Creativity Prescription

Feeling saggy and flat in the creativity department? Is your muse off counting stars while you’re contemplating dust motes and peeling paint?

Don’t just sit there!  Motivation is within reach. Invest time in your interests!

The Creative Doldrums

It happens to us all at some point in a creative life. Whether rejection wears us down or a nasty review rains on our parade, sometimes the creative gig is a tough act. One of the biggest joy-robbers and energy-sappers is comparison, which I blogged about here. To hang in there for the long haul, we creative types have to look after our souls.

I know this well – probably because I keep having to relearn the lesson. I still catch myself comparing. I frequently run my tank dry, neglecting to nurture my spirit and feed my passions. I continue pushing myself to build a platform and develop my craft and conjure new ideas – all while working on existing projects (and holding down another demanding career and looking after a family).

The last thing I want to do is lose the joy of creativity.

Joys of The Zone

Solitude and quiet – they are the conditions creative people crave. We yearn for isolation, jealously carving out precious slabs of  distraction-free time in hopes of sidestepping any piddling thing that bars us from The Zone.

Ah, The Zone. A true creative sighs at the thought of those hours of deep concentration and prolific productivity, where time vanishes and ideas surge. The Zone is where we cast off the wet blanket of self and blissfully commune with our art. This sublime state in the zone is called flow.

Psychologists claim that flow is the key to fulfilment and happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the researcher behind the concept of flow, holds that creativity gives meaning to life. He explains, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Perils of The Zone

The pull of the Zone is strong, so strong that it wouldn’t take much to become a Flow junkie: a malnourished, greasy-haired, bug-eyed and hunched recluse (with an astonishing body of work).

Balance, as always, is the key. Writers, illustrators, creatives of all types need to make sure we stretch – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Otherwise, we get stale and our art goes stagnant.

Just as important as creating and producing is feeding. The artistic soul needs nourishment and a varied diet. Make time for pursuits beyond your art and pursue them passionately. Discover new interests, tackle fresh challenges, and take some risks. It will make your creativity thrive.

Stoking the Creative Fire

Sometimes our ‘other interests’ come with restrictions. For instance, I know someone who is a scuba diving enthusiast, but it’s not the kind of activity she can do on a whim. It’s expensive, and it requires a lot of planning. Although scuba is her conduit to flow, she has to wait for her annual opportunity.

For others, travel kindles the creative flame. For me, a theatre ticket does the trick. Or choral music. Or a simple romp with my dogs.

Here’s a list of inexpensive, easy recharging activities to indulge in. They’re guaranteed to refresh the body, mind and spirit of creative people.

  • Attend a yoga class
  • taste wines at a vineyard
  • finger paint
  • go for a walk (read more here. Seriously, click the link to read one of my most under-appreciated posts)
  • even better, walk in the rain, savouring sounds and smells
  • visit (or volunteer) at an animal shelter
  • sort through old photos
  • help a child turn a big box into a fort
  • bake homemade focaccia (with or without olives)
  • research the name of your suburb or town
  • draw a rough family tree with the help of your oldest relative
  • visit an apothecary shop and ask for a love potion (just to see what happens)
  • whittle a block of soap into a dragon shape
  • visit (with an open mind) a variety of local places of worship
  • try on a formal outfit at a vintage clothing store
  • learn some useful phrases from a native speaker of another language
  • study the structure of bridges (or a structure you are unfamiliar with)
  • interview someone you admire (not related to your art)
  • join a music group (ukuleles and harmonicas can be bought cheaply)
  • play ping-pong. Or musical chairs.
  • search a cemetery for quirky headstones
  • shop at an ethnic grocery store and, with the owner’s assistance, buy a snack typical to that ethnicity.

Check your ulterior motives at the door: this isn’t the time to fossick for a story or a subject. Instead, attack the activity like a kid – for plain old fun.

Inspiration is bound to follow, but only if you let your enthusiasm take the lead.

Over to You

Do any of the activities in my list sound like fun? What do you do to avoid burnout and stoke your creative flame? Share your ideas and tips in the comments!

Image Credits: Graphics made by ME on Canva

Long-Haul Flights & Flow

Long-haul flights are the pits. If the lack of leg room doesn’t kill you, the monotony will. But I found a way to exploit the time and disembark with a spring in your step. It turns out, 30,000 feet is conducive to getting in “The Zone.”

118024748_4a17a0d234_zThe Zone is not an easy destination. Whining kids, ringing phones, the lure of the internet, mounting emails and housework–the boss’s demands. All the pressures of the daily grind conspire against The Zone. Distractions kill any chance of getting there.

The Zone requires two things: space to focus and time. So forget the airline’s entertainment offerings of movies and the silly games on the seat-back screen. They don’t work. Time drags when you’re trying to fill it with mindless entertainment.

One hour into my thirteen-hour flight from Australia to LAX, I stumbled into the zone. Who knew it was located thirty-thousand feet above sea level? Without life’s mundane distractions, and, in particular, without the internet, I achieved  Csíkszentmihályi’s  state of flow, and it was bliss. Bliss on a long-haul flight–seems like pie in the sky (sorry for the pun), but it is possible.

Aside from a couple breaks for meals, leg stretches, and water bottle refills, I focused on my writing. I clocked in over ten highly productive hours on my WIP, finishing an outline and a synopsis. Now I can get stuck into my draft.

Time Flies on a Plane…

Normally, I stumble off the plane and lug my bedraggled self through the terminal, bleary-eyed and muddle-headed. The horizontal urge is so strong that I have to will myself not to curl up on the luggage conveyor belt.

The crazy thing is, this time I can’t remember the flight! I was so absorbed in the creative process that time flew (sorry for this pun, too). I bounced into LAX buzzing with energy and feeling elated about my progress. Flow, it turns out, induces a pleasant neurochemical cocktail of norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin. All of these things enhance creativity and some boost your mood.

Now that’s what I call a good take-away from a long-haul flight! It’s too early to say for sure, but even the jet lag seems less severe. I am actually looking forward to the longer return flight because I’ll have an extra hour of writing time.

Keys to Flowing when You’re Flying

  1. Sit in the aisle seat. Your row-mates’ trips to the loo will remind you to take a break and move around, something that’s especially important on a flight where there’s an elevated risk of DVT. If you’re tucked up against the window with no one to make you move, you could get lost in the flow and cause a clotting risk.
  2. Use a laptop. I’ve taken an iPad before, but the native keypad slows me down too much. A Bluetooth keypad is out due to the flight mode requirement. Handwriting is good, except that you’ll have to use the overhead light, which might bug the others around you. I am convinced the laptop made all the difference this time.
  3. Prepare! See this as a time to create, not to research. Anticipate the info you will need and pre-load it on your computer before take-off since you won’t have internet access.
  4. Refill your water bottle on trips to the loo. Staying hydrated on a long-haul flight is super important. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure we’re sharper when we’re topped up with fluids.
  5. Have a specific, achievable goal. Focus comes more easily when we know what we want to achieve.

Creative Commons Image Credit: Michael J. Slezak (JW)