The Dark Side of Creation


Via Robyn Jay, a wonderful post from Harriet Wakelam on the "dark side" of creativity and how our participation in social networks may help or hinder that process.

First, Harriet puts her finger on something I've experienced myself:

I have recently been through one of those 'life reinventions'.  Unlike the current 'sexy' portrayal of creativity the process was absorbing, consuming and sometimes dark and scary.  During the process  I switched off from my networks. One minute I was talking, the next I was disconnected. 

It was however a rich and a valuable time, productive and exciting, if challenging and complex.

I love how she calls out the "sexy" portrayal of creativity that is so ubiquitous online. Rarely do people share the "dark and scary" parts of creativity. As Harriet points out, we are most likely to see just the finished product--the result of the creative process:

I have always thought that networks are non-linear.  Am I wrong though, are they very linear, our online social places being,  not places where thought can evolve, but a place to report the results of the thinking process?

There is no word, no hash tag, no convention for being present but processing.  If you are not 'present' then you are 'absent'.  

I have seen very few people I admire talk about the dark spaces of the creative process. 

My question: are our online networks missing an important facet?  Are they 'safe' enough for  emergent thoughts, or do we do our 'composting'  alone only presenting when we have visible evidence of growth...?           

Seems to me that would be a sad place falling well short of our expectations of ecosystems...

There are issues that I find interesting  here. First, is the nature of the creative process itself, with all its complexities and "dark and scary places." When we are going through career transformation, the process is very similar, in part because we are creating new selves. 

The second is the impact that social networks have on this process, particularly as they become more a fact of life for so many of us as we pursue our creative and career work. 

The Dark Side of Creation

In my own experience, creativity has consisted of two types of processes. One is active and more social. It includes  gathering information, reading, asking questions, interacting with other people, creating products and processes and blog posts. It is the productive, doing side of creation.  This is the side that we see online all the time. It has been enhanced by the ready availability of networks and people from around the world. It is the "public face" of creation, the side that we all see and admire. 

But there is another side to creativity that is not so action-oriented. I like Harriet's use of the term "composting," for that's what it is. It is a gathering and churning of bits of organic matter, half-formed ideas and thoughts, an inability to really put them together into anything that feels right for public consumption. In those times, my head will swirl with bits and pieces of connection and ideas that never seem to coalesce. It's a stew of  . . . something. . . but what it actually is, I don't know. 

I find that in those times, I am impatient with myself. We are such an action-oriented culture, so concerned with turning creativity into a commodity. If I cannot count on something actionable or valuable coming from the creative process, then why do I even bother?

These are the times when I tend to withdraw from the world, to cut off my conversations and connections. Partly it's because I need the space and time for the thoughts to just germinate. Partly it's because there's something almost shameful about not being able to "produce."  And we are a society that values what people can do

Yet in my experience, creativity and transformation is like pregnancy. There is a gestation period, during which it looks like you aren't doing much, but HUGE amounts of growth and development are occurring inside. Of course, we aren't able to observe a growing belly to tell us that work is happening, so it's harder to accept gestation as part of this process. There are no visual cues to let us know that something is developing. 

But eventually, you will give birth. There will be a product or a process or a new you that emerges. That is when you will receive the congratulations. You have produced something.

Without the gestational period, though, you would have nothing. And how often do we stop that gestational process or try to push it along faster than it should go, simply because we are impatient to have something to show for our efforts? 

Social Networks in the Creative Process

Harriett asks what role social networks can play in this process. Are they a place for us to be able to share these quieter, gestational moments in the creative proceess? 

In the end, it isn't about the technology as much as how we are using it. In my experience, because of the public nature of social networks and the fact that there's such pressure to build that "personal brand," we are reluctant to share with others those times when things are not so clear and perfect.  What will people think of us? If I share confusion or half-baked ideas, will it look like I don't have my act together? If I try out different ideas of myself that aren't part of that "personal brand" will I seem fragmented or confused?

I would love a world where our participation in online networks could more realistically and effectively encompass our humanity. Where we didn't feel that we had to portray ourselves as always being "together." Where we could feel more comfortable exposing our vulnerabilities and half-formed thoughts without fear of judgement from others. 

There's a saying I've heard that goes like this:

We judge our insides by other people's outsides.

