectrum. The limitation might be as small as a block over an important confrontation between characters. Or it might be all-encompassing enough to induce the panic that maybe your writing days are ending.

Regardless, I now believe your first reaction should be to slow down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “Okay, what am I resisting?”

The answer might be a simple, “I’m afraid I’m not good enough to write this scene” or “I’m afraid of the painful memories this scene is going to stir up for me” or “I’m afraid of opening my emotions to the extent required to honestly portray this scene.”

But the answer might also be much bigger. For each of us, time inevitably encroaches upon the wide-open, unwounded innocence of the three-year-old. Some of us, as Gaiman suggests, are lucky enough to maintain creative outlets into our grown-up years. But even for us, the more we grow up, the more energy we end up devoting to all the stuff we’re silently and often obliviously refusing to acknowledge.

Sometimes the things we’re resisting are not hidden within us. Sometimes we’re dealing with real-life stresses—the same kind of outer-world obstacles we’re always throwing at our characters. Real-life jobs, relationships, and health challenges can steal our energy just as surely as can our own inner conflicts.

But for my money, it’s the inner conflict that is most insidious (not least because it usually rides the tail of any and all outer conflicts). Just as we demand of our characters, if we’re going to overcome the lies holding us back, we must be willing to face those lies. In my experience so far, it’s the facing itself that is the hardest part. Just zoning in enough to notice our white-knuckled grip on an unacknowledged pain or unfulfilled desire is often enough to release us from some of our unspoken fears.

With this release comes a slight opening in the wall we’ve created inside ourselves. A little of our lost energy returns to us. A little light shines through. A little fresh air starts its flow. And with that flow comes the first whiff of a familiar breath—creativity.

4 Faces of Creativity (or, You May Still Be More Creative Than You Think You Are)

As I begin walking myself back into what I hope will be a complete restoration of my creative energy, I find myself realizing that perhaps I haven’t spent these last few years in as much of a creative desert as I thought. No, my creativity wasn’t flowing to the same degree or flowing into the same vessels. But I never stopped moving. I kept husbanding whatever creative energy I had and using it as responsibly as I could under the circumstances.

In recognizing this, I also see that the return of my creativity may not mean an immediate deep dive into writing for hours on end every day. First, it may require that I use my creativity more… creatively.

If you too find yourself on the return journey after struggling to be creative, it’s important to realize you are even now probably employing your creativity in many vital ways. Creativity in life isn’t just about creating art. It’s shows up in other parts of life—all of which are equally important to actually getting yourself back into writing shape.

For example, you will need your creative energy for:

1. Healing

I recognize I am currently in a chapter of healing. Even though part of myself is impatient to really and truly get back to the writing and the creative life as I used to know it, I can sense my energy isn’t there yet. Right now, my returning trickle of creativity is best used to encourage the spiritual, emotional, mental, and even physical healing I need in order to return to the page in top form. After years of walking a path of mental resistance, I need time to sit with myself and remember how to be friends with the deepest parts of my imagination.

2. Growth/Education

Throughout these difficult years, I have never stopped reading or actively learning. Even when I could barely get myself to sit at the computer, I could at least still read a novel or a book on Jungian archetypes or a writing guide. Sometimes the reading came hard too. But I maintained enough discipline to keep at it, and as long as new information kept coming in, I always found the trickle of creative energy necessary to be interested in it, to think about it, to absorb it, and—eventually—make use of it.

3. Faithfulness in Projects

Early last year, someone asked me how to keep writing when it was tough. It was a pertinent question for me at the time. I only remember part of my answer, but it has stuck with me as a sort of personal challenge throughout the hard times. What I told him was that there were many days when I didn’t want to show up and write. There were many days when I wanted to just give up and take a break until life was clearer and my creativity returned in force. But when I looked into the future, the one thing I was sure of was that I would be much happier to have a completed novel under my belt rather than nothing.

And I am. During the period of my creative doubt, I wrote a massive novel and half of a massive outline for its sequel. I didn’t feel creative during that period. Clearly though, my sheer faithfulness in chipping away at my projects a little every day proved I was much more creative than I knew.

4. Excitement and Passion

The best kind of creativity is the kind that whirls you into that ecstasy of excitement. When you’re so passionate about what you’re writing that you can’t think about anything else, it’s the best high in the world. Life is filled with meaning and purpose, love and joy, satisfaction and anticipation. Even the comparatively hard days when you’re sure what you’ve written is terrible, there’s still that urgent sense of life itself buzzing through your body.

