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How to Set Your Brain Free and Cultivate Your Creativity

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There’s a lot of pressure on writers today. We are supposed to release books often (several a year), which means we need to get our writing done fast. And then we need to market — which means we need to gracefully do all our social media as well. We are supposed to do it all. And because of that, we end up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.

Which, in truth, does not always help with the productivity.

A story:

My main occupation is writing, and even though I’ve been doing this for years, I’m constantly looking for ways to write better faster. And, I’m always on the hunt for the secret key to huge success at social media. (As far as I can tell, there isn’t one.)

But beyond my writing, I’m also a creative person in other ways. I love to knit, stitch, and rug hook, with knitting being my primary hobby. And yet, I am not a good knitter. I’ve been at it for years, but honestly, I’m just not that good. I’m sloppy, I don’t finish things, and I have a hard time keeping the stitches counted correctly. I’m a process knitter. I crave getting my hands on some good wool and needles.

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This year I decided I would do things differently. I was convinced I could, and would, change my ways! And thus, I convinced my hub to buy me a very expensive set of yarn for Mother’s Day. The yarn was to make a gorgeous thing called the Find Your Fade shawl. It cost quite a bit of money to buy the set of yarn on Etsy, but I convinced myself — and him — that I was going to finish this thing. (Go price yarn If you haven’t recently. The good stuff is expensive, as it should be.) And wear it. And everyone would admire it — and my cleverness for making it.

Here’s the deal: I love it. I love the yarn and I love the pattern. But it has lace segments. Lace is based on yarnovers (which are like adding in an extra stitch as you knit — it is how lace gets its holes)and it is really easy to get the counts of yarnovers wrong. (Numbers are not my strong suit.) And I’m not good at it. So every time I get to a lace section, I agonize over the damn yarnovers. Of course, I then get the counts wrong. And tell myself I’m an idiot. I end up getting frustrated and just putting the shawl away.

Until one night when I was scrolling through the internet and came across the website of a favorite designer, Jane Thornley. On it, she writes about not being a knitting expert: “Here, mistakes are just random acts of creativity and are simply ignored. Who really cares about an extra yarn over, anyway. I encourage you to knit with multiple stitches, using multiple yarns, and no gauge. I even encourage holes.”

And — booyah — that was exactly what I needed to hear. Who cares about an extra yarnover? Who is even going to know? Nobody. Absolutely nobody.

The next morning, I got up early. The house was quiet and instead of going to my writing, as I usually do, I went to my knitting. I’d set the shawl aside a couple of weeks ago because my count was off and I was obsessing about it. This time, I just forgot about all that and started knitting. And suddenly knitting was fun again. And guess what? The stitch count was perfect. The yarnovers easy to track. Once I took the pressure off, it all flowed. Once I loosened up on the need for everything to come out right, it did. Once I quit worrying about perfection, everything was perfect.

The same thing is true with my writing, I realized as I knit. When I finish a novel, it first goes to trusted writer friends for a beta read. But once they’ve commented, my next reader is my agent. So, as I write, I’m wondering what Erin will think. How this book might be accepted by publishers. If it is even marketable. If the work is good enough. If I am good enough.

That’s not a whole lot of fun. And, come on people. Being a writer is a tough gig, as previously noted. Hugely satisfying, and the only thing you can do if you are called to it, but it is a demanding task mistress and at all but the highest levels, the pay is low.

So you might as well have fun while you are doing it. Because of this experience, I’ve been pondering how, exactly, we creatives might have success setting the brain free. And below are some tips. Some of these may be familiar to you, but often it takes reading something several times before it really lodges in the mind. And some might be new to you. Consider them all and think about how you can put them to use in your writing life.

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Write hard and fast for the discovery draft. Throwing words at the page with abandon, when time passes, and you don’t even know it, and afterward you’re in love with the world — this is why, I believe, most writers start writing. It is wonderful experience. It gets harder to achieve this state when you are writing professionally, but….you need to. This is when the magic happens.

Don’t confuse writing with rewriting. Don’t labor over every word as you write. Let the words rip. And also, don’t labor over the first chapters of the book, going back over it and over it. This is a sure way to get blocked. Write your discovery draft from start to finish and then you can begin revising. You’ll know much more about the book when you get to the end, trust me.

Write bad. If you are well and truly blocked, this is an exercise that will help set your brain free. Write one bad page. Force yourself to write the worst crap you can think of. Here’s the thing: you won’t. Because you are basically a good writer, so writing bad doesn’t come naturally. But once you allow yourself to write bad, that takes the pressure off.

Focus on the process, not the product. You started this writing journey because you loved the process, right? So, enjoy it already. Quit thinking about the huge book deal you hope to get, or how you’ll position yourself to be a success at self-publishing. Just focus on the words.

Follow the juice. Write what excites you in the moment. For instance, usually in my early morning writing sessions I work on fiction. But this morning, I had this post on my mind. When I started working on it, the words flowed. If I’d forced myself to write fiction, my brain would protest with sluggish thoughts.

Give yourself a break. I mean this metaphorically and literally. Self-care is a cliché right now, but that’s because in our hectic lives we really need it. I repeat: we really do need it. And self-care doesn’t have to be big and expensive. It can be as simple as meditating for a few minutes, or taking a walk at lunchtime. Going to bed early or allowing yourself to do the things you love. Which leads me to…

Allow yourself to pursue other passions. I used to think I was a lightweight because I loved my crafting so much. I should be putting all my time into my writing, I’d think. But then I read the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and realized that my other creative pursuits feed my writing big time. Repetitive action activities such as knitting or weeding a garden or walking are all great for freeing the brain and loosing ideas, for instance. (And if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. After all these years, it is still the seminal text on creativity, in my view.)

Ditch the digital addiction. I just read a reference to a study that found the brains of people who are on their TKs all the time show similarities to people with dementia. That’s not going to help your writing, people. (I’m reminding myself of this as well here.)

Remember it is all relative. This is a really helpful exercise I read somewhere — If you know where please tell me — that puts things in perspective. Here’s what you do: close your eyes and think of your problem. Say, writer’s block. Now go up. Imagine yourself getting a bird’s eye view of you in your little corner of the earth. Now go higher and higher until you see the whole beautiful planet we live on. Kind of puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?

You do you. Everybody has their own approach to writing. We writers are constantly studying how others do it, trying to glean secrets of productivity and routines from other writers. This is good, partially.

So there you go. Now go forth and write — happily and freely.

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