I think online social networks exacerbate this problem. Everywhere I turn, there are people who seem endlessly inspirational and chipper,  full of energy and quotes and general awesomeness. To share those moments when I'm in the darker aspects of creation, when I'm questioning myself and what I believe. . . that can feel incredibly dangerous. 

I do think we have a choice. Technology is a tool and we can choose to use our networks to support or hinder our humanity. We can use technology to connect to other people who get that creativity is complex and isn't always about being able to produce the shiny new product or person. It's full of dead ends and weird ideas and things that don't pan out. It's also full of self-doubt and self-recrimination. Even, dare I say, shame.  

Using our networks to support us in the darker sides of creation takes courage and a willingness to be authentic. It requires us to be vulnerable. And it requires us to reach out to others, to show ourselves and to accept others when they are willing to show their own vulnerabilities. 

We can use our networks to support the gestational parts of our creativity and I think that we should where it makes sense. Sometimes we will need the quiet moments of disconnection to get clear within our own minds. But there are also times when it makes sense for us to share those half-formed thoughts and ideas with others. We just need to find and create that safe space where it's allowed. 


I have another career visioning session coming up on January 17. It's a great opportunity for you to get a clearer picture of your career in just a few hours. More information and the sign-up form are here

Some Ruminations on Creativity in the Face of a Mountain of Work

For the past several months, I've been fortunate enough to be inundated with work. I say fortunate, because as an independent, to have more work than you can handle is a good thing, especially in this economy.  Please know that I am not getting ready to complain about the quantity of my work. I am truly grateful for what is coming my way.

However, I am thinking about how creativity can be sucked out of you when you're doing "been there, done that, but it needs to get done again ASAP" kind of stuff.  I'm always championing the need to to bring new eyes to old projects, but find that I'm not necessarily doing such a great job with that all the time. I see how easy it is to do what you've done before because it was successful and you need to get things accomplished as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This is fine as long as the "old" ways of operating really will work this time around. Not so good if you're missing that maybe this time your former strategies won't be as successful. The problem is finding the time and distance to know the difference.

Yesterday it occurred to me that in the past I've been harsh with people who are overwhelmed by their workloads because they just don't seem interested in all the cool and interesting things they could be doing. Honestly, there have been times I was a little contemptuous, which in retrospect is a sign of my own privilege in having some space. It's also obnoxious.

But  it's easy to focus on doing cool things in new and different ways when you have some breathing room. When you don't, I can see where it's just annoying to hear people tell you that you should be open to new ideas. Hello--I'm just trying to get through the day here. I have no time for your "creativity."

Creativity shouldn't--can't--be a luxury, though. It can't be something that we bring to a problem only when we have the space and time for it, because more often than not, we will be in situations where we lack both. We need to find ways to build it into the DNA of our working lives so that it becomes a part of who we are, not something we do only when the circumstances are "right." This is our only security in a world that shifts constantly, demanding of us new ideas and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

This isn't one of my posts complaining of a dry spell in my thinking. It's more of a rumination on process--on the need to see that I'm stuck in a pattern right now of reaction and activity with less of the reflection that tends to feed my thinking about new ideas. Sometimes noticing a thing is enough to begin to change it.

Daily Routines

Routine After my little productivity crisis of the past few months, I've been working on jiggering with my daily routine. I'm especially interested in finding that balance between activities that support the spark of creativity while still making sure that I get things done. In this spirit, I was quite excited to find the Daily Routines blog, which looks at how "writers, artists and other interesting people organize their days." 

What's interesting first off is how many of these people have a routine. On some level, you'd think that creative types might just let it all flow, but clearly most of them see a routine as a sort of ritual that's necessary to enter into the creative stream. Here's how Gerard Richter organizes his day, for example:

He sticks to a strict routine, waking at 6:15 every morning. He makes breakfast for his family, takes Ella to school at 7:20 and is in the studio by 8. At 1 o'clock, he crosses the garden from the studio back to the house. The grass in the garden is uncut. Richter proudly points this out, to show that even it is a matter of his choosing, not by chance. At 1 o'clock, he eats lunch in the dining room, alone. A housekeeper lays out the same meal for him each day: yogurt, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and chamomile tea.