It’s awesome, in every sense. It’s the reason we create. I daresay it’s even the reason we live.

I look forward with a true and homesick longing for that creativity which I have not felt in so long now. In gaining a better understanding of why it seemed to have drifted so far away from me, I have total faith it will return to me and I to it. But in the meantime, I also see that my creativity is still there, manifesting in all the ways necessary to recreate a foundation solid and healthy enough to sustain future surges of excitement and energy.

***

Writers always joke that the writing life is hard. Sometimes it’s hard in ways that we, in the innocence of our First Act, didn’t always expect it would be. But life goes on. Energy is renewable. Our stories have more than just one act, and with patience and discipline, we all get second chances. If you find yourself in a period of creative doubt or difficulty, know at least that you aren’t alone. If you happen to be walking in this tunnel with me, it may be that I am now a few steps ahead of you on the path, and from here I can tell you the view shows me there is a light at the end. Keep writing, friends.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever found yourself struggling to be creative? What helped you? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’ve been attentive to your personal journey in recent years because I am in a similar place. Though I’m closer to the end of my second act, I experienced what I have called a protracted period of burnout. It lasted a couple of years and I’m still not sure I’ve recovered. It’s hard to say where I’m just being kinder to myself and where my limitations have legitimately contracted around my equally limited capabilities.
    Thanks for sharing this piece of your puzzle. It’s been very helpful for me and many other writers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “It’s hard to say where I’m just being kinder to myself and where my limitations have legitimately contracted around my equally limited capabilities.”

      I resonate with this. I believe something that I will be focusing on more in time to come is coming to peace with the limitations while recognizing they are perhaps balanced by the blessings of greater understanding and awareness.

  2. Thank-you for this post, I thought the paragraphs on one pot of energy really do ring true. It seems that is applicable whether in a person’s writing life or elsewhere.

  3. I haven’t replied before, but this post demands one, I think. In the past few months, since discovering your work (on recommendation of Writers’ HQ, I think), I’ve worked my way through tens of these posts, responding to them in my own journal and learning *so very much* that I know will improve my writing. To hear you speak of the energy needed for creativity, and how it can be taken up by other things – that’s exactly what happened to me, and it’s what I fight every day. From passionately wanting to be a writer – and writing, too! – when younger, I lost a long time to other things – a career that took everything, really, and then really took it all when I had what I call my “lifecrash” in 2014. And that pushed me to reconsider everything, including where my energies should best go – I’ve written every day now since December 2014. It’s like building up a muscle that had atrophied – I feel like I’ve had to learn it all again – but, here’s the point of my response, it’s blog posts like yours, sharing your ideas and ways of working, that have helped push me along. So – I hope you get the chance to redouble your energies exactly as you write about above, and I hope (perhaps a little selfishly!) there are plenty more blog posts to come. What you’ve created here is an invaluable resource – thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Lifecrash.” I like that. Well, not like it, but you know… 😉

      That’s awesome that you were able to keep writing consistently as you picked up the pieces. It not only gives you something to be proud of, it was also, I’m sure, part of what helped you heal.

      • Absolutely – it really has, and that’s with people saying “writing, that’s a bit solitary, isn’t it? I wouldn’t do that, if I were you…” No surprise, though, that so much is autobiographical which I’m trying to translate into something more than that.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          “so much is autobiographical which I’m trying to translate into something more than that.”

          I’ve never purposefully written anything autobiographical. But it’s astounding to me to look back over my body of work and recognize how it was all a processing of my life in ways I didn’t even understand at the time.

  4. I’ve noticed a tie-in between creativity and childishness in my life, and I think this describes the mannerisms of creatives I know, for better or worse. I think there’s something biological to it, actually. (We know people’s brains are far more elastic in youth, and that higher IQ individuals tend to retain that elasticity better.) Not being overly burdened would certainly seem conducive to this mental state. And there certainly seems to be something child-like about a lot of people’s creative output (in a good way.)

    Maybe returning to your favorite childhood book/tv show/movie can help you return to that emotional and spiritual state? There’s nothing quite as cathartic as a return to the beginning, I suppose. Or you could perhaps focus on media written primarily for a younger audience.

