by Cheryl Owen-Wilson
At times being creative provides endless amounts of energy. But let’s be honest, it can be draining as well. I call those times of extreme depletion my gray periods.
Two current Shadowspinners’ blogs assisted me during a recent era of gray. They are Elizabeth Engstrom’s—Lying Fallow and Cynthia Coate Ray’s—Which Stage are You Dancing on? I recognized from Cynthia’s post, I was, still am, straddling conscious incompetence and conscious competence in my writing life. But at the same time, I was debating whether what I should really be doing was just—lying fallow.
Those lying fallow/uncreative phases have always left me feeling felt quite useless, as though I’m not living up to my purpose. I hear voices in my head telling me to—“get it together, stop being lazy,” or simply yelling at me, “ok, yeah just give up, you really don’t have anything new to say anyway.“ The last voice is generally the one to wake me out of my gloom, because I truly believe we each came to this earthly realm with a purpose. We each have a message exclusive to us alone. For a writer, we send out said message through the specific set of words only we can produce. Our unique words catapult our message to the reader prompting them to turn page after page.
Well maybe it isn’t quite so profound; maybe we just love to tell stories. Whatever the case, Elizabeth is one of my mentors, thus her blog finally gave me permission to lie fallow while shushing the voices in my head. My dear friend Cynthia gave me the reason why lying fallow is so important—if I’m following my path of growth, there will be growing pains and with those pains I will become more conscious the further up the path I go. This phenomenon will naturally cause me to stop and take notice and yes, question my competence along the way.
Elizabeth’s blog also cautioned me not to stumble into “creative procrastination”. For me this is the place beyond lying fallow. It’s the place where I snuggle up into the gray. It’s the place I found myself in, for far too long, several weeks ago. I recognized the signs, as I’ve taken up extended residence there before.
However, this time I was able to pull myself out from under the cloud and back into the multi-colored world of creative bliss much sooner than usual. Why? I believe it’s because I first gave myself permission to lie fallow and afterward I recognized where I was in my growing pains. As I said I’ve been there before, so here are a few more tips I’ve learned along the way, of pulling myself out of the mists of steely gray.
• Go out into nature. Unplug and listen to the music of wind rushing through trees or my favorite, waves crashing on an ocean beach. Try to engage all of your senses. Nature will never cease to inspire and amaze.
• If you don’t have the time or resources to attend writers conferences, at least attend a talk on writing, even those that are out of your genre, maybe especially those outside your genre. I recently attended Woodcrafters’ and Wine on Wednesdays—highly recommend it if you are in the Eugene area. Kathleen Kerr, a senior editor of Harvest House (a Christian publisher) spoke on the subject of “Grace Before I Dip the Pen in the Ink”. Now some of you are saying, “Cheryl, you’re not going to submit your work to a Christian publication!” No I’m not, at least not today, but I never say never. My point here is, you can find inspiration in the oddest of places and one of Kathleen’s points hit home with me. It was, “People look for books about a conversation they are already having.” It prompted me to think, what type of conversation would my readers be having? What about yours?
• Always have a writers group. Even if you don’t produce the quantity or quality of some of its members, it will force you to write, if nothing else, out of sheer embarrassment of being the only one in the group who can’t seem to get more than one page written each time. One page is more than no page.
• Be inspired by other people. I recently attended a small dinner party—four women—all artists. Surround yourself with people who will feed your creative nature.
• Be silent—when I found meditation, I found my voice both in painting and writing. In other words, get out of your own way. Our monkey mind swings from branch to branch and can cause us many an unnecessary detour in not just our creative life, but life in general.
Finally, write. We find time to check email, facebook, twitter, etc. Don’t make writing daunting. You don’t have to write pages; just 15 minutes will get you along your way. So write, write yourself out of the gray, as I just did.
Now, tell me, what you do when shades of gray threaten your creative process?