You Don’t Need a Creative Laxative
It’s far more likely you’re creatively malnourished than creatively constipated.
Is it just me, or does every creativity workshop these days seems to include the word “unblocked” somewhere in the title or description? It wasn’t until a recent meeting of Creative Coven, a group I facilitate that explores the connection between creativity and the divine/intuition, that I realized why this term was bothering me so damn much.
For most people, getting creatively unblocked or unstuck isn’t actually relevant to their work or creative practice. Because they aren’t creatively blocked at all, they’re malnourished.
And this is where a poop analogy started to blossom like the glorious, rich fertilizer it is.
A truly remarkable number of people are looking for ways to be more creative, to feel more fulfilled and be more fully alive. These individuals (and if you’re reading this, you probably number among them) have a desire to get their creative juices flowing more freely. They feel stifled somehow; they feel blocked.
And this is where I need to shift from the comfort of saying ‘they’ to the vulnerability of saying ‘we,’ because, full disclosure, I read those clickbait articles and have signed up for those workshops. I want my lack of sustained creativity to be as easy as being blocked. I want there to be some creative laxative, enema, or hell, even a creative colonic, that I can sign up for, and BAM! I’m flowing again. I’m creating big, fat, creative shit, all the damn time, on a regular basis, whenever I want!
But I’ve faced the uncomfortable truth that most of us who seek out these creativity workshops, blogs, and books don’t need a creative enema. We need creative nourishment.
Something that has become very apparent to me in over the last three years as I’ve made New York City home, is that despite having a truly mind-boggling amount of art, poetry, film, TV, and other stimuli to choose from, most of us don’t actually know what we like. I can hear the browser windows closing in dismissal as I type this, but bear with me.
Do you really know what you like? Do you know what truly sparks joy, to use the most adorable pop-culture cliche of the moment? (If you’re reading this in the future and this phrase no longer sparks immediate recognition, google Marie Kondo and you’re in for a truly delightful glimpse into early 2019.)
Our tastes change faster than we often realize. What you were stimulated and nourished by 10, 5, or even 1 year ago may no longer light you up. Don’t make assumptions. Creative work is about making something where there was nothing, or shaping something new out of what was already there. It’s generative. And it’s important to really understand what lights you up, turns you on, and makes you most creatively nourished.
If you’re ready to do some investigation and find out more about what turns you on creatively, I suggest a fact finding mission in the style of Philippe Petit’s Gathering Intelligence. My adaptation of this exercise for Creative Coven is listed at the end of this blog. Take it, try it out, make it your own, discover what turns you on creatively now, here, today, as the living, breathing, reading/scrolling human you are now.
Don’t rely on the memory of past creative nutrition to keep you going. Though memory and nostalgia can be incredibly fertile territory if you’re really into that kind of thing. You can’t fake it though. Not everyone is inspired by 19th century French art, Art Deco architecture, or their grandparents’ letters from the war.
This brings me to a key point: Don’t judge what creatively nourishes you. It can be tempting. We want to be nourished by Mozart and Rothko and other things we understand to be universally ‘inspiring.’ But sometimes we aren’t.
I’ve been really into the Marvel franchise lately. It brings me joy, helps me bond with my partner, and has sparked a lot of new creative ideas for me. This would never have been true for the snobby, super-arty, Shakespeare obsessed person I was in my early 20s (though she made some really great art as well, so don’t think I’m throwing shade at younger me). My point here is that I challenge you to make a commitment to investigate sources of creative nourishment. Places, people, things, textures, sounds, relationships, industries, times of day, etc., etc., etc.
I’m not saying you need to get crazy finicky about everything in your life and get to the point where you can only write a poem with your special pen that has the scented ink, in your leather bound notebook, while listening to sea shanties in your Bose headphones, while three cats are sunning themselves on the veranda of your perfect, creatively-inspired bungalow house. Though, TBH, that sounds pretty nice. What I am saying is really learn your best creative conditions, and take small steps toward getting more of them into your creative diet.
Super practical example from my creative practice:
I work best in certain fonts. As I type this I realize I’m still writing in the google docs default of Arial. I don’t like arial. I’m going to switch it up. I just switched to Times New Roman and I’m already feeling more like my creative self. Times New Roman is part of my creative nutrition when I’m writing on a computer.
Real talk: You need creative fiber. It sucks, but even if you get all the creative nourishment in the world, without a routine, structure, or framework, you probably aren’t going to produce much substance.
Perhaps when you were younger you could eat whatever you wanted and create with ease! You binged on all the things that inspired you and never had to lend a single thought to things as boring as structure or routine. But for most of us, there comes a time when, like it or not, we need a framework. We need our creative fiber.
And learning what your creative fiber is can be a frustrating process of trial and error. Do you write best in the morning? Do you draw best when outside? Do you synthesize data better when you structure your day in a way that you have set breaks at certain times and can fit in a stimulating chat with your favorite co-worker? Do you need more time to be creative? Are you carving out that time? You may need to set a timer to keep yourself away from any distractions (Hello, iPhone) and be in concentrated work for a certain number of minutes a day.
Without the creative fiber that is structure, routine, ritual, and rigor, it’s likely your work will lack substance. When you start to research the habits and daily routines of some of the worlds most Creative (capital C) minds throughout history, you start to see the rigor and structure that was behind the creative ‘genius.’ The internet (and particularly Pinterest) is full of #inspo about the necessity of rigor. The Louis Pasteur quote “Chance favors the prepared mind” is only the tip of the digital iceberg. And I have to agree. Putting in the work and getting your creative fiber is essential for sustained creative practice.
There’s a chance that some of you reading this article are truly creatively constipated. You actually do need a creative enema. You are full to bursting with creative inspiration, have rigor and structure to spare, and are still finding yourself blocked. If this is the case, I suggest doing something big and outside your comfort zone, or committing to a series of small changes over a set period of time. However, I challenge you to question whether you really are leaving space in your life for creative expression.
Do you leave any time or space in your day to create? Or are you too busy consuming the creative output of others that you make lists of projects you may someday start, maybe, hopefully, when you have the time? Do you say that creativity is a priority, but fill your day with the myriad tasks that need to be done, and keep you away from any truly vulnerable, generative time?
Yes, you may be creatively constipated. And to those of you who are, by all means, take a workshop or buy a book (Philippe Petit’s Creativity: The Perfect Crime is a personal favorite) and get unblocked. I truly can’t wait to see the epic pile of creative shite that is waiting on the other side of that block.
“Gathering Intelligence” from Creativity: The Perfect Crime
- List sources of inspiration or enthusiasm (places, people, things, ideas, concepts, smells, times, textures…etc)
2. Process intelligence
Use stars, hearts, circle, question marks — mark up your list with symbols that add meaning
3. Create links — literally link things up, draw lines, arrows, circles
4. Re-arrange based on links, make new list/lists
“While my pen scribbles and order sets in, my imagination runs ahead, anticipating creation.”