Posts Tagged 'Writer’s Block'

Blast Through Writers Block: Create a Sensory Collage


Here’s a good exercise to try if you’re stuck, blocked or ready to start a new piece but don’t know what to write:

Take a walk, and bring a notebook. Jot down things you see, hear, smell, feel, touch and experience. Use all your senses.

Include everything:

  • bits of conversation—not just the words but also the tone of the language and the postures of the speakers
  • neighborhood signs—their messages and their visual style
  • changing cloud formations and the things they bring to mind for you
  • the exact color of the sky
  • a crying or laughing baby—how it sounds and how it makes you feel
  • the scent, texture and color of blooming flowers
  • dogs checking each other out or chasing squirrels
  • traffic—the sound, smell and look of it
  • the sights, sounds and smells of trees you encounter
  • the color and texture of the hair of anyone you pass
  • the items people are holding or carrying

These are just a few ideas—be sure to include everything that catches your attention. And pay attention to everything around you as you walk.

Then find a place to sit such as a park bench, cafe, picnic table, the ground, your car … whatever works for you.

Now combine several of the sensory images you’ve gathered and use them to create a story, essay, poem or any other piece of writing. Play around with the images and try different things, just as you would if you were making a collage. If one combination doesn’t work, try something else. Write something silly or dark or absurd or uncharacteristic of you. Have fun as you fit the puzzle pieces together in different ways.

I like this exercise because it combines the physical activity of walking with the mental and emotional experience of collecting bits of what you experience. It gets you away from staring at a blank piece of paper. And combining things in new ways always engages the muse.

Let me know how you like this exercise, or share your creations!

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the final installment:
(To read the previous installments, click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.)

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the third installment:
(To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here.)

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

Every year, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the second installment:
(To read the first installment, click here.)

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon is just as big as yours.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
CLICK HERE!   (To learn more, click here)

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the final installment:
(To read the previous installments, click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.)

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the third installment:
(To read the first installment, click here. For the second installment, click here.)

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

Every Fall, I rerun my popular 4-part series on perfectionism and how to overcome its potentially crippling effects on creativity. Here’s the second installment:
(To read the first installment, click here.)

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing When You’re Feeling Uninspired

(I’m busy fighting dragons, so I’m reposting an old favorite today.)

  1. Take a break and do something else for a while before returning to writing.
  2. Freewrite until new ideas start flowing.
  3. Take a shower or bath—muses are known to be particularly inspirational during bathtime! And here are some products so you don’t have to run dripping for a pen and paper.
  4. Just keep writing, and see if you make a breakthrough.
  5. Work on a different writing project.
  6. Take a walk. Turn off your brain and experience the world through your senses.
  7. Do something else creative for a while, like drawing, singing, making a collage or playing with clay.
  8. Meditate or do a creative visualization—try this one if you’re dealing with a persistent inner critic.
  9. Read a book. Let someone else’s words flow over you.
  10. Write something silly or just plain bad. Don’t judge yourself. Sometimes if you start writing, no matter how uninspired you feel, your muse eventually shows up and sprinkles a little magic on the page.

How do you break through those uninspired moments? Share your creative coping methods in the comments.


DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CREATIVE BURSTS WORKBOOK!
And receive free creativity prompts delivered to your inbox twice a week.
To learn more, click here!

Fly Away From Your Creative Blocks

Creative Blocks. We’ve all got them: perfectionism, overwhelm, procrastination, lack of confidence…the list goes on. And even when you’ve committed yourself to your creativity and learned to work in flow, your most persistent blocks can still sneak up behind you. Start tapping you on the shoulder when you least expect them. Hover over your computer and make nasty faces while you’re trying to create. Do a rain dance until a black cloud forms over your head and starts storming.

I recently had some fun writing about creatively escaping my biggest block these days, which is overwhelm, also known as too-much-to-do-itis. I chose to simply refer to it as “my creative block” as I envisioned a big cement square holding me back. After letting my imagination run wild with fun escape routes, I stopped feeling overwhelmed and started feeling more creative. Try it, and see if you feel lighter when you’re done!

