This weekend, I heard about a dude who wrote 5 books in 2 years while having a day job.
An impressive display of creative output.
Yet, as a creativity coach, people regularly approach me to address their “creative blocks”.
One of them recently told me ‘the little stories stopped forming in my head’. Having myself experienced times in my life when the ‘little stories’ (or little melodies) stopped, I know the kind of despair it can put on a creative person.
I’ve wrote about Writer’s block in the past but today I’ll focus on times when it feels like nothing comes to mind, the desert, in other words: when the creativity source is dry.
What’s happening ?
One day, your head is filled with ideas.
Characters emerge, stories create themselves, everything is inspiration and you just can’t wait to sit and put it on paper/computer/keyboard.
It makes you feel creative, productive, useful. You are enriching the world with your creation.
And it feels…
Then maybe, there’s a change, a transition period, a throw-back…and one day you realize the source is dry.
No more characters, no more stories, no more melodies. All that is left is mundane to-do lists, vague plans and worries.
Before we reflect on what to do when this happens, let’s look at the possible causes.
How to dry up a creative source
Let’s put it out of the way: Creative thoughts are always here.
That’s good news.
But since we do feel like there’s a shortage of creative thoughts sometimes, let’s see why it’s happening.
The mind is full
One of the reasons why we feel like the source is dry, is that there are so many thoughts, that it’s easy to get lost in them. Just like I can get lost among the abundance of beautiful trees of the Czech forests.
We put our attention to what we perceive as the most pressing thoughts (the closest trees) and there’s no more space for the creative ones.
Here are a few examples of those pressing thoughts (totally not from my own inner-Woody Allen):
It’s my last day to use the 10% discount code on Mall.cz. This is super important, I can’t miss this opportunity.
Gee, I’ll never be able to support my family with this blogger/podcaster-thing, I should get a real job!
My neck hurts, I’ll never be able to work out again and will die fat and alone.
Let me point out that these thoughts aren’t bad by nature, although unpleasant.
They’re generated automatically and as such are just another neutral process of our lives.
The problem is the importance we put in them and our judgement when we catch ourselves thinking them.
Later, I’ll share the technique I use to restart the source, but before that, I want to mention 2 more ‘creative source dryers’ as they are often connected.
There’s not enough creative food to create
Creativity feeds itself in creative work.
Logic ‘s influenced by Drake,
Drake’s influenced by Kanye,
Kanye’s influenced by Jay-Z,
Jay-Z’s influenced by…etc.
I’m not taking much risks by saying that most creators started because they were inspired by other creators.
We read, fall in love with a story, an author, a writing techniques, and we want to do the same.
We see an awesome video of someone performing on a new instrument and we want to do the same.
But sometimes, we lose track of what we love and just cut art consumption from our life. We’re busy, have too much to do, the internet doesn’t work…or we’re just not in the mood.
And we stop.
There is an inner source of creativity as well as other external inspirations triggers (like other arts & life events), so we might be able to continue creating even on an art diet…but if you’re currently unable to produce anything for a while, it’s worth experimenting with reconnecting with your art form as a consumer.
The auto-censorship is set too high
Another reason why we feel like the source is dry might be because we’re too hard on ourselves.
Ideas still come, but we judge them too harshly and dismiss them as unworthy.
We’re waiting for that magical master-piece that will finally show our genius to the world and meanwhile we discard all the rest.
This used to be a real problem for me.
Halfway through creation I would deem a song too lame and cut it out completely. Or I’d leave a song incomplete because I didn’t know how to finish it perfectly.
There’s some psychology behind this ill-placed perfectionism: the fear to fail.
If you cut your own work before anyone can enter in contact with it, no one will tell you it’s bad.
That’s sneaky…and again, it has nothing to do with the creativity source itself but our interpretation of it.
How to refill the creative source
Merely understanding the situation might have already brought some elements of response to you guys.
But It wasn’t enough for me at the time, so I created a formula that I can use when needed.
And today I share it for the first time publicly.
The TAN formula
TAN stands for
You need Time to materialize your creativity
Being creative means you create things.
In the external world, not just in your head.
In order to create you need to set Time to actually materialize your creative output.
The PeaCrea Tribe members already know my secret for making time despite projects, family and chores I wake up between 5 and 545 everyday.
(Whaaaat? You’re not a PeaCrea Tribe member yet? Well, then šup šup enter your name and email on the right side of the screen and get creative today! You’ll receive 3 tips for a peaceful creativity, uncensored member-only content and much more)
For me it works great and I have the basis for creativity figured out. There are many others time management techniques you can use (just google it) so I won’t dwell into this however I’d like to point out that we often need less time than you think to make great things.
Again, I wrote about this (I call it the Illusory Ideal Setup) in members-only material, so get access to it if it feels like it could be useful (it’s free).
Attention is more important than time
…because it’s easy to waste time for lack of attention.
Think about how many times you were with someone but thinking about what your boss told you, this house you need to buy or whether or not you should have eye-surgery (where do these example come from??).
You’re not really there in that moment, you’re not really spending time with that person, because your attention is elsewhere.
Here are 2 ways to use you attention to improve your creative life.
I wrote about the over abundance of thoughts and their absence of inner value (not bad, not good, just thought).
Attention (or focus) helps you recognize them as thoughts only and not identify with them.
Once you know they are just thoughts, you can let them pass and continue your creative act.
So it’s as simple as saying or thinking “I hear/see you, pressing thought, I acknowledge you, there are other thoughts I want to pursue”. Then focus on the creative thoughts.
This works on negative self-talk as well: if you’re in the middle of composing the next Bohemian Rhapsody and ill-placed perfectionism creeps in, you can acknowledge it, leave it on the side and continue to create.
Make it easy to stay focused
Articles are probably the most difficult piece of content to produce for me. Yet it’s the best way I found to articulate what I think about a subject and help many people at once (as opposed to 1-1 coaching).
But because it is difficult, it’s a prominent time for me to get distracted and procrastinate.
Like “Oh it’s time to clean the flat, to do that useless research on something I don’t care about or to eat almonds (I like almonds).“
I know that and I can take it into account while planning my creativity:
- I use a special tool I co-build for easy article writing. It asks me a series of questions that, once answered give me the more important part of the article : intro, outline, outro, references, title, meta-description etc. It’s pretty cool.
- Then I use a small program called Focus Writer to turn this seed in to a first draft. The interface is literally a white paper on a wooden table. 0 distractions. All I can do is write
The point is that I try to remove friction between me and a realized creative output by limiting distraction and making the process clear and repeatable.
Nutrition is dope
Nutrition is the fun part.
Remember why you started doing what you do?
(And for the guitarists out there, I mean beside impressing the ladies…)
Because you loved it! at some point in your life, you were like “this guitar/code/comedian thing is awesome, I want in too!”
But as we saw earlier, something happened and you might have disconnected from this thing you loved.
So now, let me give you an advice you’re gonna like : watch netflix, listen to music and read books!
But I don’t have Time!You
Well, in that case use your ear and consume art while doing something else.
You can listen to podcast, music, audio books, comedy while doing chores, driving, working out.
There’s really no excuse to stay well art-fed.
Bring back those ‘little stories’
or rather, let them go back to the surface.
They never left, they just got lost in the infinite flow of thoughts, cut at the source because imperfect or fell asleep for lack of inspiration.
Creativity is a fascinating subject and, as we discussed in Alca’s episode of the PeaCreaPod, a necessity for a healthy life.
Those ‘little stories’ make the big one worth living.