When You Hit the Creative Wall, Find the Rope
“You can live with me in this house I’ve built out of writers blocks.” — Pete Wentz
Bricolage (noun) bri • co • lage
Construction or creation from a diverse range of available things.
The heady smell of cement dust and dirt warming in the sun is overwhelming. Tiny bits of red brick crumble against my fingertips as I press the soft pads into the gritty wall.
I gently grind my forehead into the red brick. It pushes back, hard, solid and rough. Unflinching.
The red brick wall is old and decrepit, but just like most things built with sweat, blood and strong backs, it will probably stand longer than I do.
I sigh in total exasperation. I have been here before. I take my forehead off the wall and lean back to get a better view. I trace the offset white lines between the bricks with my eyes, up and up and up.
I hit a metaphorical wall.
It’s solid. Mine is built with old red brick, because I’m nostalgic. Though it might be crumbling, it’s still hurts every time I hit it.
This particular wall is the one I reach when I start heading down a new path in life. When I start toying with a new business idea, when I start learning the tools necessary for a new career path.
If you’ve been following my work, you know a few things:
- I left a career that was slowly driving me mad to move to Costa Rica for 3 months and start my writing career
- I was once the person who would swap new business ideas the way some people change clothes: daily.
In reality, I’m writing this from a jungle canopy, but metaphorically I have my back against that familiar, red brick wall.
The one I hit every time I start a new thing. When it starts getting hard, when the pressure is on. When I start feeling stuck in the choice I made.
I have hit that familiar wall again, and all I can see is how it goes straight up, a red line against the horizon I set off for almost 3 months ago.
The Tension of the Creative Thinker in a Linear World
“A leaky mental filter is the ability to hold multiple conflicting ideas in tension with each other in a way that they can build upon each other” — Jeff Goins
The first blog I started in 2014 was called Pursuing Neverland and it was about me, a clumsy woman experiencing everything outdoor-recreation related in the small mountain town I call home.
It didn’t last very long, I had serious imposter syndrome.
But if I’m being honest, I also don’t like going down hill faster than a snails-crawl, which eliminates a good chunk of outdoor sports. Go figure.
The other culprit to leaving that catchy blog behind was that I felt boxed in. I hit the familiar wall. The one in which I felt like if I wrote about outdoor recreation, I couldn’t also talk about things like disordered eating, or food.
The first real business I started was Tiny Cabin Cocktails, a mobile cocktail cabin built by my Dad, my husband and I, to use for catering at events like weddings.
I failed at that too, for a number of reasons, but one thing that stands out in my mind is that familiar feeling of blocking myself from all the other things I wanted to do — like writing or photography.
My biggest struggle in getting realigned with myself is this habit of putting myself into a box, or thinking very linearly. I would assume that when I picked something, that’s the end of the line — what I end up choosing can’t mix with any other passion or hobby.
This is bad.
Regardless of the fact that it keeps me stuck, it’s also just small thinking.
True personal innovation and creativity is born out of combining two or more unrelated ideas or ways of being into something new. This is a leaky mental filter in action.
So by boxing myself into this linear way of thinking I’ve doused creativity, I’ve snuffed out innovation.
I’ve inhibited my personal growth and the growth of any of the business I’ve tried to start.
Embracing Your Leaky Mental Filter
The rocks and crumbled bits of brick are digging into the back of my legs. The sun is unrelenting, bright and expectant. I toss rocks against other rocks, killing time.
Sitting in the dust against my familiar wall, I tap my fingers in the white dirt, trying to think about anything other than the wall at my back. But that feeling of trapped energy, of words unwritten and claustrophobic inside my sternum, is persistent.
I’ve been sitting against the wall for days, unmoving. All forward progression hindered by this damn wall. Frustrated I gently bump the back of my head against the brick.
Mid-head thump, a knotted rope drops down from somewhere above, knocking against my shoulder and bouncing against the wall.
I reach for it, and the weave is thick in my hand. I follow its line up the wall with my eyes, searching for it’s beginning.
The emotions of this wall-hitting moment are very real. The familiar anxiety creeps in, the thought “if I write about self-help and creativity, I won’t ever be able to write anything else,” plays on loop in my mind.
And in the middle of distracting myself from that expectantly blinking cursor in Word, the same one I’ve been staring at for days, I found a noun that changed it all.
Construction or creation from a diverse range of available things.
In my previous frame of thinking, I limited myself to one facet of creation. Not realizing that being multifaceted is a great way for work to build off itself and evolve.
Humans are not linear, and yet I was stuck thinking I shouldn’t blur the line between what I could and couldn’t write about or do for my career.
We get stuck thinking that true success is mastery over a single area of focus, when in reality we’re complex, and have diverse interests and strengths.
As Jeff Goins states in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve, “Your art is never beholden to a single form. You can always change and evolve, and the best artists do it regularly.”
While Goins is discussing art in it’s more formal terms, I believe all creation — be it a business, a charcoal sketch or an apple pie — is art. Our life is held to this same standard, and we shouldn’t force ourselves into a single, myopic area of focus.
Which is where my new favorite word, bricolage, comes into play.
When I learned it’s meaning, things clicked into place for my work and my writing.
My life, my niche, my area of focus with my writing should be multifaceted. It should contain all parts my unique existence. I am my niche, and my writing, art, or career, should reflect that.
“Creative people tend to live in a world of ideas and possibilities. Because of this, we may struggle with a lack of focus, but this is not always a bad thing.” — Jeff Goins
My hopscotch approach to picking a career, or business idea is a reflection of the above idea: that creative people live in a world of ideas and possibilities.
My fear of picking one thing and sticking with it is an example of the tension between how I operate as a creative, and how society thinks of success: I am a multifaceted creature trying to operate in a linear world.
“And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.” –John Steinbeck
My hands are slick with sweat and burn candy-apple red. My pulse thumps into fingers as I strain against the gravity pulling me down. The rope is a hot iron in my hands, but I have no where to go except up.
Briny sweat pours off my face, and burns my baby-blues as I look down to guide my feet up the rope. The tremors going through my arms send white-hot fear through my body.
(for the love of peanuts, don’t look down woman, holy shit, just keep going, you’re almost there.)
One last pull and I hit the top of the brick. Adrenaline masks the grinding pain of rock and rubble digging into my forearm and elbow as I hoist my exhausted body on top of the wall.
Feet dangling off the edge, I toss my head back, an exasperated whoop exhales from my mouth.
Applying the concept of bricolage to my writing was enough to shift my perspective and drop the rope over my familiar brick wall so I could move beyond it.
Too often in life we become disjointed, boxed up, forced into shapes we don’t want to take because we assume we can’t flow between the lines.
My approach to my craft, my life, my career from this point forward will be whole.
Accounting for my multifaceted humanness.
Allowing ideas to build on each other, building a portfolio of projects and work, related or not. To live freely, to create freely, for my mind to take any direction it chooses freely.
Because it’s not only a disservice to your potential to box yourself in, it also kills creativity.
And when you kill creativity you cut the rope to your salvation.
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