    I recently had a major creative burst after consuming a particular anime, actually. I’m a musician, and I was waking up with new songs in my head every day, which was a pretty fantastic thing to have happen. As you could imagine, I’ve been trying to figure out why – something about being completely immersed and emotionally affected by something, which to me, reeks of child-like openness or dependence. It reminds me of how I feel when I’m imagining a new scene for the story I’m outlining, actually. It’s all pretty hard to articulate, though.

    Just thinking out loud. It’s easy to see patterns where there aren’t any, haha. But maybe someone will find this useful. 😛

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think this is spot on. One thing I have been doing, actually, is looking back through old journals. They’re not from childhood, obviously, but I started writing them in my early teens, so they’re still a tool for remembering a lot of things I’ve forgotten about myself.

  5. I’ve also pondered this “refilling the creative well” issue in my own life. One thing I learned was that I have to take the underlying concept of the Sabbath more seriously: operate from a position of being well-rested.

    However, in my father’s family, “lazy” is a four-letter word, and I used to get down on myself for taking time out. Couple that with what I suspect is mild ADD, where I tend to decide to reorganize my room when I’m supposed to be doing something else, and I really thought I was lazy. But! I think of great ideas when I’m in the shower, or doing the dishes — in other words, when I’m not “working.” Eventually, the connection dawned on me: there’s value in “play” or “rest” or “goofing off.”

    It’s not laziness so much as giving my mind time to roam, or make connections, or puzzle out a problem. It’s putting my mind in an “open mode.” John Cleese gave a lecture on this, where he explained how he came to be one of the more creative Monty Python writers, though he regarded himself as less talented than one of his cowriters. Giving yourself time to think is key.

    Also, I’m an introverted lone-wolf type. Yet, I firmly believe there’s value in cultivating friends and people you can bounce ideas off of. I remember why college was so magical: it was the first time in my life where I was surrounded by other creatives. We could talk shop and explore story ideas. I loved critiquing books and movies with a film student friend, because she and I were “on the same page” when it came to good storytelling. Those critiques helped us beef up our craft, because they helped us to see what elements separated the sheep from the goats as it were, and we gave each other ideas.

    At the same time, it helps to broaden horizons. I love history, and sometimes a historian mentions being stymied by “X.” That is, until they talked to an outsider whose discipline inherently includes “X,” and that outsider cracked the case. I love the one where historians thought the women’s hairstyles they saw on Roman statues might not have been real, because they couldn’t figure out how to style hair that way. Then a hairstylist found out about this “puzzle,” and she demonstrated exactly how to “do as Romans do” with hairdos. Mystery solved. So, having trouble writing a space opera? Read a romance.

    • This all resonates pretty strongly with me. The issue for me is maintaining discipline while allowing time to goof off – maintaining the Sabbath might be one solution.

      • Dennis Michael Montgomery says

        I agree. The Seventh Day Sabbath is the one day of the week where I cease writing.

        There are times when writing needs to be spiritual.

    • I’ve just finished reading Alchemy by Rory Sutherland and at the end, he literally says about 80% of the book was written on days after a day where he had essentially done nothing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think it’s good to look back on times that we remember as “magical” and try to understand what convergence of events made it so. We can’t go back, but we can work to understand how we can bring some of those elements forward into the present.

  6. Natalie Aguirre says

    I’m in my third act like your mom. I’ve had to deal the with the sudden loss of my husband about five years ago and soon after a job layoff due to my company closing and then becoming an empty nester. It’s take five years to get back into my writing and I’m still not all there. It’s good to hear that I’m not alone.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very sorry to hear about your husband. Big life changes have a way of really resetting our perspectives.

  7. Great post! The idea of this journey being a 3 Act structure resonates with us writers. Although I tend to think of it more in 4 parts than 3 (guess I favor Syd Field and Larry Brooks more than I thought), each comprising of 15-year segments.
    20-35 = early part of our career, finding our sea-legs in adulthood, the setup to the story we are writing with every choice we make.
    35-50 = firmly on the adventure, building upon the expertise we developed in the previous stage but still in the dark, still deciphering the clues to what our lifestory is about (also a time for, hopefully, building wealth),
    50-65 = a major turning point in our story, a time when all the questions to life change and some of the antagonistic forces are revealed to be closer than we imagined.
    65-80 = A time when the true heroic nature of ourselves is sanctified in the crucible of life’s final conflict, it’s climax, and denouement. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. But this time we return from whence we came … different and, hopefully, a more complete version of who God wants us to be.

