Shifting out of a creative block.

Creative block to me is a frustration with my work which leads to a lack of dedication to it. It flairs up all the thoughts of not being good enough, of wasting my time, and thinking who am I to have the audacity to believe myself an artist. 

I felt blocked for a very long time in this way, it feels like a couple of years now, and though my business and income from my drawing grew, my sketchbook was abandoned. I couldn’t see myself in my work and didn’t feel like I was growing creatively. I was better at marketing and worse at drawing, filling me with a huge sense of imposter syndrome anytime someone commissioned me for a drawing project.

I fell out of love with drawing, which is precarious considering that it’s also my job. 

Happily, I finally feel like I’ve turned a page the last three months, I’m obsessed with drawing at the moment, and unashamedly in love with what I’m creating. I’ll try and concisely share what’s happened and helped to create this shift, in the hope that it can help someone else (and for me to reference back to when I inevitably stumble upon another block).

To quickly summarise, my 3 keys to how I shifted out of creative block are:

  1. Morning Pages / a daily commitment.
  2. Connect your daily creative commitment to another passion.
  3. Create your own project, preferably within a Beginners Mind setting.

Firstly, I am starting with perhaps a cliché, as I’m sure most of you will have heard of The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. This book should live on every creatives bookshelf and is something I turn to whenever I’ve been blocked. The full course is a huge commitment so my use of it is a little less all-consuming. One day I’d love to commit fully to the 12 week course, Elizabeth Gilbert attributes it to the creation of Eat Love Pray, and she is one of my greatest inspirations.

I find this book to be a good launching point even if you don’t complete the 12 weeks (I don’t think I’ve ever actually got past week 2). For me the most essential thing from the book is The Morning Pages. This is 3 pages long-hand stream of consciousness journaling, every morning before your day starts.  It’s a hard-core commitment that I find I do with absolute enthusiasm for the first 10 days or so, then they become evening pages, then a day gets missed and then they get forgotten about. I’m sure many people can relate to this succession of events when attempting to establish a new habit.

Why I want to start here though is that this was the springboard that got me out of my block. I think it depends how deep in a block you are, but I find these Morning Pages can work their magic much quicker than having to fully commit to 12 weeks.

What I feel this commitment to the pages sparked for me was, well, commitment. When you start your day with something that is a hard nod towards your absolute dedication to your creativity, it becomes easier to think about picking up your sketchbook and filling a page or two. One thing I noticed I was writing in these pages was, “Today I picked up my sketchbook”, again and again these words were written. 

As the Morning Pages dwindled from my daily schedule the feeling of commitment didn’t. Instead of writing I was drawing. My meditation practice also became an easy daily habit. I wonder if because the form of my creative expression isn’t writing that my daily Morning Pages became daily sketchbook pages. They felt like they were having the same effect.

So step one is start with The Morning Pages.

The second step that led to me not only creating everyday, but also to loving what I was creating, came in the form of another daily commitment. I joined (for the third time) the wonderful 28 Moon Mornings project with Merilyn of Mylky Moon Lab. 

I have been falling more and more in love with cyclical living and learning about the moon and the daily energies. Last year I had a mentoring session with Merilyn and she suggested that I connect to and express the energy creativity through drawing. I couldn’t. Maybe because I was blocked then, but for some reason this time round I just got it. I felt I could draw what I was connecting to each day. This was when I started creating work that I fricking love (you can see the full collection of drawings created during these 28 days in my last blog post).

So step 2 is connecting your creativity to another passion. It stopped feeling like drawing was work and more like creative expression, a form of self-care, and that the marks on the pages marked that I had lived this day.

A similar pattern emerged for me as with the Morning Pages. The first 10 days I was there every morning, and soon it become Moon Evenings. But contrary to Julia Cameron’s advice that the Morning Pages absolutely should be done in the Morning, and probably that is optimal, for me it’s just the unwillingness to go to bed unless it had been done. A 100% commitment to not letting a day slip by without it happening is what I feel is important here. 

My third step in the last few weeks is what I feel has cemented the feeling of not being blocked anymore. The Moon Mornings project finished and I’m still creating daily, committing myself to another self-curated 28-day project. 28 days feels like a really good number to work with for me, especially as it links to cyclical living and the moon cycles. 

This new project is working with a new medium, which is helpful as it pushes me into Beginners Mind, making it easier to leave perfectionism at the door, and feels fun and playful. I’ve been holding onto this beautiful natural ink made by Kathryn John and I can’t express how in love with this ink I am. It’s been quietly sitting amongst my pens for a year as I feel it needs an extra special project to be used for, but also I’m a little uncertain of how to best work with it. For 28 days I’ve decided to draw only with this gorgeous ink and a paintbrush, breaking away from my comfortable hold of a fine liner pen, because I can’t think of a more special project than a journey out of creative block.

Now brewing in my mind is a year-long project starting on my birthday in October. I can’t think of a better way to mark the passing of a year than a dedicated collection of drawings to mark each day, and I’m sure I’ll be documenting that here on my blog.

I really hope this telling of my journey is helpful. I know I will stumble upon a block again at some point, I feel personally it’s an inevitable part of being creative, especially when you’re creativity also pays your bills and all the knots that money and expression can tie you up in. 

Lastly, I just want to say, be gentle with yourself. I promise you the block won’t last forever. In the depths of it I thought I just wasn’t made to be creative, but I am, and so are you. The only thing you need to do is commit to creating.

Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite — getting something down.” – Julia Cameron

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