After lunch, Richter returns to his studio to work into the evening. ''I have always been structured,'' he explains. ''What has changed is the proportions. Now it is eight hours of paperwork and one of painting.'' He claims to waste time -- on the house, the garden -- although this is hard to believe. ''I go to the studio every day, but I don't paint every day. I love playing with my architectural models. I love making plans. I could spend my life arranging things. Weeks go by, and I don't paint until finally I can't stand it any longer. I get fed up. I almost don't want to talk about it, because I don't want to become self-conscious about it, but perhaps I create these little crises as a kind of a secret strategy to push myself. It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you. You have to find the idea.'' As he talks, I notice a single drop of paint on the floor beneath one of his abstract pictures, the only thing out of place in the studio.

And this is the routine of an "abstract" painter!

Early rising seems to be a particular theme among many creatives.  Richter is up at 6:15 a.m.  and John Grisham (when he was first writing), was up by 5 a.m. Emily Dickinson rose at 6 a.m. and Charles Darwin by 7 a.m.  Flaubert, on the other hand slept until 10 a.m., preferring to do his work at night. 

The issue here, of course, is that all seem tuned in to their particular daily rhythms, knowing when they do their best thinking and when they don't. Gunter Grass says, for example, that he never writes at night because "it comes too easily." 

Naps and walks (or some form of physical activity) are other common threads, providing that down-time for creativity to gestate. Walks in particular are also a way for these creatives to work through problems and get input from the outside world that feeds their creativity. From the post on musician Erik Satie:

Roger Shattuck, in conversations with John Cage in 1982, put forward the interesting theory that "the source of Satie's sense of musical beat--the possibility of variation within repetition, the effect of boredom on the organism--may be this endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day . . . the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment." During his walks, Satie was also observed stopping to jot down ideas by the light of the street lamps he passed.

Food seems to be another big theme, especially for those who were working in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I'm not sure if this is a sign of those times or an actual requirement for their creativity. I tend to think the former, since creatives mentioned from more recent years seem more in tune with food as fuel, rather than food as ritual.

I also notice that most don't work an 8-hour day, not as a matter of routine, anyway. It's virtually impossible, I think, unless you're in one of those creative firestorms where you're pounding stuff out. But I've found that work like that is usually followed by a mental, emotional and physical collapse. 

 Amid all this general structure, there are some wonderful tidbits of activity that occur, like the one observed by artist Chris Ofili:

Routine 2He arrives in his studio at 9 or 10 in the morning, he explained. He sets aside a corner for watercolors and drawings "away from center stage," meaning where he paints his big, collaged oil paintings. "I consider that corner of the studio to be my comfort zone," he said. First, he tears a large sheet of paper, always the same size, into eight pieces, all about 6 by 9 inches. Then he loosens up with some pencil marks, "nothing statements, which have no function."

"They're not a guide," he went on, they're just a way to say something and nothing with a physical mark that is nothing except a start."

I also love this description of how Saul Bellow worked:

Most mornings we linger. Work will wait. We tour the "giardino" and see which flowers have appeared. This June there is a white anemone of which Saul is enormously proud (there's never been another before or since--the moles seem to get at the bulbs). The giant red-orange poppies are budding, the peonies will flower this year in time for Saul's birthday, and there's one early bright purple cosmos blossom. We admire a fat sassy snake curling among the wild columbines. "The whole world is an ice cream cone to him," Saul laughs as he disappears into his studio.

Everything must be taken up nimbly, easily, or not at all. You can't read Saul without being aware of the laughter running beneath every word.

I will say, though, that some people had some rather extreme needs for priming the creative pump. From The New Yorker on Gertrude Stein:

Miss Stein has an outsize bathtub that was especially made for her. A staircase had to be taken out to install it. After her bath she puts on a huge wool bathrobe and writes for a while, but she prefers to write outdoors, after she gets dressed. Especially in the Ain country, because there are rocks and cows there. Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. The two ladies drive around in their Ford till they come to a good spot. Then Miss Stein gets out and sits on a campstool with pencil and pad, and Miss Toklas fearlessly switches a cow into her line of vision. If the cow doesn't seem to fit in with Miss Stein's mood, the ladies get into the car and drive on to another cow. When the great lady has an inspiration, she writes quickly, for about fifteen minutes. But often she just sits there, looking at cows and not turning a wheel.

Cows and rocks aside, the common thread running underneath all of this is that each person has this particular NEED to do the work of creativity. The rituals and routines are there to facilitate a process that for each of them must happen. Not that the routine doesn't become well . . . routine, at least at times. But ultimately, each of them is using routine as a way to create that fertile ground for creativity to flourish. And it's not about productivity. It's about finding the discipline to make the best use of a creative spark that may at heart be undisciplined. It's a tension of opposites that I find really fascinating.

