If you are a creative person, no matter the genre, it’s very likely that you’ve experienced creative paralysis at some point in your adult life. I’m not talking about a creative block. I’m talking about soul screaming, fist clenching, God-save-me paralysis.
Hitting a creative block is like stumbling upon a detour. Usually, it’s unexpected. But if you read the signs, you can likely get around it with just a few turns and not a whole lot of backtracking.
But creative paralysis is like facing a collapsed bridge on your path when you’re far away from civilization. You’ve got two options, backtrack and take a completely different route or forge ahead, even if that means wading through muck. Both options sound pretty crappy, right?
I’ve been there. Lord, have I been there! Man, it’s a hard place to be.
I’ve been there and I’ve made it through to the other side. Yes, there’s life beyond! Today, I’m sharing two tools that helped me get through the muck.
When you’ve been stuck for a while, getting more and more frustrated, it may seem like one big sweeping action will do the trick. If I could just get a long enough running start, I bet I could jump this gorge… Nope, you can’t. And what’s more, when you take larger steps than you are prepared for, you risk setting yourself back even further.
No matter what your genre, take the smallest step you can, and then take an even smaller one.
If you’re a visual artist, try painting/drawing/collaging a spectrum. Nothing complicated, just a rainbow. If you’re a dancer, try bouncing in place to a beat. If you’re a writer, try stringing together a phrase. If that’s too much, just write a list of words. Words you love, words you hate, words that make you feel something, anything.
That stroke, that bounce, that list may lead to something bigger. Go with it. Paint a squiggle, arch your back, or just keep writing more words until you have a whole thought, scenario, story.
Leo Tolstoy said, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” Think of it like one step forward. Pause. One step forward. Pause. Eventually, that one step will turn into two steps, until you’re moving steadily forward again, navigating your way across the terrain.
Baby steps seem, well, babyish? They’re not. Here’s why.
Imagine it’s been years since you rode a bike. You once rode your bike all day long, only coming home to eat and sleep. And then you were off again, riding long roads, steep, twisty turny roads, narrow, bumpy roads – whatever roads you happened to find yourself on.
Then imagine having an accident that leaves you on your back for weeks, months even. Would you want that first ride post recovery to be the Tour de France? Or a slow cruise around the block?
Whether coming back to your art feels like the scariest thing ever or like the only thing you really want to do, go slow. Take those baby steps.
Creating is like riding a bike. You’ve got this. It’s in you. Your creative muscles have memory; it won’t take long to find your rhythm and flow again. But if you go too fast, you risk falling and finding yourself in a worse position than before.
My second little bit of advice is have compassion for yourself. It’s true that we are our worst critics. Beating yourself up for whatever series of events landed you in this position won’t help you find your way out.
Try making a list of things you rock – both creative and personal.
- I make a killer blueberry pie.
- I never forget birthdays.
- I’m the master of opening paragraphs (painting portraits, the lindy hop, whatever).
- I’m super-the-best at party small talk and making people feel at home.
Then when you’re having doubts or throwing around negative self-talk, take a look at your list. (It helps if it lives on your phone where you can access it easily.) Keep reminding yourself why you’re fabulous until you don’t have to anymore because you just know.
All creative people experience paralysis at some point in their careers. It’s just another stop on the journey. More meaningful and satisfying expression is on the other side, I promise. You can get there. All you have to do is go slow and be kind to yourself.
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