Why it’s essential we make space for creativity in daily life—and how to do it.
You might think adding time to write into your weekly flow would prove easy—after all, you carry out a variety of practical tasks. But if you’ve tried and failed to establish a regular routine, and assumed this meant you weren’t a “real” writer, you might be surprised to learn a sustainable practice actually requires a mindset shift around the reasons for writer’s block and larger role writing plays in your life.
5 WAYS TO RECLAIM WRITING AS AN EVERYDAY ACTIVITY
One upside to millennial culture is that creativity has finally reclaimed a place in the daily lives of many Americans. A potential downside is Americans now feel extra pressure to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one. Technology and a gig-economy have created a glut of competition at the very moment publishing and arts funding has constricted, leaving fewer artists and writers able to receive compensation for their efforts. Add this to a culture that conflates who we are with what we earn, and many writers find themselves blocked before they begin.
The easiest way to write well is to remove the pressure of making a living from your writing. Forget fame and fortune—aim for engagement instead.
“I always maintained other streams of income because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world. I have seen so many beautiful creative souls murder their creative process because of this relentless insistence that they are not real artists unless their art pays the bills. When it doesn’t work out (and it usually doesn’t) these people become angry, bitter, stuck, bankrupted, and — worst of all — they often quit creating at all.
Writing for a lifetime is a mindset easier espoused than achieved, but one that can be made easier by completing these exercises to interrogate how writing serves your larger life purpose.
For example, if you say you don’t have time to write, might you really worry your work won’t matter if it doesn’t get published / posted online / an award?
Do you believe you don’t have the right to play on the page a few minutes a day . . . or that you can’t make a commitment unless writing provides for your family?
And, if you can’t write for a living, you won’t do it at all?
Instead of such constricting questions, consider:
Draw upon your purpose to create an affirmation that rings true and allows a sense of relaxation into your body. Discharge this whenever the “What if I can’t make a living …?” static starts buzzing around your brain.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE ANXIETY, AND CHOOSE TO ENGAGE ANYWAY.
Making time to create is a subversive act; after all, it is time not spent hustling or consuming to sustain a capitalist culture. It is also a vulnerable one. Even if you vow never to share your work, making something from nothing forces us to make decisions, confront existential questions, and seek answers. Your brain knows this, and resists.
Writing actually triggers meaning crises, as veteran creativity coach and psychotherapist Eric Maisel explains. Such crises are kept at bay when performing rote household tasks, painting within the lines of daily routines, or zoning out. The discomfort of making art is reason enough to seek soothing oblivion. In part, we veg in front of the TV streaming other people’s art because we don’t have to consider what meaning we are making with our lives when we ingest, only when we create.
Acknowledging, rather than dismissing, creative anxiety goes a long way to helping overcome it.
If you find yourself triggered to self-soothe with distraction the moment you sit down to write, recognize that you are reacting to the anxiety creating stirs, remind yourself this is natural, and then force yourself to delay that gratification until you have spent fifteen minutes on your project. Each time you succeed in compassionately confronting avoidance, you create a positive feedback loop, making future sessions more easeful by training your brain to associate writing with success.
“Rejection educates. Failure teaches. Both hurt. Only distraction comforts. And of these, only distraction can lead to destruction. What determines whether we will succeed as creators is not how intelligent we are, or how talented we are, or how hard we work, but how we respond to the adversity of creation.”
— Kevin Ashton
3. MAKE ART JUST PART OF LIFE.
Writers psych themselves out of regular writing by imagining the amount of time and effort required to complete a book far exceeds their finite resources. When faced with this fear, the wisest thing a writer can do is not try to immediately up endurance or commitment, but instead reduce the time devoted to writing to a manageable amount.
Studies haves shown most people don’t take action toward goals because they are actually reluctant to take SMALL steps. (They worry small steps won’t add up.) So, they take large leaps infrequently, burn out, then quit.
But small actions taken a few times a week tether us to dreams and deliver results. As Julia Cameron is fond of saying, “small daily actions” rather than “indulging in big questions” lead to long-term results for writers.
Professional authors employ eagle vision to envision long projects, timelines, and word counts. They make the dream bigger . . . but keep the steps small by embracing turtle tasks to avoid burnout. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed on a project, keep the dream big, but shrink the steps.