Photos via Rae Z  and 3rd Foundation

Finding the Difference Between "Labor" and "Work"

 I'm currently reading Lewis Hyde's wonderful book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. In it, he explores the nature of the "gift economy" vs. the market economy and how creative types are caught in between these two fundamentally different ways of operating in the world. 7dwarves.gif

One of the issues Hyde discusses is the difference between labor and work. He says:

Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms--these are labors. . . Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended, but only to the extent of doing the groundwork or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, the labor has its own schedule. Things get done, but we often have the odd sense that we didn't do them. . . And labor, because it sets its own pace, is usually accompanied by idleness, leisure, even sleep. . .

When I speak of labor, then, I intend to refer to something dictated by the course of life, rather than by society, something that is often urgent, but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm, something more bound up with feeling, more interior than work.

What occurred to me in exploring these passages is how often I try to turn my labors into work, wanting them to happen according to whatever--usually ambitious--external schedule I've established to accomplish the task. I then become frustrated and angry with myself when I cannot make myself, through force of will, accomplish that labor in the time I've allotted, according to the "rules" I've established.

Clearly I could as easily turn lead to gold. Making the labor of creativity and invention conform to the schedule and tasks of work is an impossible alchemy that I'm crazy to even try.

A fundamental problem we face in doing anything that is original or creative is understanding which part is work and which is labor. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that has separated the two and expects us to be able to engage in our labors as though they were work. And all too often, we buy into this notion.

Question for the Day: Do you confuse "labor" with "work"?

Four Practices for Bringing Artistry to Your Work

Artists_way A few years ago, as part of my recovery from depression and divorce, I began to explore my artistic side. As things got better and I became more engulfed in work, my creativity dried up. I miss it because not only was it personally satisfying, art also fed my creativity in other facets of my life.

As an antidote to my current dried up state, I'm now working with a friend on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, a sort of 12-step recovery program for finding your creative center. Interestingly, I'm seeing how some of the practices can be applied to our professional lives.

Morning Pages--I've written about these before, but the idea bears repeating. Morning Pages work like this. Every morning when you get up, you write--in long hand--3 pages of whatever comes to mind. The goal is to empty your head of all of your concerns, what's on your mind, etc. It's a practice that can clear the space for more creative thinking. It's really a sort of writing meditation.

I've been doing Morning Pages off and on for several years. When I stick with them, they help. When I don't, I start to dry up. Note to self--keep it up. If you want to try out the idea,  check out this link for tips on how to start your own practice. Also check out this video of a discussion with Tom Tierney of The Bridgespan Group where he discusses how he's used a personal journal to drive his own professional practice. 

An Artist's Date--Julia describes it this way:

"An artist's date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a., your inner child."

You will be tempted to put off or re-schedule or to bring a companion. You should resist these temptations and give your Artist's Date the same respect you would give to a business appointment--maybe more.

A Week of Reading Deprivation--As someone who can finish a few books in a week and who is constantly online reading blog posts, articles, etc. this one scares the crap out of me. A week without reading will, for me, be like a week without food. But Julia's premise is that depriving ourselves of reading "casts us into our inner silence." She argues that for most blocked people, reading is an addiction. "We gobble the words of others," she says, "rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own." I suspect this is true and I also suspect that this will be one of the worst weeks of my life. At least at the beginning.But I can also see how listening to our own voice could be a great key to re-claiming our own creativity. It helps us get clearer about what we want and need so we can return refreshed.

Take a Risk a Day--It's easy to get locked into our comfort zones. I know that if I'm not vigilant with myself, I lapse back into routine and focusing on what I know I can do well. But as we've discussed before, risk-taking is a form of learning. It's also something we have to get in the habit of doing. Thinking each day "Where did I take a risk" could be a small but powerful practice.

One of the most important things I'm finding in going through this process (which is just starting, by the way) is that what we resist is what we most need. That is, I'm reading some of these exercises and thinking "that sounds stupid" or "I don't have time for that." But then I realize that the fact of my resistance is actually a clue that this is the activity I most need to do. My resistance is simply my brain's way of trying to keep me locked in my comfort zone. So when I hear that little voice saying "You don't need that," I know that it means that I DO need that. Which means, friends, that in a few weeks I will be going without reading for 7 days. It's a good thing you don't live with me, because I suspect that I'll be extremely crabby then.

