You’re stuck. Yesterday, it was if you were channeling from the highest heights, a mere vessel. Today, nothing but resistance, mistakes, or frustration. Yet, you keep going, you keep beating yourself up for not measuring up to your expectations, for not making progress.
Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of the book Free Play, says “Underneath procrastination and fidgeting is self doubt.” Self doubt can sabotage the creative flow and it is crucial to acknowledge so you know when to STOP working.
A “deadline,” real or self-imposed (just as real) can subconsciously manifest fear of incompletion into self doubt. My editor, Ellen Kleiner, corrected me once when I uttered “deadline,” by changing it to “lifeline.” Immediately, my fear diffused and I visualized the celebration of completion.
While remembering your artistic path is your “lifeline,” honor the ways in which you recharge, how you gain deep breaths through your own personal lifeline minis, or rather, the respites. There are times when staring at a project too long will blind you like open eyes to the sun. Distancing yourself is the only way to see clearly.
Time spent away from your work is not away at all. Insight gained is rocket fuel for productivity and will always surpass the time you spent stuck.
12 Ways to Get Unstuck: When Creativity Isn’t Flowing
1. Put down what you are working on; close the laptop, drop the brush, throw the pen, or shut your guitar in its case. Now, leave the room you were creating in; your office, your studio, your bedroom. Go anywhere but there. Don’t forget to shut the door!
2. Go to sleep for a nap or for bedtime. Paul McCartney’s song, “Yesterday,” came to him in a dream when he woke up with its tune in his head. Perhaps, he didn’t set the intention for a song to rise in the middle of his sleep, but you could set the intention for what you want to create. Give weight to the sweet lightness of dreams.
3. Have fun, go out and play. “To play is to free ourselves from arbitrary restrictions,” explains Nachmanovitch. It is important to free yourself into the present, and even more so, to free yourself from the achiever in you. This is best explored with a non-competitive game. Think rolling down hills in the grass, playing in the pool, or people watching.
4. Take a walk; in nature or neighborhoods all that matters is your steps, your movement forward. Observe your surroundings. I live in an old mining village and right out my door are arroyos and hills. One time, I was walking my Boston Terrier, Ruby, and an entire poem came to me about birds. I ran Ruby on her leash through sand, dirt, and dust to get me quickly home so I wouldn’t forget. Poor dog!
5. Exercise; create endorphins. Remember, when you are stuck, you are frustrated, and frustration is STRESS. The only way to truly release stress hormones is to physically move and sweat them out. Choose your favorite way to exercise, and better yet, make it fun. From riding your bike to going nowhere on the treadmill, the more you engage in the activity, your cells become clearer, including your brain cells.
6. Meditate. Yes, all the studies show….When you let go, stop your thinking, especially your critical voice, you are released into a deeper knowing. It is amazing how quickly after a great meditation you can tackle your work with a deeper confidence. As a bonus, you may experience the paradox of non-attachment; while surrendering thoughts of your project, the opening for answers appears.
7. Cook or spend time in the kitchen. Make it one of the rooms you move into after shutting the door (see number 1). We know how Zen it is to chop vegetables, however, creatives are also inspired where they are nurtured. Sylvia Plath loved to spend time in the kitchen and read through cookbooks. In her essay, “Kitchen of the Fig Tree,” she described her views from the kitchen gazing outward. We creatives know what gazing leads to!
8. Call a friend, one who makes you laugh. There is nothing like the connection we have with our friends, and better yet, our mutually creative friends. If they are truly a friend, they will understand when in mid-laugh you exclaim, “I have to go, it just came to me!” Click.
9. Clean the house or organize. For many years, especially when my daughter was young, I had to clean the entire house before I could write a word. It was the nesting in me, the need to have my home in place before I could start. Organizing can work as a metaphor for clearing your project’s clutter out of your head. Clean a drawer and you're ready to clean some lines.
10. Get in the car and go for a drive, if you make it. With car keys in my hands, there have been times all I needed to do was head toward the front door only to turn around. The minute you decide to drive away from your work, roadblocks disappear. It may take a little bit of a ride to get there, but don’t stray too far from home, just in case!
11. Read or flip through books. My husband is a painter and I have witnessed him page through images in art books before going to his studio. The painter, Joan Mitchell was influenced by poetry and had written a list of her favorite poems on the back of a gallery invitation. She included Robert Frost’s highly visual poem set in a woodland, “The most of It.” Be inspired and awed by your favorite books.
12. Go to a museum or art gallery or reading or performance. But not too far away (see number 10) and certainly not to a movie, for you don’t want to be trapped. If you have to sit, take an aisle seat. Stay long enough to feel your juices bubbling. Be humbled and suspended by the artists who have come before you or are present in the flesh!
Out of the twelve ways to get unstuck, which lifeline mini will you choose? No matter what you do, surrender and move on. It is in our returning we remember what we chose to love.