Oh muse, where art thou?
How to be creative when you just aren't feeling it
The creation of this post has hopefully answered two questions I received on Instagram last week. How to be creative when you aren’t feeling it and how to overcome creative blocks — ? Right now I’m not feeling it. My cat is sick and I’m tired and sad. I don’t have much bandwidth to create new things, but creating things is my happy place as well as the cornerstone of my business.
This partly why I’ve felt so called to Substack. I want more reasons to create for fun, just like I did in the old days before I depended on my creative output to pay the rent. But I also know you can’t force it, so what to do?
At least once a year burnout takes me down after creating too much (hello every new course I’ve ever made) so the absence of the muse is a familiar space. After an intense period of making I always need time to be fallow, so that’s my first tip — let the field of your creatively lie fallow.
Idea seeds won’t geminate in over-farmed land, so don’t push through if you don’t have to. Rest your creative brain and do something else. For me this looks like books, Youtube, friend hangs and relaxing sticker meditations1. I do tarot study for the hell of it and like to declutter my house (cathartic but also symbolic). I’d love to tell you I go for long hikes and drink green juice but honestly, I just potter around at home, enjoying being aimless. The emptiness makes space for the new ideas.
Next, reassess your creative cave. Where do you create? Are you surrounded by inspiration or are you trying to pull magic out of a boring grey box? Perhaps a more important question is: what works best for you? Many well-known authors check into a hotel to write, needing the blank canvas of an anonymous room to retreat into their imagination. I’m the opposite — I’ve filled my room with dolls and curios, washi towers and art. I have my books arranged by colour and incense is always burning.
When I’m in the right headspace simply showing up to my desk is all I need to start. Here’s why:
When the words aren’t coming I change my dolls’ outfits — sounds silly but I’ve already done it twice this morning while mulling over this post. The dollyverse2 was discovered through the exploits of my inner child — more on that in a sec — and it’s turned my cave into a playground, so how do you want to decorate your cave? Do you even need a cave? As an introvert I prefer working from home, but occasionally I enjoy shaking it up — a cafe is perfect for busting through admin, while the library is better for focussed writing. I always work faster because I want to get back home — it’s like a deadline with cake ;)
That video above is my next tip — try different flavours. If you paint, write. If you write, knit. Garden. Bake. Build something out of wood. Or in my case, spend half a day filming your office only to discover “filming” is actually quite hard, so you spend another hour taking still photos instead — ha! It was fun getting out of my comfort zone and the video kindled the seeds of this post, which made me want to begin.
Now we come to the most important tip of all — let your inner child take the reins. Nurturing a relationship with my inner child, Susie Q, was a gift born out of the pandemic. I’ve had plenty of therapy to work through childhood issues, but in 2020 it became clear there’s a little pixie who lives inside of me and craves my attention. Bringing her into my life and work has taken my capacity for play to new heights. I make a conscious effort to spend time with her and her propensity for mischief sees me putting stickers on everything and giving so much less of a shit about getting things “right”.
The older I get the more I integrate all of my selves and Susie helps me get out of my over-thinky adult brain. It’s the adult brain that blocks me — my inner child is always ready to play.
So when you have to create, bring out the big guns. Stickers, crayons, finger paints, glitter. Whatever delights little you. Find a big piece of paper and paint a happy giraffe. Go outside and find leaves from five different trees. Make a mud pie. Pick only red flowers. Draw the clouds. Build a pink car out of Lego (where are all the pink pieces?!). In short, PLAY. Get back inside your right brain and let go of the need to control it all.
* * *
Half-way through writing this post I drew tarot cards at random to spark ideas:
Deck: Spolia Tarot (out of print)
I see the creative block and lethargy, and all the emotions I’m currently swimming in. I see competing ideas and some overthinking, next to my strengths, my cat, my need to ask WHY. I see lots of blue, which makes me feel calm and I see spaciousness in the images — what would happen if I wrote for an hour and then gave myself the rest of the day off? Perhaps my ideas will be clearer in the morning.
So that’s what I did. I’ve written this post over two days, because the Overnight Brain Reboot™ has yet to let me down. In my 13 years of creating courses I always let a newsletter, a post, a lesson, a video, anything mined out of my brain, breathe overnight. Did the same when I worked as a journalist.
Let. It. Breathe.
My final tip is to write a letter to your Muse. Write for ten minutes without stopping, and if there’s more to say, keep going. Tell them your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your nightmares. Get it all out on the page. Challenge them. Confide in them. Introduce them to your inner child. And then keep your tools at the ready — sharpen your pencils, fill your (fountain) pens. Have a pile of your favourite notebooks to hand. Keep your shelves lined with books you love. Buy that overpriced-but-awesome stationery. Splurge on that enticing new oracle deck! — so that when the Muse comes knocking, you’re ready to let them back in.
* * *
Declaring this Substack my return to blogging prompted a smidge of performance anxiety. Add to that the achingly liminal space of my cat’s cancer diagnosis, and I wasn’t sure I’d get this post written. But I really wanted to. I have a workshop idea that’s been simmering for ages, and I know there will be time for creating later in the year, I know my heart is needed at home, but it’s felt good to type these words. It was fun to make the video.
I think it’s possible to hold space for my sadness and still create.
Sending hugs from me and Susie Q xo
I will write more about sticker meditations soon.