Reflections on a Stalled Learning Project

Pause I'm a big proponent of setting up your own personal learning projects and have been trying to keep something going for myself all the time. In keeping with this, a few weeks ago I announced my plans to explore how I could use different blog posting formats (list posts, research posts, link posts, etc.) to learn  more about the needs and expectations of people who are new to social media. My intention was not only to invite others to participate with me, but also to give myself a kick in the pants to do the project by making a public announcement. Ah, the best laid plans . . .

I started out great, setting up a wiki and blog to support my project, developing a survey to send out, etc. But then things started to fall apart. Several work projects with deadlines intervened. I started planning for another career retreat and a couple of webinars for the spring. I was working with Shari and trying to keep up with my blogging here. Slowly, but surely, my interest in and ability to continue my little learning project waned. And here I am, nothing done on it for a few weeks and feeling a little guilty for not doing it.

At this point I'm not considering the project to be over. It's more that it's on hold for now, possibly to be returned to later, although in reality, it's also possible that it will hang out in cyberspace indefinitely. I thought it made sense at this point, though, to do a little reflecting on what happened (aside from the obvious fact that work and life intervened), so a few thoughts on how and why my project stalled:

  • Unlike the 31 Days to a Better Blog project, I didn't set myself a time limit. I didn't feel like pressuring myself, but with no deadline--self-imposed or otherwise--it made it really easy to let things fall by the wayside. One thing I know is that when I don't have the intrinsic motivation (discussed in the second point below), I need some kind of external pressure, like a deadline, to keep me moving.
  • Turns out that although I was initially very motivated both by my topic and the plan I had for exploring it, somehow along the way it didn't hold my interest as I thought it would. This isn't the first time for me. Many of my self-directed learning projects have started out strong, only to later fizzle as I realized they just didn't engage me as I'd thought they would. Interestingly, though, many of them do start back up later when something I see or read sparks new thinking and makes me consider things from another angle. I've been working on accepting that there are some learning situations where the timing isn't right, so I may have to return to the project later. It's hard, though, because I feel like once I've made the commitment, I should just keep going.
  • Part of this was about priorities, too.  Other learning opportunities presented themselves along the way and I decided that with limited time in the day, pursuing those made more sense, at least for where I am right now. For example, the webinars I'm planning are on telling stories about yourself with your online portfolio. This idea was actually sparked by Kivi Leroux Miller's learning project on storytelling, which she began, ironically, in response to my initial invitation for others to join me in my blogging for learning experiment.  Once I saw this, I got interested in the possibilities of telling stories with an online portfolio, so exploring that became more important to me than my original experiment.

Although part of the reason for this post was to help me think through what happened with my stalled learning project so I could consider what I wanted to change for the next time, the other reason I wanted to blog this was to show how sometimes our projects can go astray and what we can do to deal with that. I, of course, could use this evaluation of where I'm at as a way to rejuvenate the project and get myself back on track, possibly with some modifications to my approach. Or I could do what I think makes sense for me right now--put this one on hold for awhile and return to it later when it better suits my learning needs.

One thing I've realized with setting up my personal learning projects is that there's a sort of ebb and flow to them that's similar to the creative ups and downs I often experience. I can fight that and end up with a project that feels very forced to me and therefore not very useful as a learning experience. Or I can accept those times when a project needs to go on the backburner as normal part of the process. This time I'm choosing the latter.

Image via entropiK

The Bamboo Project Readers' Guide to Getting Back Your Creative Mojo

Creativity_2 Last week I asked for your help in getting back my creative mojo so that we could share your tips with others who suffer from the same periodic bouts of brain sludge--which is to say, all of us. As usual, you did NOT let me down, providing me with a veritable treasure trove of ideas that have been extremely helpful.

I promised I'd share, so here's the

Bamboo Project Readers' Guide to Re-Discovering Your Creative Mojo.

1. Take a walk, preferably in nature.
Without question, the number one piece of advice was to get out, away from the computer, away from the desk, and into nature. Shari Voigt said:

When I'm feeling uninspired, I walk away from the computer. I can't remember where I read this, but putting your body in motion aides your creativity. I stick a small notebook in my pocket and walk the dog in a nearby woods. More often than not, inspiration strikes AND we've got our exercise in for the day!