Here are a couple of mine. I’d love to see your creative block escapes, if you’d like to share in the comments.

I turned into a flamingo and flew over my creative block in a pink streak across the sky, and when I looked down, my block was so small and far away that I forgot what it was.

I dug a deep hole underneath the huge old willow tree of my childhood and buried my creative block in the cool, rich earth. Soon its tight contours relaxed and mingled with the happy footsteps of generations of children and the multi-colored strands of their play until it grew into a brilliant bush bursting with juicy ideas.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the fourth and final installment:

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

reflected trees

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the third installment:

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

This week I’m rerunning my series on perfectionism, which struck quite a chord with readers last year. Here’s the second installment:

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Watch the Amusing Journey of a Creative Project

Here’s a fun little animated video on writing and all the creative blocks that can arise. I definitely relate to it, and I bet you will too!

Ten Ways to Woo Your Muse

metal sculpture

Life is interfering with my desire to get a new post written, so instead I’m offering one of my most popular lists:

  1. Do something you haven’t done since you were a child. Slide down a slide.  Eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Play in a sprinkler. Sing a song you liked when you were a kid.
  2. Keep a notebook next to your bed, and write about whatever wakes you up.
  3. Take a little time to stop “doing” and just “be” for a while.  Meditate. Walk. Stare at the wall. Soak in a bubble bath.
  4. Spend some time doing anything you consider fun, even if it seems frivolous. Especially if it seems frivolous.
  5. Go for a walk and look at everything in your path as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
  6. Do something creative. Color. Dance. Play with Play-Doh.
  7. Pay attention to your dreams—both the night kind and the day kind.
  8. Rip up your To Do list for the day or for the afternoon and do whatever you feel like doing.
  9. Go outside at night and count the stars. Or waltz in the rain. Or share your secrets with the moon.
  10. Do something silly. Talk in a funny voice. Walk down the street backwards.  See if you can balance a spoon on your nose.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Blast Through Writers Block: Create a Sensory Collage


Here’s a good exercise to try if you’re stuck, blocked or ready to start a new piece but don’t know what to write:

Take a walk, and bring a notebook. Jot down things you see, hear, smell, feel, touch and experience. Use all your senses.

Include everything:

  • bits of conversation—not just the words but also the tone of the language and the postures of the speakers
  • neighborhood signs—their messages and their visual style
  • changing cloud formations and the things they bring to mind for you
  • the exact color of the sky
  • a crying or laughing baby—how it sounds and how it makes you feel
  • the scent, texture and color of blooming flowers
  • dogs checking each other out or chasing squirrels
  • traffic—the sound, smell and look of it
  • the sights, sounds and smells of trees you encounter
  • the color and texture of the hair of anyone you pass
  • the items people are holding or carrying

These are just a few ideas—be sure to include everything that catches your attention. And pay attention to everything around you as you walk.

Then find a place to sit such as a park bench, cafe, picnic table, the ground, your car…whatever works for you.

Now combine several of the sensory images you’ve gathered and use them to create a story, essay, poem or any other piece of writing. Play around with the images and try different things, just as you would if you were making a collage. If one combination doesn’t work, try something else. Write something silly or dark or absurd or uncharacteristic of you. Have fun as you fit the puzzle pieces together in different ways.

I like this exercise because it combines the physical activity of walking with the mental and emotional experience of collecting bits of what you experience. It gets you away from staring at a blank piece of paper. And combining things in new ways always engages the muse.

Let me know how you like this exercise, or share your creations!

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Creativity Roundup

I’ve been reading some great posts about creativity this week, and I want to share some of my favorites.

Denny McCorkle tells you how to Enjoy a Creative Bounce with Simple Fun at I Geek for Creativity. He includes a list of 41 playful ideas you can try. Denny’s post also features the fantastic video from Box of Crayons that I’ve posted above. I think it wouldn’t hurt for us all to watch it every morning, just to remind us to embrace our wonderful creative selves!

