Slicing Through Artist Block: for my friend Vanessa


There are those awful times when I didn’t feel like I’d ever have another idea.  For anything.  Everything I thought of, I’d already done several times over and I just can’t get motivated to do the next – dance with the same set of movements, another still life, or another poem about rain. I believe that you are your actions, rather than your thoughts and therefore, I could no longer count on my old identity as an artist.  (This is a somewhat comforting thought when you are occasionally homicidal toward coworkers or spouse or the really bad driver in front of you, as I am.)

In retrospect, I find that in those barren stretches I do things that eventually erupt into creativity again.  But I don’t realize it at the time.  Many of these times, I often feel the world heavy around me.  Or I’m running in too many directions because of desire to learn as much as possible about the world.  Or I wish to dissolve into fantasy (at which point I read a lot of novels).  I might be putting a lot of energy into work or politicking or socializing, or not have any energy at all.

Then, boom.  Something changes.  It could be as simple as the strep throat I am just getting over.  I  step back, slow down, and watch the world go by.  The ideas drift by like pollen in the spring air. Achoo, ideas start flowing into my thoughts and popping into my journals.  My journals start plumping.  It as if all that time I spent away from paints and song were simply a catalyst.

So here’s a list to step once more on the path of creation.  These are ideas for writing or art, my two main endeavors these days, but they are applicable to any art form.

1. Make your own list of things you’d like to do or learn but haven’t yet. Investigate what it would take to do one or two.  Maybe start one. (My latest favorites are jumping out of an airplane and learning welding.)

2. Work on writer’s prompts or art exercises.  You can find these on the web and in books.  My favorite books for writer’s prompts are Susan Wooldridge “Poem Crazy” and Josip Novakovitch “Fiction Writer’s Workshop.”  For art, I find inspiration reading books about symbolism in history and across cultures, or leafing through the art books I’ve accumulated.

3. Read books.  Go to museums.   Visit the theatre.  Enjoy friends.

4. Tell yourself you’re going to do something small.  Something that just takes 5 minutes.  A quick sketch or two of your cat.  A few random words about yourself or why you hate your boss.

5. Do something small as regularly as possible.  Maybe vow to make it once a day.  It’s okay if you don’t keep the vow and end up doing this once a week.  Keep going.

6. Turn off the media stream.  Give yourself some quiet time to think.  I like to take walks and just look and listen carefully.

7. Switch creative outlets.  If you’re a writer, try drawing.  If you’re a painter, try singing.  Sometimes trying something we don’t have any expectations of being good at is just what we need.  Beginner’s mind.  After, I find I approach my regular channels with that same beginner’s mind and a different perspective.

8. Do “morning pages,”  writing steadily for 3 pages anything that comes into your head.  Each day. (See rule above about daily work.) Don’t edit, don’t think much.  Try to spill words onto the page as fluidly and steadily as possible.  You can throw out the pages afterward.  I like doing this in the morning captivated by the warmth of a cup of coffee.  But any time in the day can work.

9. Remember the process of making art is the important part.  Whether the product is good or bad doesn’t matter.  The finished work is merely the by-product of the process.  Sometimes I like what I did. About 9 out of 10 times, I toss it in the garbage.

10. Be patient.  Know the muse will find you when you are both ready.  It will happen.

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