    The question, I suppose, is that whether we write it in 4 parts or in 3, are we writing towards an end with a clear idea and structure in mind, or are we just winging it all along the way? And if the latter, could this be a significant contributor to the loss of our creativity?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, I lean into four-part story structure myself. I guess I just resonated with the idea of a life in thirds because turning 30 was a sea change for me in a lot of ways.

  8. David Snyder says

    Katie,

    This is one of the most amazing and helpful things I have ever read. I struggle with this daily as all writers do, I think.

    I believe I mentioned in an email that I have a psychology background, so this really resonated with me. It is brilliant and eloquent—just astonishing. I also have a few insights.

    1. I was just about to send you a note today to tell you how THANKFUL I am for so much of the work you have done. For example, your outline and description of the FLAT ARC really saved me and my WIP. It would be dead in the water without your flat arc guidelines. No other books I have seen really get at it the way you do, and everyone else would pretty much force you into a positive arc. Your techniques helped me find the soul of my heroine and I will be forever grateful for that.

    2. It seems like you put out a HUGE AMOUNT of energy helping people, and as I have read your archived posts forward to the present I see a real character of arc of wisdom growing and growing. Your own character development is in print, so to speak. Kind of amazing.

    3. On the muse: I also write songs and collaborate on many songs as well so I know what a fickle muse creativity can be. The paradox is the same in all art, I think. One thing we all know is that you can never chase a song. If you do, she runs away. I just have to sit with my eyes closed holding a guitar in my lap, remembering when I was twelve and I would sit at the top of the stairs to play my guitar with my eyes closed then so I could hear and feel the beautiful echo. The very wood of the instrument itself was magical in those days and if I ever forget that I am done—I mean the way the guitar became a living creature, some kind of animated object from a fairy tale. In other writing, I often have to go outside or into a small room and write with a pencil on a piece of paper so I can hear that scratching noise and the sound of the lead going down on the paper. That was magic when I was a kid, and if I ever lose that, I know I am done for as well.

    4. If you are like anyone else I know in this transition, it may be helpful just to take a deep breath and smile and relax and take stock of all the wonderful things you have done and all the enormous gifts you have given to others.

    The karma you have built up is so strong that it is only a matter of time until the dam breaks explosively and that magical waterfall comes down like a torrent.

    I absolutely guarantee you that the books you write in this decade will be your most personal, touching, gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring masterpieces.

    All of the laws of the Universe are behind you.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Aww, thanks very much for the kind words. They are deeply appreciated. 🙂

      I love what you say about your experience with writing songs and the magical relationship with the guitar as an avatar of your creativity.

  9. This was such a relevant post! My first novel is traveling the world in search of an agent, and I have its sequel largely planned out. But my mother is requiring a lot of attention as her dementia increases, and I have to spend a lot time I used to spend writing (time I had very little of as it was, but I was making it work) managing the search for a new place for her to live, transportation — the whole process of taking over doing the things she used to do for herself.

    I’m scared to start writing again, I think, because my mind is going in so many different directions right now, none of which have anything to do with my story, and I’m afraid I’ll get a little ways and be interrupted. I’m at the start of my third act as well, and I’m afraid I’ll run out of time.

    Your quote on Twitter this weekend resonated with me, the idea that whatever we can shovel into the sandbox for a first draft is material for carving out the second draft. Perhaps I need to give myself the freedom to put in little red plastic spadefuls, not big ditch-digger shovels full, knowing that it will all pile up for future refinement.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I absolutely believe there are times when we have to step back from the page for a while. But I also think it’s often worthwhile to try to keep writing, even if it’s just for twenty minutes a day. Keeping one hand on that creative lifeline can make a lot of difference in the hard times.

  10. Creig Sigurdson says

    Thank you for the Post. Even as we go through these periods of slow or low creativity our energy is being used in other areas like you mentioned. Even when we think we aren’t learning we’re still learning something. And we can take that knowledge that we’ve learned by living to make us better writers. Having lived with the frustration and the uncertainty have not knowing where that energy went, gives us insight to what we normally may not have access to. Even when we’re writing about nothing the stream of consciousness, acting as a Dumping Ground to clear out our brains that’s still something. A springboard into the unknown. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my journey of doubt and low creativity, health problems have slowed me down but the feelings I experienced during the low point if I choose to look back on them give me knowledge and experience I would not have otherwise. Thank you Kate!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This quote from Thoreau has run through my mind a lot: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

  11. This resonates for me but weirdly in a sort of opposite direction. For many years I’ve been in highly demanding, highly creative jobs and wanted to write, but never seemed to have the time or the energy.