Author Orna Ross provides a list of 7 Characteristics of the Creatively Intelligent.

Mark McGuinness discusses What Daily Meditation Can do for Your Creativity at 99%.

Manuela Boyle ponders whether writing copy for a day job helps or hampers your personal creative writing in Copywriters: ghosts of their writing selves? on Write for Your Life.

Alex Cornell asked 25 creative people for their tips on Overcoming Creative Block at ISO50.

Ken Robert at Mildly Creative talks about pursuing the things you’re drawn to even if you don’t understand why in It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense.

Hope you enjoy these posts as much as I did!

10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing When You’re Feeling Uninspired

  1. Take a break and do something else for a while before returning to writing.
  2. Freewrite until new ideas start flowing.
  3. Take a shower or bath—muses are known to be particularly inspirational during bathtime! And here are some products so you don’t have to run dripping for a pen and paper.
  4. Just keep writing, and see if you make a breakthrough.
  5. Work on a different writing project.
  6. Take a walk. Turn off your brain and experience the world through your senses.
  7. Do something else creative for a while, like drawing, singing, making a collage or playing with clay.
  8. Meditate or do a creative visualization—try this one if you’re dealing with a persistent inner critic.
  9. Read a book. Let someone else’s words flow over you.
  10. Write something silly or just plain bad. Don’t judge yourself. Sometimes if you start writing, no matter how uninspired you feel, your muse eventually shows up and sprinkles a little magic on the page.

How do you break through those uninspired moments? Share your creative coping methods in the comments. And don’t forget to vote in the poll!

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Poll: How Do You Bust Through Writers Block?


I’d love to hear about any and all methods you use to cope with those uninspired moments. Feel free to add more in the comments section—how do you tickle your muse?

Defuse Your Inner Critic With This Explosive Visualization

When I was a kid, we had a computer at home long before most people did because my father was a scientist. (Actually, I first experienced a computer that took up an entire small room in my dad’s lab. My sister and I learned to play blackjack on it as tiny girls when my mother dropped us off to hang out with Dad while she ran errands. But I digress.)

By the time we had a computer at home, I was a teenager and focused on other things, like my social life. But my little brother taught himself programming, and developed a few rudimentary games. One of them sticks in my memory, because I found it amusing. He created a program that allowed you to simulate a person you hated by choosing basic characteristics like sex and hair color. Once you’d constructed your nemesis, you could make him or her explode. That was the entire game.

Thinking about that game of my brother’s always makes me smile. It’s such a perfect illustration of an elementary school boy’s desire for emotional gratification. I remember the glee with which he demonstrated it to me, creating his schoolyard enemy and then eradicating him.

I thought about my brother’s game again today while contemplating the negative inner voices that keep so many of us from being the fully creative individuals we’re meant to be. Wouldn’t it be great if we could blow those eternal critics to smithereens once and for all? Detonate the Inner Perfectionist who tells us our creations aren’t good enough? Blast away the Mean-spirited Fault-Finder who tells us we aren’t good enough? Destroy all the voices insisting we’re not really writers and, by the way, our work stinks?

I decided to create my own version of the exploding enemy game, one that writers can visualize any time those nasty voices start their negative humming in our heads. The explosion you create in this visualization is gentler than in my brother’s game, but feel free to modify it in any way that works for you:

Close your eyes.

Relax with your hands in your lap, palms facing up.

Take three deep breaths. As you exhale, relax the muscles in your face, your neck, your shoulders. Feel the tension dripping away, all the way down your body and through the floor.

Now breathe normally and listen to the inner voice that’s telling you something negative. Really hear what he or she is saying. If there’s more than one voice or one message, just focus on the loudest one—you can go back and do the visualization again for each voice, if necessary.

As you listen to the voice and its message, imagine it as a character. Visualize how this inner critic looks and watch him as he yells, sneers or whispers his negative message. Take your time with this. The voice may come to life as a person, a monster, an object or anything else you can picture. Imagine the details of your critic’s face, body, clothes and gestures.