The Magic of 15 Minutes
Harvard sociologist and bestselling life coach Martha Beck cites fifteen minutes as the ideal amount of time to commit to a project on a daily basis for long-term success, as it’s often the duration a body produces minimal resistance to when approaching a long-procrastinated-upon task.
Pay attention to your body. How little (or much) time are you willing to invest, on a daily or weekly basis, in a creative activity that may NOT bring fortune or fame? Whatever produces no resistance is the amount of time to limit your work.
Is it worth spending hours every day writing a novel no one may read? That’s a large commitment to sink into any endeavor. But is creativity worth a couple hours each week? Quite likely.
Never make the risk and cost too great for you to begin engagement with your work.
4. SUSTAIN THE DREAM WORLD OF A STORY.
From a technical perspective, it’s vital for writers of book-length manuscripts to dip into the world of a book and its characters on a near-daily basis, for even a few minutes, to sustain the fictional dream. The more frequently you enter this world, the more often your unconscious begins to co-create with you during all those hours you are not “actively writing,” utilizing material you encounter in daily life, allowing a story to almost write itself.
In From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, Robert Olen Butler emphasizes the importance of the unconscious in drafting, including how accessing the optimal zone for creativity and innovation regularly makes it more effortless to enter:
“Art: the vision . . . the world . . . the line-to-line words all come from your unconscious.
” . . . Once you are engaged in writing a piece of fiction from your unconscious, it is crucial that you write every day, because the nature of this place is such that it’s very difficult to find your way in. But, once you’re in . . . if you keep going back, it’s not nearly so daunting and difficult. But if you let three or four days go by without writing (on a project), that doorway closes and seals itself up.”
Often, writers put off writing until they have done additional research, or feel inspired. And while there are certainly skills writers gain day by day, they also risk moments lost. Far more effective to jot down whatever image, sensation, or idea floats into your consciousness as it comes. Recognize: you may not be able to write the line, scene, or story today that you might five years from now . . . but you may also never again be able to write the line, scene, or story you could today.
5. AFFIRM WHY DAILY CREATIVITY IS ESSENTIAL—FOR HUMANITY.
American cultural mythologies continue to perpetuate the divide between artists and “average people.” Biographies and bio-pics emphasize outsized talent, and a fixed mindset dominates stories we tell one another about artistic ancestors, rare genius more seductive than purpose or persistence.
Today, Americans associate industrial art-making with mass-marketed entertainment—and the non-industrial fine arts with the academic elite. As a result, we end up categorizing art into “high” and “low” genres, the most commercial forms contrasting an insular arts community most Americans find inaccessible.
This further divides a polarized America and it makes it daunting for many to even feel entitled to create.
Each day that one of us carves a little time for creativity into routine, we begin to bridge this divide. We refute the imperative that says creating requires a large investment of capital. We democratize the process by rejecting the notion of a “creative 1%.” And as we enjoy art-making throughout our lifetimes, we feel less alienated from or intimated by other’s art, a greater willingness to engage with it.
“Being creative is not a luxury reserved for people with some special artist gene.”
~ Jacob Nordby
. . . tethers us to the present moment via the senses.
. . . connects us with our unconscious: revealing patterns, allowing disparate collisions to give rise to new forms, and unexpected solutions to solve contemporary challenges.
. . . makes us more empathetic, better citizens, and essential witnesses of our time.
. . . enables non-dominant groups to bring diverse stories and forms forward.
. . . subverts entrenched capitalist philosophy that says worth is dictated by productivity and profit.
. . . resists forces that use disengagement and disconnection to distract from threats.
. . . empowers us to co-create a better future.
Most vitally, daily creativity reminds us that simply living may be the most intense art of all.
LOOKING FOR MORE WAYS AROUND WRITER’S BLOCK? LEARN:
II. How to enter the brain wave state for optimum creativity in 90 seconds.
III. How to define your life purpose . . . and how writing fits in.
IV. How MBTI Personality Type affects writing style and skillset.
V. How to reconnect with your artistic ancestors.
an Arizona-based editor who turns ideas into art. Need to get your book publication-ready?