How to stay in touch with your creative spirit during hard times

May 29, 2013

I received a great question from a Creative Joy ’12 alum, Amy about how to write & be creative during a hard time, specifically when out of a job and searching for a new one.

“I’ve been writing regularly [since the retreat], making quiet, peaceful time most days to sit with a notebook and enjoy ideas, stories and words words words.

You’ve said that writing can bring up your “stuff”- insecurities, fears, self-sabotaging inner critics, and all of the other emotional hurdles. I’m curious about how to find space and energy and “juicy-ness” to write when your stuff is already is already very much “up.”

The reason I ask is I’ve recently decided to separate from the company where I’ve worked for 14 years. I didn’t go to work there directly there after college, but close enough for it to be the only professional job I’ve ever held, the only office to where I’ve ever had a desk. I had the same boss there for 12 years, becoming close enough to her to give her Mother’s Day cards. I met my husband there, and we’ve commuted together everyday for 7 years ago.

I have a stretch of open road – and free time – before me in ways that I never had before. I want to take advantage of this unstructured time to write. I don’t know long long it will last, and it may not come again until I retire.

What advice do you have for protecting and nurturing your nascent writer through an emotionally trying and tiring time?”

Amy, such a grand question! Creating is the blessing that can sustain you through just about anything and it can be frustratingly difficult to access when you are stressed. It’s like the stress digs a chasm between you and the feast you are hungry for. So what to do?

  • When your writer self gets buried under fear and resumes, see the fear and drop it. Imagine it’s a scalding bite of dim sum that you spit out without even thinking about it because if you don’t, you won’t be able to taste anything for three days. Just spit it out. The fear is not you and it doesn’t define you, or you wouldn’t be able to see it.

Feel into your deep longing to create. Let it itch you, wrinkle your brow, singe your soul. Do not try to make the longing go away – instead let it pull you into writing. Write side-by-side with your longing. It’s irritating and exhilarating, and it keeps you alert.

  • Feed your worries prasad (blessed sweetness or grace). I learned this from Peter Levitt’s book Fingerpainting the Moon. Everyday before I write, in a tiny pretty notebook someone gave me, I write down a beautiful sentence as a gift for the parts of me that are afraid and would rather me do anything than write. “The thrushes sing for you” & “A single moonbeam of change was all it took.” The dragons are fed.

Have a structure for writing AND unstructured dreaming time. The structure part = make a SIMPLE PLAN that fits your life and then “lower the bar” on it so you can actually stick to it. Unstructured dreaming time is when you let the unconscious take over with a soft focus on your writing. The writer Sue Monk Kidd described the mix of both in an interview:

 “It took me a little over three years to complete the novel. The process of writing it was a constant balancing act between what writing teacher Leon Surmelian referred to as “measure and madness…” On one hand, I relied on some very meticulous “measures,” such as character studies, scene diagrams, layouts of the pink house and the honey house… I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure “madness,” which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. Before I started the novel, I created a collage of images that vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel. Inducing “madness” also meant that I often left my desk to sit on the dock overlooking the tidal creek behind our house and engage in a stream of reverie about the story. I considered this earnest work.”

  • Forget product for now. Allow yourself to write for the weird joy of it, the feel of words in your mind, the scratch of your favorite pen across the page. The pressure to find a new job AND the pressure to “produce something good” might be too much to bear right now, and pursuing both could crack a fissure in your creative heart. Instead, play word-by-word within the comforting structure of your writing plan.


Take on a big scary project and give yourself a silly deadline, like write a novel in a month or a screenplay in 3 weeks or a poem a day until you get a job. Enlist friends who will expect a daily “This is what I did today” email from you. They need not reply but it makes all the difference to know your cheering fans are waiting. Let yourself write sloppy but know clearly what “finished” look like. For example, “I write one draft without revisions of my novel, making notes for changes as I go along but revising nothing.”

  • Gift yourself with mini-sensory retreats that recall your powerful moments from our Creative Joy retreat – maybe singing in yoga to Marianne’s fun playlist or Tracey saying “Find the light”before you went out to take pictures or me asking you to write down 10 sensory details you recall from the moment your eyes opened.  Use all your senses to bring back the retreat. Allow it reanimate you like water to Sea Monkeys.

This big stretch of time doesn’t matter. History is filled with people who wrote while raising babies, farming bad soil, slinging steel on a factory line, smuggling slaves to freedom. I’d advise against framing this time as “the only time ever” – too much pressure! Instead, frame it as a time to luxuriate, learn, and grow luminous with your love for writing.

  • Most of all, let love and pleasure be your guide. That and steady writing will alchemize this time until your cup overflows with inspiration and courage.

Now go write!






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