Once you have a clear image of your inner critic as a solid character spewing his negative message at you, imagine he’s suddenly being pulled a couple of feet up into the air by his shoulders. He’s still berating you, but his legs are moving helplessly, and it makes him look slightly comical.

Against his will, your inner critic is gradually pulled further and further up. It’s as if he’s attached to invisible marionette strings and the puppeteer is drawing him away from you.

As he floats upward, your inner critic’s voice becomes fainter and fainter…

You watch while he becomes increasingly smaller. Once he’s transformed into a tiny, ineffectual cartoon high in the air, he breaks up into a million pieces and dissolves into the sky.

Now that he’s gone, you look down again. You realize you’re standing in a beautiful meadow. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and the grass is soft underneath your bare feet. You breathe in the scent of flowers and inhale the calming tranquility of the peaceful meadow.

Now open your eyes and begin writing.

Repeat this visualization every time an inner critic appears and tries to slow down or prevent the creativity you truly deserve to express.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Are You the Genius, or Is the Genius Working Through You?

I don’t share videos often, because I know many of us don’t have time to watch them. But this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, touches on some fascinating ideas about the origin of creativity. Gilbert discusses the concept of the individual as a creative genius versus the notion of the artist as a conduit through which creativity flows. She links the end of the historical belief in an outside “daemon” or “genius” to the growth of both narcissism and paralyzing self-doubt in contemporary writers.

Highlights for me include her interactions with poet Ruth Stone and musician Tom Waits. Stone told Gilbert about poems barreling down on her while she races to get a piece of paper, only to continue on to be written by another poet if Stone doesn’t catch them in time. Waits shared a significant moment in his creative life with Gilbert, discussing his interaction with a piece of music when it came to him while he was driving down the freeway and unable to capture it.

The video is just under 20 minutes long—well worth a listen if you have the time.

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 4

Have you ever written a story (an essay, a screenplay, a poem…), then decided it wasn’t worth the price of the paper and ink you wasted on it? Have you imagined people laughing when they read it (and not in a good way)? Have you believed your work had no sparkle, was boring, was not noteworthy?

If you’re a writer, the answer is probably yes.

In my last post about perfectionism, I discussed the importance of creating even when your life isn’t in perfect order. But what if you’ve managed to write something you don’t believe deserves to see the light of day?

Here’s a little secret my Inner Perfectionist tried to hide from me for a long time: a lot of what you write will be bad. Or uninspired. Boring. Or half-finished because the idea fizzled out. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay, it’s part of the creative process.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: Producing bad writing is part of the creative process.

reflected trees

It’s easy to imagine our favorite authors sitting at their desks, inspired every day while they effortlessly write out the masterpieces we love, barely changing a comma once they’ve finished. But it’s important to remember they struggled just as much as we do.

Here’s a little proof:

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. —Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. —Nathaniel Hawthorne

Every writer I know has trouble writing. —Joseph Heller

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. —George Orwell

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. —Gustave Flaubert

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the only way I know to combat this problem: Allow yourself to make mistakes. Write with abandon. Fail spectacularly.

An editor once told me my submission to his literary journal was the silliest story he’d ever read. Ouch! My own Inner Perfectionist couldn’t have dismissed my efforts with more derision. But I didn’t let his comments stop me. Okay, I may have cried a little. Or cursed the editor for his abysmal judgment. It’s possible I stuck a few pins into my literary journal editor-shaped voodoo doll.

But then I picked myself up, applied some ego salve to my bruised psyche, and raised my pen again. Because here’s what I’ve learned: Creative gems live in the middle of piles of dreck. Diamonds aren’t mined from pits lined with sheets of diamond, and gold isn’t panned from rivers of gold. These things are more valuable because they are rarer than the rock and the water they inhabit. You have to get your hands dirty, covered in grit and slime, to pull out a gem. It’s the same with a work of art.

mine tunnel

The only way to write a good story (essay, screenplay, poem…) is to write lots of bad stories (essays, screenplays, poems…). Embrace your mediocre writing and your pieces that fizzle out. Because the more rock you chisel through, the closer you get to a diamond. And once you start finding diamonds, a funny thing happens. Your percentage of dirty rock to diamond shifts, and you gradually begin to find more precious things within your huge pile of work.

