I recently taught a class titled Breaking Free of Writer’s Block for OIRWA. During the class we covered a lot of the things that cause creative blocks and we talked about a lot of things that can be done to avoid a block or to break a block once it has happened.
What becomes clear every time I teach this workshop is that while there are many blocks that are caused by things beyond our immediate control one of the biggest causes of creative blocks is the way we treat the creative part of ourselves. The way we treat our creative selves reminds me of the story of the farmer who killed the golden goose. In the story the golden goose lays one golden egg each day. But the farmer and his wife are not satisfied with one golden egg each day. They want to get rich faster and they decide that if they kill the golden goose and open her up they can get all the golden eggs at once and become rich much faster. They kill the goose and in opening her up they discover that she is like every other goose. There aren’t any golden eggs inside her.
Many of us treat our creative selves this way…pushing ourselves for more and more word count…more and more pages…more and more finished books until our demands on our creative selves limit the very things that nurture the creative part of ourselves.
The soul of a creative person—that deep, inner, creative part is fragile so you need to protect it.
Yes, I know there is a big drive to get word count, to get page count, to finish books.
It seems like in our zeal to achieve word count, to rack up pages and to finish books we sometimes begin to see our creative souls as separate from us or we begin to feel distrust of that part…as if it won’t produce without us standing guard over it…ready to lash it for lapses in focus…stray thoughts about other things it would be fun to explore, and the occasional slow down to recombobulate and refocus. We put limitations on it. We set goals that make our free-spirited, creative, part that values fun, exploration, and creative endeavor feel closed in, claustrophobic, and as if it is on a never ending rat wheel in which it is expected to produce…produce…produce…without ever enjoying any of the experiences that give energy to the creative process.
This sets up a situation in which our inner creative self which I think of as part of our soul becomes the slave of the outer, more goal driven, outer part of us.
We press our creative selves into service. We demand more and more of our creative selves. We want word count. We want finished pages. We want finished books. We declare a no time off, no sick leave, no weekends off, no holidays policy until we get the desired word count, page count, or finish the book. Often when our creative self steps up and does deliver, we respond by thinking, okay…we can make that word count goal with fair ease…let’s increase it.
In this scenario the creative self begins to experience less and less of the things that at one time inspired it. Now instead of being encouraged to run free, play, to experience life, to enjoy the details, nuances, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile experiences that once brought energy and vibrancy to our work, it is now encouraged to leave those things behind.
In this no joy world where it is expected to produce…produce…produce by an overlord who is never satisfied with the amount of production and which never allows time off for fun, for experience, for making connection with sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experience that make up the vibrancy of life, the creative self begins to draw back, whither, and eventually die.
It may seem that I am blaming our outer overload for blocks…and to an extent I do think that the wicked overlord is to blame for many of them. The overlord, like the farmer who killed the goose that laid the golden egg, desires to get all the gold from the inner creative self as quickly as possible. The result is often that the overlord sickens or even kills the inner creativity it most wants to harness.
The overlord isn’t necessarily bad. It becomes bad when the structures that it creates begin to weaken, demoralize, and sicken the inner creative self.
Perhaps the proper role of the overlord is to be less like a wicked slave master whipping his/her slave into submission at the risk of killing the slave all together and to become more like a nurturing parent who listens to the child’s needs and provides everything the child needs to be successful, happy, and well-adjusted.
A good parent provides a framework for growth, exploration, and fun. A good parent encourages a child to do his homework, to get good grades, to be successful but he/she also encourages a child to go outside, to play, to explore, to pretend, to experience all the things that make life vibrant, fun, glorious.
Our creative selves, like children, need the balance. They need opportunities to explore, to experience, to taste the vibrancy of life as this is the fodder for their creations. They also need a guiding force, like a concerned parent who gently provides structure reminding the child that it is time to buckle down and do their homework, while promising that the time for fun will not be long in coming. Of course, the good parent must keep that promise and provide the creative self the time for fun, exploration, reconnection with all that drives his/her creative process.
Take care of your creative self. Listen to it. Nurture it.
You can feel whether something you are trying is working to nourish your inner creative self or whether your inner creative self is withering in the face of it. Listen to this inner voice. If your inner creative self is feeling overwhelmed with a word count goal of 1000 words a day pull back to 500. It may be that your creative self will then feel better and will deliver a pretty stead 1500 words a day.
Replace your wicked overlord with a concerned parent. Listen to your creative self and give it what it needs to be at its best. In this way it will do what it does best and you will be the slow, gradual recipient.
Remember always that your inner creative self is fragile, that you need to handle it with care. This one simple thought and way of looking at the creative part of yourself can provide a great deal of direction in terms of avoiding blocks in the first place and/or nursing your inner creative self back to health if a block has occurred.
Even if you are the best parent possible to your inner creative self and you give your inner creative self everything it needs to be successful there is still the chance that a block will happen but recovery from these blocks will be much swifter if your inner creative self is nurtured rather than battered into submission.
This post is adapted from a lesson from my workshop Breaking Free of Writer’s Block. Be sure to check out the Writer’s Workshops Page for more upcoming workshops or check out the Yellow Highlighter Classes which offer specific line by line feedback on a work in progress.