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Finding Creative Energy

Updated: May 12, 2023

There are some times when you just feel like you just don't have it. When life gets in the way and you don't have time to sit at your desk and clack out that word count. This was one of those weeks, unfortunately. Finals were this week and so I spent most of my time working through student papers and entering final grades. I thought about this blog from time to time, noting it as a thing on my to-do list, but nothing sprung to mind for a topic. There was no inspiration for what "wisdom" I might want to share this week. Then this weekend, I watched my brother's dog for him. She's a precious three-legged pittie, and she's best friends with my dog. Which means they were non-stop play. Altogether, it's been a bit of an exhausting week. Now it's Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting in my writing group forcing myself to write something because I am terrible at keeping up habits.

I could do something every day for weeks, but once I skip it once, I'm done. I was once on a three-month streak of flossing every day and now I'm lucky if I do it once a week. I'm worried that if I don't churn out a blog every Monday, I might stop doing it all together. The fear that no one but my family is reading this will take over and I'll give up the whole endeavor. So... in the spirit of trying to find something to write about, this week we're going to talk about– how do we find the creative energy to sit down to write, even when we don't feel like it?

Creativity so often feels like this fleeting thing that's either there or not. We often talk about it like lightning striking, or as a muse drifting in and out as she pleases. I like to think about creativity like a cat. I don't know about you guys, but my cat, Remus, tends to hide under the bed. I know he's there because I can see his eyes shining when I point my flashlight at him, but when I stretch my arm out to grab him, he's evasive. He takes some coaxing to come out. Sometimes just calling to him is enough, whispering how handsome he is and offering my hand for chin scratches. Other times I need to pull out the big guns and shake his treats or open a can of wet food and he'll come running. There are times I have to have my husband stomp his feet on the other side of the bed and Remus comes running towards the door, only for me to grab him and put him in his carrying case for the vet. Creativity is like a cat, waiting to be lured out with a mouse on a sting.

Unlike the two dogs that were all over me this weekend, creativity needs you to put in a little work before it will come to you. Remus is affectionate and playful, but he isn't about come and love you for nothing in return.

When I'm looking to give creativity the metaphorical "pspsps," I try to think about what I'm hoping to get out of it. Just like with Remus, if I'm looking for some attention and affection, I might bring out his brush and some treats. When I'm looking to start a new project, I like to start with a list. I know I said I wasn't a plotter, and that's true. I don't sit and try to solve every little detail, but I do make a list of all the things I know so far. Do I know how it starts or how it ends? Do I know anything about my main character? I start with a list so that the creativity has something to cling to. A blanket for creativity to curl into.

(Listen, I could keep going back to my cat, but this isn't a one-to-one metaphor, so I hope we can keep going with an open mind about it.)

When I'm continuing a project, I always try to set the table for the next time. Meaning, when I'm done for the day I'll scratch out a note about what happens next so I'm not at a total loss when I come back to a project. When I come back to a project, it's like the creativity is stuck in the last words I wrote; I just have to reactivate it. Sometimes I continue the story but others I'll start in a totally new place. Maybe not writing the next chapter but something that happens later and is just more interesting at that moment. I let the creativity lead me. That's how I wrote my last book. Not focusing on what happens next chronologically, but instead thinking about what was the next thing I knew happened. Each project is a different breed and requires a different approach.

I don't want to keep talking about what happens when I sit down to write because that's a different blog. The truth is that creativity comes to us at all different moments and we have to know how to invite it in. This week in particular when I was drowning in finals papers and dog hair, I found the time to paint my nails. I know it sounds silly, maybe even like a waste of time, but it opens up a moment to do a couple things.

The first is that it prioritizes me. Like I talked about before, you have to be selfish with that writing time, and if you're anything like me, it's hard being selfish with time. I always feel like I should be doing something, or helping someone in some way. So, when I paint my nails, I physically can't do that for at least twenty minutes. In that aspect, the second thing happens. It forces me to slow down. I don't know about you, but it's very difficult to catch creativity (so to speak) if you're running around being loud. Creativity takes patience, quiet, and thought. When I paint my nails, I'm forced to sit still, and yes I might be watching tv, but that's it. I'm not also on my phone or folding laundry or so on. I'm just sitting, waiting for paint to dry.

I try to find these little ways to bring on the quiet so that creativity might be safe enough to crawl out from under the bed. I know a lot of people find this time in the shower or when they're doing something mundane like dishes. Sometimes creativity finds me there, but most often I find that my muse needs more from me. I recently started to watercolor paint. I keep them on my desk for when the muse is elusive. I focus less on creating a picture, and more on exploring a technique. People find going on walks helps get their mind in gear and that's true every so often, but I'd rather go kayaking or some other, more active outdoor activity.

My brain is so used to running at a million miles a minute that I need to find ways to exhaust it before the creative cat feels safe enough to emerge. Like when I lay on the floor of my living room and let my actual cat sit on my chest after I've spent all morning doing yard work. It's in those moments that my characters come and talk to me, telling me the next step in their journey. I'll make notes to carry with me like armor the next time I dig into the trenches of a new blank page.

Life has a way of both inspiring and distracting us from the goals we set for ourselves. We want so badly to be connected to those around us, but sometimes we need to stow away in a dark place and focus on the work it takes to get where we want to be. In the dark, it helps to have a companion. A small cat to hop in your lap and let you know you're on the right track. Something to bring you comfort when you feel like you just can't do it. We just have to remember to leave space for the cat to come. Create a quiet, safe place for it to rest while you work.

Remus and me after a long day

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