It’s never going to be all diamonds and no rock. Not even close. But as you continue to work at your craft, you learn to spot the diamonds more easily and to mine them faster. You learn to polish dull gems and make them shine. And, perhaps most important, you finally learn to stop hating the rock. Because you realize it’s just a layer you must get through in order to reach the jewel within.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 3

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about perfectionism lately, and I can see two particular ways in which it has hampered my creativity over the years: Needing my life to be in perfect order before I can really devote time to writing. And feeling my writing isn’t good enough, because it’s not perfect. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first issue, and I’ll discuss the second one next time.

abstract
Here are some things I’ve learned: Life is messy. Creativity is messy. Muses come to you at the worst possible times. They arrive when you can’t possibly listen to them because your world will fall apart if you don’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/re-grout the shower right now. They arrive when you’re tired and cranky and you don’t care about their amazing creative insights. They come to you straight from a Paris café on a sunny afternoon where they were just biting into the perfect tarte au citron. They arrive with crumbs still falling down their chins because they had a brilliant idea for you that couldn’t wait. They expect you to drop everything and listen to their inspirational comments.

Alternately, muses are good at vanishing. They disappear just when you want them the most. They start pouting and storm off right in the middle of a wonderful creative session. Or they suddenly have pressing business elsewhere and won’t stay, even when you beg. They abandon you, leaving you astonished because you thought things were going so well. Or they never arrive at all. They stop taking your calls and won’t tell you why.

And here’s the thing. If you want to create, you must create anyway. If you want to write or paint or sculpt or make music, you must write or paint or sculpt or make music in spite of everything. You must do it when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.

Because if you don’t write, you’re not writing. If you don’t paint, you’re not painting. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” If you don’t spend your days creating, you’re not spending your life creating.

Not to put any pressure on you or anything.

puzzle pieces
Something else I’ve learned—and it’s taken me years to truly understand this—is that creativity can take place in tiny bites. You don’t have to set aside big chunks of time to write a novel. You don’t have to complete a short story in one sitting. Or a poem. Even a haiku.

I once completed a series of stories by setting aside 15 minutes a day when I was working full time and freelancing on the side and felt swamped all the time. I began stopping at a sheltered bench or a hotel lobby every morning after my commute downtown. I wrote for 15 minutes before heading to my office. Once I got into the flow of this daily writing habit, I was amazed at how much I could get done in such a short time.

You can spend five minutes creating metaphors twice a week, spend 15 minutes working on your memoir another three days, write a couple of lines in your head once or twice in the shower. If you engage in these small moments of creativity most days, a flow begins.

Soon the metaphor about the grandfather clock slips into your memoir as a pithy reflection on your family’s tendency to eat breakfast food at dinnertime. The quick description you wrote in your head while showering becomes a narrative about the bully who harassed you on your first day of elementary school. Before you know it, you’ve written the first five chapters of your book.

It really does work. And your days will feel richer because you’ve dotted them with creativity, and forced your Inner Perfectionist to go away and leave you alone.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Perfectionism: A Great Muse-Strangler, Part 2

My name is Sandy, and I am a recovering perfectionist.

I’ve been having a hard time finishing a blog post about perfectionism, and my husband has teased that it’s because what I’ve written isn’t perfect. But there may be more than a little truth in his joke. Because one of the negative effects of perfectionism is procrastination.

Perfection doesn’t exist. And if imperfection isn’t okay, what’s a perfectionist to do? Well, nothing, obviously. Or flounder around and never finish the imperfect thing.

chairs

I don’t have difficulty discussing many of my personal creativity-hampering issues on this blog, so why the problem now? I’m guessing it’s because a while back, I mentioned to a regular reader that I was planning on writing a post about perfectionism. She told me she was looking forward to hearing what I have to say, because it’s an issue she struggles with.

