I used to have a little sass and a whole lot of attitude when I heard about people struggling with creative block. My words always came, writer’s block was never an issue. Until I quit a job that allowed lots of time for contemplating my navel and took up with the nine-to-five crowd. Within a few weeks my writing had dried up. The energy spent running the rat race robbed me of spaces for creative thinking. I figured life would settle and my muse would find her way back . I wasn’t worried about a short stint of writer’s block. We would embrace, sit down with cups of loose leaf tea and get to talking. Weeks have passed, seasons have changed. I find myself almost six months into the new gig still in the midst of a severe creative block.
Last week I stumbled upon Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast. Based on one of my favourite books on writing, Big Magic. The best-selling author has taken her wisdom to the airwaves to mentor various creatives through droughts and turmoil. I downloaded the first ten episodes (no point messing about, this is a state of crisis morphing into a depressive episode). With a hopeful heart I pressed play on my commute to work.
Episode 1 – “Do What Ignites Your Soul” – told the tale of a mother struggling with mother’s guilt and taking time away from family for creative pursuits. Not quite what I was looking for to unblock writer’s block. If it were not for peak hour traffic shemozzles requiring my full attention I would have skipped ahead. It so turns out that traffic is good for something. Near the end of the episode Elizabeth tells her guest to try doing ten percent less, then see what happens.Writer’s block was never an issue. Until I quit a job that allowed lots of time for contemplating my navel and took up with the nine-to-five crowd. Within a few weeks my writing had dried up. Click To Tweet
I had my doubts. Can ten percent less really make a dent in the concrete wall between my muse and I. There are two things that broke through my resistance. One, if ten percent less is all that is standing between me and my words then what the hell? Two, it’s Elizabeth freaking Gilbert. She’s clearly creatively inspired and I am clearly not. I resolved to do ten percent less for the week to give the theory some case study science. Given my Type A overachiever attitude I was confident nobody at work would notice.
Within twenty-four hours my observant self had returned. This is where words come from, noticing the quirks of the world, thinking about them. Spinning them into a story. By the time I was on my return commute on day one I had two new ideas whirring in my head. On day two I woke with another. My muse apparently doesn’t require a lot of space to get chatty.
Can you have too much creativity?
It turns out that when my muse has been pent up for a time she gets a little manic. She kept me up all night. Day three was spent in a sleep deprived stupor in which I continually forgot that I was supposed to be doing less. Before I’d walked in the door at work I had written two Instagram captions, thought about all the things I wouldn’t be doing because I’m doing ten percent less, text a list of them to myself so I could do them on the weekend (surely they would fall into my ninety-percentile doingness over the course of a weekend), text notes to myself about all of the above, forgotten I’d text myself five times and checked my phone for who was texting me so early in the morning and had three cups of coffee.
Exhausted I resolved to do at least twenty-percent less on day four to make up for the doings of day three. I read, lied in bed and watched as my mind started to run off again. My manic muse was confirmed when I had not one, not two, but THREE instagram accounts by the end of the day. The whole time watching myself press buttons as though in a dream, fraught because I no longer have time to do one account justice.
Give it a go
You might say this is not going well but here’s the thing. This is the most creative I’ve been in months. The idea of allowing space for less opened floodgates. The remainder of the week passed as a stabilising period where I settled into doing less and the manic phase passed. Ideas continued to flow and I noted them down to come back to. When I have more time.
Doing ever so slightly less had opened up my mind again to ideas and observations. It felt wonderful to reconnect with a curious mind. What it did not do is give me enough time to actually get to the writing of the ideas. What it did do is place me in a wiser position to think about the changes I need to make to carve out more writing time in my life.
I learned that this is the space in which I feel most alive. It doesn’t matter whether I am manic or depressed – in words is where my life is fully lived. It is the state of nothingness from modern living, of grinding through day after day, each a mirror of itself, where my words die. The week gave me this valuable understanding and the catalyst to move toward another way of living more conducive to writing stories. Magic Lessons might not solve all your creative problems but it is a starting point to chip away at them. Give it a listen.