I have the great pleasure of helping people regain the joy of creating. Sometimes all it takes are small shifts in perspective or small changes in activity. Sometimes it takes being reminded that perfection isn’t granted to any of us so that we can see that our creations are good enough.
Big Dreams, Big Doubts
I get together frequently with friends that have big dreams for creating something special to benefit the world. One, let’s call her Jelena, is writing a book that is hers to write. She’s a world-wide expert on the intersection of two fields that both contribute to greater human well-being. The other is my friend that I called Jules in a recent blog post. She is illustrating a children’s book, creating pictures that make an idea come alive.
Both have encountered massive internal blocks that kept their visions from materializing. In my view, they are both too humble. They ask themselves, “Who am I to do this? Who will care what I say or draw?” As much as I wish they owned their expertise, I can’t say how the world will receive their products. Perhaps their works will go viral. Or perhaps they will give copies to their family and friends. I’ve already told my illustrator friend that I want 5 copies: one for myself, one each for my grandsons, and a few spares in case I have more grandchildren. When I shared this piece in a workshop, I added 3 more people to the list of people who want copies.
Both have started moving forward lately. What’s helping them get past creator’s block?
Build on What’s Already Done
My illustrator friend has moved away from the sense that her work needs to be perfect when it emerges. She used to have a tendency to start over every time she got time to work. Then she’d work until she got frustrated and put the work aside. With big time gaps and starting over from scratch, she felt like she was spinning her wheels without getting anywhere.
- Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Here’s a blog post that explores ways to make things easier.
- Start with something already done and make it a little better. For example, she found this sketch that she could use as the jumping off point for a full color illustration.
She also found another that is partly finished.
- Work for 30 minutes (sometimes even an hour) every day. See Write Experiment 11.
- Understand that perfection is neither possible nor required, and find joy in something that is “good enough.” Here’s an illustration that she agrees is good enough, once the text is inserted.
- Accept help. When he heard that her next step was to insert the text on the pages, a good friend offered to do it for her. She can benefit from his Photoshop expertise. (I find I don’t have an experiment or blog about this topic. That’s another idea for my list.)
I think over time that she is learning to see and take joy in her own creativity. It’s certainly giving me joy.
Focus on One Bead at a Time
Recently, I had a lovely meeting with Jelena, my other friend who has an important book in her. She was so happy to report that she had finally written something.
She read her piece out loud to me. In it, Jelena told the story of a particular exchange with a client (properly de-identified), and then she used the story as a jumping off point to explain a concept entirely relevant to her planned book. What a pleasure it was to talk about the strengths of this short piece!
After that, we explored what had worked so well. That morning when she sat down to write, the words had just flowed. Here are some of our thoughts, all suggesting what she can do about writing going forward.
- She took one particular incident, described it, and let it inform the direction that she took with the rest of the piece. The words came freely unlike the way they stall when she thinks about her book as a whole. Having a narrow focus for this particular writing session liberated her voice.
- A book doesn’t have to be written from the top-down with a master vision that dictates what goes in every sub-part. It can be put together from pieces collected from writing experiences like this one. She can always go back and look for the themes to sort pieces into chapters.
- We decided to use the analogy that creating her book could be like creating beads before you string them. Her story-driven units could be the beads. Right now she can focus on creating one bead at a time, leaving it until later to worry about how they string together to make one necklace. Working on one little bead at a time just might work better for her until she has built up a substantial bead collection. Writing them as separate beads means she can change her mind and string them in different ways until she likes the look of the entire necklace.To my amazement, she fished around in her purse and pulled out a baggy full of beads from a beloved necklace whose string had broken. Some day she intends to restring it. That seemed like confirmation from the universe.
- The story was top of mind when she sat down to write because it had just recently occurred. I wondered what she could do on days when there wasn’t a recent inspiring incident. Did she have a list of stories that she wanted to write? No, but she did realize that she had a whole trove of notes from client conversations in which she had marked with a green highlight the sections that were particularly relevant to her topic. She could mine her notes for ideas.
- She likes to write in the morning. I suggested that she go through her notes the night before, pick a green-highlighted situation that she wanted to write up, set the notes by her work station, and then let it go. Perhaps the idea would percolate through her brain while she went through her evening routine and even while she slept. Then get up the next morning and write it down. She recognized this as a way to let an idea incubate. Write Experiment 4 in Sit Write Share has more ideas for priming intuition.
How You Can Learn to Regain the Joy of Creating from My Friends
Both of my friends helped me see that small victories give us a chance to reflect on what works for us in our lives right now. Then we can try to do more of it.
Observe the times that you sit down to write and the words just flow. Were you making beads? Building on something you’d created before? Looking into a collection of notes for ideas? Allowing ideas to percolate overnight?
Allow yourself to feel the joy of creating as your words (or pictures) emerge.