    Now, I’m in a job where I’m bored out of my skull and that creativity cauldron is boiling over. I’m writing like I never have before.

    The job has to change, it’s doing my head in. But, now that I’ve opened the gates to this part of my creativity, I’ll need to make sure I can balance work I can enjoy and be stimulated by and maintaining the energy to write the stories bouncing around in my brain.

    Thank you for the clarity!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s awesome. To everything a season. This is a good reminder for those of us currently riding the ebb of the wave.

  12. I always read your blogs for take-aways I can apply to my life as a writer, and I’m never disappointed. Thank you for your honesty in this blog. I look back to my thirties as my most creative period. Being a single mom took 95% of my energy, but I hid that last 5% in my heart and wrote songs on the park-and-ride bus to and from work. God poured His words & music through me almost faster than I could write them down! Looking back, the writing that came from that traumatic time was phenomenal, and I know it’s how I survived. I wrote my first poem at 13 and my first novel at 24, but I’m older now, and like you so bravely confessed, it’s harder to summon the creative energy that used to be second nature. When my sewer line exploded, I faced several months of restoration work with no money, and I shut down writing-wise to deal with contractors. A woman in my critique group had her house flooded during Harvey. Another member had her house burn to the ground. A third survived cancer. Having that support group and the sure knowledge that this life is temporary at best helped, but basically you have to wait it out. You stand quietly. You read books about writing. You jot down ideas for later. You watch movies and study plot lines and dialogue. You are not alone in thinking that window of creativity is shrinking. But is not writing even an option? After all, it’s the only thing that keeps us sane in an insane world.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “…but basically you have to wait it out. You stand quietly. You read books about writing. You jot down ideas for later. You watch movies and study plot lines and dialogue. You are not alone in thinking that window of creativity is shrinking. But is not writing even an option? After all, it’s the only thing that keeps us sane in an insane world.”

      This is so spot on!

  13. Can hidden anger be another problem I’m battling that is using my creative energy?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d say, definitely. IMO, anger is usually a defensive front for a deeper pain or fear we’ve yet to confront.

  14. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    I’ve been struggling with my latest story. I’ve been endeavoring to employ most of the writing tips you (and a few others) have given me over the past year. I’m at the last confrontation scene in my story and I’m stuck. I can’t decide which characters I should or should not kill or even how. I feel like I’m way over my head and I’m afraid I’l write a ho hum ending. I deplore glitz, nonetheless I don’t want to be lazy and disappoint the reader.

    So I have decided to put it aside for awhile and come back later and do something else creative and been dying to do namely write music. To do this I have two sources: MuseScore and youtube.

    MuseScore is a free virus free downloadable music notation software https://musescore.org/en. It has a number of instruments to choose from. You cannot only see what you’ve written, but also can hear it when you play it.

    Youtube I’ve gone to to learn music theory.

    My advice is (unless you have a deadline from a publisher) do something else creative: write music and/or songs, poetry. paint or draw a picture, do wood work and or garden.

    God created us in His image and one of His attributes is being creative. In other words we are programmed or wired to be creative. So go and create and have fun.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is great. I’ve poured a lot of energy (and enjoyment) into interior design projects these last few years. It’s been a rewarding and cathartic alternative to my more traditional artistic pursuits. I’ve joked that it’s my therapy. 😉

  15. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    By the way, I enjoyed your article and it has given me things to think about and explore.

  16. Oh, my goodness–I emphasize with this. I’m 34, and for the last three years or so, I’ve felt like the wardrobe to Narnia in my mind has been slowly closing. It’s been not only more difficult for me to write the fantasy and cyberpunk that I normally love to create, but more difficult to read and engage with it, as well. It left a hole in me I couldn’t fill with anything else.

    I’m a senior copywriter at a health insurance company, and so I think that’s where a lot of my creativity and energy goes. But it’s not only that–there’s more to my decline, and I think you just helped me figure out the last few of my impediments with this post. Thank you. I mean that.

    Something else that really helped me, I found, was novelty. Trying new things and going new places. Something about the New unlocks my creativity and leaves my mind active and more “roomy,” for lack of a better term. So I make an effort to explore the woods, go to events, attend to a live symphony that includes my favorite film soundtracks, and so on. It makes an enormous difference in my creative energy level.

