10 Top Tips For Creative Process

Jul 20 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Sunset in Ilfracombe, Holly Stoppit

Today is my last day of writing retreat. For the last two weeks, I've put myself in beautiful places to work on my book. For the first week, I rented an apartment on my own in the lovely seaside town of Ilfracombe in Devon and for the second week, I shared a cottage in rural Crean in Cornwall with an actual real writer and a musician. 

Writing retreat was a blissful, nightmarish, straightforward, impossible, inevitable, wonderful rollercoaster and I learned / remembered so much, I'd like to share some of it with anyone else who's struggling through creative process. My friends, you are not alone!

1.) Prioritise Joy

It's easy to overlook the importance of joy and to prioritise tangible things that earn money, practical things that need to be done and serious things that help the world see you as an grown up; but joy gives our lives vibrancy. Of course, the creative process is not always joyful, but it doesn't all have to be hard graft. When joy is invited into your process, it will still be present in the finished product; what a lovely gift to give to others.

I hunted down joy, climbing up hills to watch the sunset, indulging in the odd cream tea, dancing wildly in nature and playing with other people's dogs. Joy comes easily to some and others need to cultivate it. Both inside and outside your creative process, make space for joy every day. Show up for it, fully. TAKE IT IN and when it's over, savour it. This will open you up to more joy.

2.) Creativity is a dance between upholding discipline and following impulses

It's a dance! Dancing can be fun, elegant, graceful, clumsy, awkward and awful, but it's still dancing.

You're not always going to make the right call, but creative process is not about getting everything right, it's about discovering and learning and growing. Turn your attention to the quality of your dance. Hey, maybe put on a tune and find the quality of this dance for real! Get it out into the open and name it. When you know what you're working with, you can make conscious choices to keep doing what you're doing or try something else.

3.) Chunk up your days into bite-sized tasks

If, like me, you get overwhelmed by the blank page, do some automatic writing or brainstorming to get clear about what your aims are. If you're clear about the big aims of the project, then you may find it easier to come up with today's aims. Make sure they're realistic or you stand to spend your days in a toxic spiral of disappointment and self-hatred (take it from me!). Less is more and leaves space for the unexpected.

Once you know today's aims, create some clearly defined invitations / tasks. Depending on how much time you have to complete your project, you may want to set a time-limit on each task, or you may feel happy to take a more organic approach and let things take their own sweet time. I'm quite fond of deadlines, that little bit of extra pressure seems to help me get the work done.

4.) If you feel stuck, move it through the body

Stuck energy festers in the body. Get that body moving! Take it for a walk, plunge it into the sea, bend it about on a yoga mat, roll it about on the grass, shake shake shake from head to toe.

It may seem counter-intuitive, to stop what you're doing and move, especially if there's a deadline looming, but movement will help you release the stuck energy and make space for something new.

5.) Nature has all the answers

If you find yourself bound up with angst, confusion or indecision, stop what you're doing and get out into nature. TAKE IT IN; look, listen, smell, taste, feel. Let nature soothe you. Let it slap you about. Let it give you the answers you're seeking.

Hold a question in your mind and find your answers in the shimmering rustle of the breeze in the leaves, the steady flow of a river, the sudden swoop of a bird, the fragile impermanence of a dandelion clock. Take what you found back to your project and carry on!

6.) Remember you're a human

Humans, unlike robots have human needs. No matter how important your project is, you are still a human and your needs still need taking care of. I've had a few moments over the last 2 weeks when I've realised I'm thirsty, desperate for a wee and in quite a lot of pain, because I've been sat all twisted up, staring at my screen for three hours.

Take time in each hour to check in with your human needs. You could set a little human needs alarm. Feel into your body, what does it need? A stretch? A glass of water? A wee? Taking care of yourself is the best support you can give to your creative process.

7.) Boring life admin is inevitable

Don't pretend you're not going to have any to do. There is always boring life admin, no matter where you are or what you're doing. Schedule official admin time in every day. Only answer emails, texts, social media messages and phone calls in this time. Set up an auto response, letting people know you're doing this. In my experience, the world doesn't end if you don't answer a text immediately.

Don't allow life admin into your creative time. It will take you away from your creative left brain and into your thinky right brain and it will take time and effort to get yourself back.

8.) Both solitude and connection are important

Time alone will allow you to discover your own creative rhythm, what works for you and what doesn't work for you. It turns out I'm a nocturnal writer who thrives from having a lot of time in nature in the daytimes. Who'd've thought it?

Connection with other humans is also important. It's a myth, the notion of the individual artist. My first retreat was solitary, but I sought out connection on the phone with dear friends and in real life with friendly cafe owners, dog walkers and pensioners. My second retreat was with two other artists; we had little spontaneous moments of connection through the day and shared meals together. Humans are relating beings and we thrive from connection.

9.) If you're super blocked, have a chat with your inner voices

If you find yourself procrastinating for days on end, it probably means you've hit a big block. Most likely, some part of your psyche is trying to protect you from exposing yourself through your creativity. Find out who's jammed the brakes on, have a chat with them and see if you can negotiate a deal that will allow you to play. Here's one of my chats from this week:

Inner Academic: Come on then everyone, let's get started. It's nearly 4 o'clock and we haven't written anything today.
Unhealthy: Nah, I just want to scroll through facebook
Healthy: I'm just going to turn the internet off.
[half an hour later]
Unhealthy: ha, ha, did you see what I did there? I took us all on a magical mystery tour of comparing ourselves to everyone on facebook.
Inner Critic: I think you'll find that was my idea. Wasn't it brilliant? Doesn't everyone feel shit about themselves now? Ha ha.
Inner Academic: OK, OK, wonderful work Critic, well now that you've had your fun, I'm going to open up the next chapter and let's all get to work.
Vulnerability: I'm afraid it's going to be shit.
Inner Critic: I think you can take that as a dead cert!
Inner Academic: How dare you!
Healthy: OK everyone, calm down, calm down. I can sense some panic and some stress here. It's all OK; this is the creative process. There's nothing wrong. There's no emergency. I just need to remind everyone what we're doing. Holly's just got some raw writing that needs editing into something more readable. Simple. Can we all breathe out, relax and focus please?
Inner Critic: Oh yes what a great idea, let's all breathe out, relax and focus on all the big boys and girls holding the finished book in their hands, pointing at us with distain and hollow laughing until the tears roll down their cheeks.
Healthy: Again, thanks, but it's not very helpful, Critic. We're not there yet. We're in process and process is murky and imperfect and you're going to have to hold on tight and let us dive into this. I know you find this bit incredibly confusing, but you don't have to understand it, you just need to let us get on with it.
Unhealthy: How about a coffee?
All the other characters: NO!
Healthy: See, even the Inner Critic agreed with that. We don't need anything to take us away from this experience. It's hard, it's a bit uncomfortable, but it's OK.
Inner Critic: Is it?
Healthy: Yes, it's all totally normal, ask the Inner Academic, she's writing a book about it.
Inner Academic: Well yes, since you asked, I'd love to share a few things about creative process I've picked up along the way, but would you mind if I do it via the medium of writing the book?
Inner Critic: Go for it, I'm all ears.

10.) Remember that you're only playing!

Creativity is play. It's hard to play if you don't feel safe or it there's big pressure. Do what needs to be done to make yourself safe and minimise the pressure. Be a grown up for your inner artist-child. Take your play-time seriously, no matter what others think about it.

Regardless of the outcome of your project, both you and the world will directly benefit from you having spent time in the state of play. Know that you're doing a noble thing and give yourself permission to play!

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