Dissolving Creative Blocks
Arriving each workday to fulfill his role at an insurance company in the early 1900s, Franz Kafka was well-liked and respected at work. An invaluable employee who came to be known as his superior’s “right-hand man,” Kafka worked tirelessly to excel at his day job in the insurance industry. When he came home, it was often late. This is when Kafka did the work we remember him for—he wrote.
It’s easy to think that artists and writers have the luxury of time. We all have different routines and demands, and these things can sometimes get in the way—or seem to get in the way—of our artistic dreams. But creative living is not just a luxury or a way of life that is only for others. The act of living creatively is about integrating everything: the ideal, the fantastical, and the mucky everydayness of it all. To tap the power of your boldest, most creative self is to find a new way of interacting with the world. If you feel blocked, numb, or unable to imagine being more creative in your life, let’s not waste another minute. Unleashing creative energy begins with self-awareness and, ultimately, acceptance of where you are and who you are now. Foundational to any major life shift, self-awareness includes getting clear about what you value and what is holding you back.
To live and create boldly, begin by looking squarely at your current patterns
Take a moment to think about patterns that exist in your life today. What is the first thing you do when you wake up each morning? What is the last thought you have before bed? What do you have for lunch most days? How much time do you spend on social media? How many solid-colored sweaters do you have? How many prints? Taking an honest inventory of your patterns means taking time to reflect on routines as well as perpetual behaviors such as your reactions, recurring thoughts, routines, and rituals. The conscious and subconscious decisions you make daily. How fast do you eat? How do you react when you see that social media image of your neighbor on the beach? How do you feel at different times of the day? During different seasons?
An introductory exercise I offer writers I work with one-on-one is to take a daily inventory, even if just a quick mental check, to assess how creative they are each day. I often hear things like, “My life is too busy to be creative,” or “I used to write every single day, no matter what. I enjoyed the process. Then I got married … had children … moved … Then I had to …”
Face your excuses head-on
It wasn’t until a year before his death, ill with tuberculosis, that Kafka decided to move to Berlin and dedicate himself to writing. Meanwhile, his great works were written while holding down a demanding job and attempting to navigate complex relationships with loved ones. Kafka developed a routine that did not leave room for negotiation around his art. He woke, he exercised, he worked, and he wrote. He dedicated as fully to his writing as he did to his day job, and as his captivating, imaginative tales began to find their way to an exponential number of readers. He embodied his inner creator, no matter what else was going on in his life.
So rather than dwell in personal excuses, assess honestly and move forward. It doesn’t matter what we do if we are not creating what fulfills us; all that matters is we begin to take small steps to change that. The fact is, human beings are always creating, whether we like it or not. We are the sum of our patterns of behavior, be that avoidance or impulsiveness, thought or action, art or addictions, dwelling in the past, or speculating about the future.
I remember a time, for instance, where my life felt dull but rather comfortable. Meanwhile, I was suffering from anxious and pervasive thoughts. I told myself stories about what might happen, or I dwelled in my version of what had. That same creative energy funneled elsewhere may have ended up being channeled into a novel or an innovative idea at work.
Patterns of worry, anger, procrastination, and self-pity are creative acts
They are thoughts attached to stories and, with practice and maybe support, they can be replaced by patterns that empower and uplift us if dedicate ourselves to positive creative output.
Let’s redirect all the energy it takes to talk ourselves out of things, make excuses, or beat ourselves up. Let’s, as the prolific writer Neil Gaiman suggests, “Make good art.” I suggest beginning by asking yourself two simple questions. Make a study of you.
- What am I currently creating?
- What do I want to create?
Once you answer those two questions honestly, fully, wholeheartedly, let those answers carry you forward.
I’m here cheering you on.
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