    Our creativity uses the raw material of the entirety of our experiences, breaking them down into the colors that make up our literary palette, so it’s no wonder this works out so well for me. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I’ve felt like the wardrobe to Narnia in my mind has been slowly closing.”

      Bam. Great analogy.

  17. Confession: I fully understood the meaning of creativity when I experienced cognitive decline. In other words, human’s capabilities that diminish in strength or quality are typically noticeable when the fear of losing “the younger version of you” grows. But like most things in life, controlling self-traits is only an illusion. And this brings me to only one conclusion: Don’t fret when you feel that you’re losing your creativity, because nothing declines or rises forever. Just like a good story, we are all designed to ride beams of light that temporarily buckle under the pressure of inconsistent gravity…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I appreciate that. I feel like that is what I am learning right now. It’s a time of learning to let go, rather than hanging on and trying so hard to control outcome.

  18. Kate,

    You are one of the most creative persons I know! I’m glad came into contact with you over the last few years of my life—which have been the hardest. I echo what you said about healing psychologically, physically, spiritually, or creatively. It seems we’re our own worst enemy at times, the worst critic, pummeling ourselves into a formless pulp until we’re paralyzed.

    I thought the “Acts of Life” analogy was good too. Whether we’re in the first, second, third, climax, or conclusion of our lives, God is the author. Give your mom a high five for us 🙂 I love the way you used the word “husbanding” too. That’s creative! Seriously, to consistently put together these great posts every week is hard evidence. Just think how many writers you’ve help become more creative in their writing!!!

    I’ve been paralyzed myself for some years. Learning to take a viable idea and shape it into a story is no easy feat. But anyways, I had a little “aha” moment that helped to write just 60 words of an opening scene that tied up a few challenging matters of my WIP. I know it’s only 60 words but it FELT SO GOOD. I actually wrote something.

    I’m not sure if I subscribe to the window of creativity in relation to age. Perhaps I’m too simple, or hopeless optimist. I’m sure it’s a lot harder if you do it full time though. There’s plenty of distractions to keep me from writing. But I think it was David Baldacci who said finding time to write is also creativity. Cool eh?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve always considered creativity to be an act of bravery. This is probably why it’s sometimes so hard. But also why it’s inevitably so rewarding. 🙂

  19. Hi K.M. I always find your articles relevant, truthful and hard-hitting – and this was no exception! Just this morning I woke up with a sadness, longing to just close my eyes and be instantly in that creative place where my imagination runs wild.

    I appreciate your theories on what makes our creativity diminish over time. As a busy wife and mom of 2 extremely busy kids and another on the way often times the last thing on my to-do list is actual writing. My energy is too divided. The enneagram however sounds like a great tool and one which I’ll be looking into in more detail, even as I continue to try and carve just a few minutes out of every day to write.

    I certainly feel dedication and stewarding our gifts well is key to pulling ourselves out of the mire. I suppose it’s like any calling or profession in life. We have our good days and our bad, days we perform exceptionally and are rewarded for those efforts and others where we wish the day had never dawned.

    Thank you for insightful articles which are always so timely and relevant. And for being willing to share your own experiences and lessons learnt for the benefit of others! I really value your work and turn to your articles time and again when looking for guidance on everything from actual story structure to some much needed motivation.

  20. Hi Katie! When I write fiction, one thing that always helps me is imagining that my teenage daughter is again much younger – and I am sitting by her bed at night telling her a bedtime story. She used to be mesmerized with my bedtime stories LOL even when they weren’t that good. I would just make them up as I went. But her attentiveness and appreciation brought a satisfaction to me for creating the story and created a motivation inside me to make the story really, really good! Not sure how, but I’m pretty sure this helped bolster by creativity because I had a purpose in telling the story to my daughter. Even today, putting myself in the frame of mind of “telling a bedtime story” helps me a great deal. As I struggle today to write my first fiction novel, I often let my daughter read my outline and sections of my draft-in-progress so that she can see the process and even give her ideas and suggestions. Deep down, I’m hoping that she may pick up on the art of story telling herself – but I also want her to really enjoy the story, just as she did when she was younger at bedtime. I also see my daughter’s enjoyment of a story as a good measure of how good the story really is (now that she is older and will tell me when some part of the story just isn’t the best in her opinion and why). I guess my summary of this is that, for me, involving loved ones in every aspect of the process can make a huge difference.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s wonderful that your daughter can be involved in your writing. Sharing creative pursuits, in any capacity, is tremendous. 🙂