A reasonable reaction on my part would be to feel flattered she believes my thoughts on the subject could help her. Instead, my inner Perfectionist sprang into action, prompted by that innocent comment. She emerged from her dark cave, scorching me with her fiery breath and clawing at my Muse as she presented her list of demands:

  1. I must write the most inspiring words ever written about the debilitating effects of perfectionism on creativity.
  2. My post must be beautiful and meaningful and important.
  3. It must be good enough to enable anyone who reads it to eradicate their perfectionist tendencies forever and go on to lengthy, fertile creative lives with no negative blocks whatsoever.
  4. It must be PERFECT.

Is it any wonder I kept putting off writing a blog post about perfectionism, discovering other topics that suddenly seemed more interesting? And that when I finally did start writing it, I found myself continually distracted and/or writing around the subject?

dragon with fire

To make matters worse, my Perfectionist is sneaky. I didn’t consciously realize she was doing all this. Yes, I remember momentarily thinking “oh, I better write something really good, then” after the aforementioned comment by my blog reader friend. But I quickly forgot about it. Meanwhile, my Perfectionist was poking her head out of her lair, exhaling her unhealthy, fiery breath all over me while I went about my life, unaware of her damaging presence.

But I gradually began to notice her. My evasive maneuvers to avoid writing the post became clear to me. And, once I forced myself to start writing, my uncharacteristic inability to complete my thoughts brought the invisible Perfectionist into full view.

It’s been quite a battle wrestling that ferocious dragon back into her cave. How did I do it? By writing what you’ve just read. By confessing I’m not perfect—to you and to myself. By being willing to accept the run-on sentences and typos and imprefect grammar and less-than-profound thoughts that appear in my writing.

I do have more to say about perfectionism in general, and I’ll try to write something coherent about it soon. But I felt it might be helpful to share my personal struggle here first.

And thank you to that unnamed regular reader and friend who told me you were looking forward to my perfectionism post. Because the situation forced me to have an open battle with my lifelong nemesis, the Perfectionist Dragon, thereby weakening her just a little bit more. And, while I haven’t been able to write some magical perfect post that will eradicate your perfectionism, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing my dragon’s just as big as yours.

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

10 Ways to Woo Your Muse

  1. Do something you haven’t done since you were a child. Slide down a slide.  Eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Play in a sprinkler. Sing a song you liked when you were a kid.
  2. Keep a notebook next to your bed, and write about whatever wakes you up.
  3. Take a little time to stop “doing” and just “be” for a while.  Meditate. Walk. Stare at the wall. Soak in a bubble bath.
  4. metal sculpture

  5. Spend some time doing anything you consider fun, even if it seems frivolous. Especially if it seems frivolous.
  6. Go for a walk and look at everything in your path as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
  7. Do something creative. Color. Dance. Play with Play-Doh.
  8. Pay attention to your dreams—both the night kind and the day kind.
  9. Rip up your To Do list for the day or for the afternoon and do whatever you feel like doing.
  10. Go outside at night and count the stars. Or waltz in the rain. Or share your secrets with the moon.
  11. Do something silly. Talk in a funny voice. Walk down the street backwards.  See if you can balance a spoon on your nose.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

Steve Martin on Writer’s Block

From his amusing New Yorker essay, “Writing is Easy!”: “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol…”
dog with pen He offers this advice: “Go to an already published novel and find a sentence that you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your manuscript. Usually, that sentence will lead you to another sentence, and pretty soon your own ideas will start to flow. If they don’t, copy down the next sentence in the novel. You can safely use up to three sentences of someone else’s work — unless you’re friends, then two. The odds of being found out are very slim, and even if you are there’s usually no jail time.”


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About Sandy Ackers

Sandy

Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and Writer.

To learn more about Sandy, click here: About Sandy

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Copyright © 2009-2014 Sandy Ackers. All rights reserved, with the following exceptions:

Writers retain all rights to any comments, stories or other original work posted on this blog in the comments sections or the Readers' Sandbox.

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