  21. I believe the creative part of our brains is indeed childlike. As the adult side of our brain takes control, we may develop a disfunctional relationship with that creative child and start reasoning with it critically and harshly, expecting it to be more adult, tougher, more mature. When the reasoning side of our mind does this to the creative, childlike side, we frighten the child into running and hiding in her room, afraid that whatever she tries will be criticized and ridiculed. We experience this phenomenon as a loss of creativity or writer’s block.

    One way to deal with this is to speak to our creative side as if she is a child. When a child presents us with a creation we don’t think is very good, we should be encouraging for the effort and provide constructive ways to improve things. “Wow, that’s a really good start! But, maybe you can get this part a little better?” Rather than, “Oh, that stinks! Why can’t you get it right? Is that the best you can do?”

    When we develop our critical side, we discover more about what we think is good. When our creative side falls short of our ideal, we are tempted to let the full force of our critical mind crush the creative child. Our critical side needs to think of itself as a parent of the creative side, and treat that beautiful child like a beautiful child, and not like a sweatshop owner overseeing an illegal child labor racket.

    There is no greater feeling than when our critical side looks at what the childlike side has done and says, “Now, that is really good!” And that creative child wants so much to please our critical mind. But the way to get there is to encourage the creative child, talk to her as a child, and be a good parent and guide.

    To be at our best, the parent and child need to work together in love. The parent tasking, directing and encouraging the child. But we need both sides. Undisciplined children can really make a mess.

    If you find yourself blocked or struggling to be creative, go knock on that child’s door, and coax her out. “I’m so sorry I was so hard on you. Won’t you come out? Let’s work together and see if we can make something really great! I promise, I won’t ever be hard on you like that again.”

    Literally talk to yourself as if you are a parent encouraging a child, a child who does not understand big words or complex concepts. Make your mind-world safe for play and experimentation. Laugh with your creative child if she suggests something silly. If you get this relationship right, you will be happier and more creative.

    Then, when you do get to something really great, I promise, the mind party you will have will be the thing we live for. That inner child will jump for joy and do cartwheels across the floor. And the inner parent will weep for joy.

    • This.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “There is no greater feeling than when our critical side looks at what the childlike side has done and says, “Now, that is really good!” And that creative child wants so much to please our critical mind. But the way to get there is to encourage the creative child, talk to her as a child, and be a good parent and guide.”

      This is really well said.

    • That’s an amazing way to see it. I love how you phrased this. Creativity is one of my favorite topics for some reason.

  22. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for sharing. You’re one of the most creative persons I know. Creating stories and great posts every week is hard evidence. I’m not a full time writer so I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through at this point in your life. At 45, I’m well into the second act of life. Love that analogy by the way. The last decade has been onslaught of traumatic experiences to wade through. But during this time writing poetry, discovering your books and blogs has helped me discover my creative side. So I’m really grateful for that. Energy wise I’ve hit a brick wall the last 7 or so years, especially the last 5. The good part is that our creativity is still there!!! Just waiting to come out any chance it gets.

    I tried posted last night but it disappeared somewhere. Apologize in advance of any double posting.

  23. You have great articles as always. I’m in my 30’s. I am struggling with getting my book finished and also doing character profiles for my characters.
    I like to watch movies like Anne of Green Gables the Continuing Story .
    I also think working on my weight is also a struggle because I want to be 140 pounds and not 170 pounds being only 5’3″.
    I am still going to self publish my books.
    When I was in school I did not like some people said my first name wrong.
    I don’t have a boy friend yet. I want one who loves his mom.
    I will have children one day.

  24. Saw this on LitHub after reading your post and thought of you. https://lithub.com/maybe-the-secret-to-writing-is-not-writing/

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Wow. Loved her closing lines.

      “During those two years when I believed I was blocked, I was reading. I was traveling. I was grieving. I was falling in love. I was going to art galleries and listening to music and flying to Michigan with a new puppy for my parents and cooking chicken with 50 cloves of garlic with my sibling and drinking black coffee and falling asleep with my head on my beloved’s chest and watering the pots of aloe that line my windowsill. All that time, without realizing it, I was writing.”

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