And Joanna Young advised:

The simplest solution for me is to go for a walk - gets you moving and you'll be feeding your naturalistic intelligence - might just give you an idea or two... It's normally best though not to go out looking for ideas and inspiration - resistance tends to kick in when you do.

I definitely agree with that last point--the more you push, the more resistance you feel, which leads to the next bit of advice.

2.  Accept that the fallow times are a normal part of creativity.
Another thing that you told me was to recognize and accept that the "down" times are part of the creative process, something to accept, not to fight.  Christine Martell said:

Admit it and own it is important for me, like you have done here. That can be really hard for me, since I help others get through this stuff, and am a 'professional' creative. Yea, right, we're the same as anyone else. I find these fallow times often are followed by times of high output, so I just have to have the faith to wait it out.

And Lisa Gates suggested that in fact the way out of the fallow period might be through embracing it:

This awareness did not come about consciously for me. It happened in retrospect. In a particularly fallow period, I would stare at my computer, get grumbly and pissy, exercise little, see nobody, and just disappear. In retrospect, I realized my expectations were specific and my standards were miserably high. What I did to bring myself through it was to allow my pen to produce drivel. Barely sentences. Incomplete thoughts, judgments, evaluations, erratic handwriting, scratchy doodles. I allowed myself to sit idle and not move. Unconscious or not, what I learned is that by saying yes to the drivel and nothingness I had the freedom to transform. My higher self somehow knew I would not be fallow forever.

3. Let go of the idea that you have to be "productive."
One problem that I think a lot of us have is this idea that we should somehow always being building toward  some successful product. It's hard to see creativity as a process that isn't always measured by achieving a big goal. As May said:

In a horoscope I read once it said that there's no need to be constantly measuring a project or goal for success, and that's helped me a lot. Letting myself feel it's okay to not be constantly "on" in my life or working towards all my big goals in some obvious way has been a big part of being okay with being uninspired for me.

Joanna pointed also out:

One thing to watch out for is what you're telling yourself - is your language full of "shoulds" - should be writing, should be creative, should have ideas about what to do... They can be enough to block you.

Completely true and May had some good advice for dealing with that:

I also try to praise myself for whatever I might have accomplished in the recent past instead of focusing on my irritation over not creating something new.

So part of letting go is letting go of having a goal, at least for awhile. Easier said than done if you feel like so much of your creative energy is tied up in producing content for people who expect you to be able to keep doing it.  But usually you're your own worst task master anyway--as Christine said, she's her own meanest boss!

4. Change Things UpCreativity_4
Habit can be an incredible impediment to creativity, especially when we start living our lives unconsciously. My habits often have to do with getting into a rut of sitting at my computer, reading and writing, without a lot of other kinds of experiences coming through the filter. But that can stifle the flow.

Kate Foy's advice:

I recharge the batteries with a good book, a walk, a long drive, music or a movie. No this isn't avoiding or wasting time, it's feeding the imagination. A long bath with candle and soft music isn't bad either, whether or not you are feeling devoid of ideas!

And Christine suggested:

I flip through my photo file for inspiration. I use the time to learn new software, which is another part of my brain. I make long lists. Even get fancy with multiple colors and such. When I'm really stuck, I get out the post-its. Lots of sizes and colors for when I'm really having trouble.

I hate shopping, but I do find walking around some kind of shopping place can snap me out of creative lulls. Something about seeing things I don't in my normal day can spark an association. And of course, I can always start cleaning my house--- I will do almost anything to get out of that. Suddenly all sorts of other ideas of things to do can emerge :)

Part of what helped me this time was to walk away from the words. That's where I'm usually producing and when things start to get "stuck" what can release things for me is to go to the visual. So I actually did a lot of drawing and collage in my journal this past week to try to get away from my verbal side. I also listened to instrumental music--classical and New Age--to fill my brain with something other than the incessant chatter that is often a blocker for me.

5. Prepare Ahead of Time
Beth Kanter, sensitive to my plight, actually went and wrote an entire post about it! She has some excellent advice there (so go read it), but one of her best tips was to "Tivo your creativity" by taking advantage of your creative highs to stockpile for the inevitable lows. She has some great ideas for doing this, including writing a ton of blog posts that you can then save for later and going back to previous posts to seek out potential themes and ideas, both of which have helped me at various times.


Besides the great advice I received here, what I also took away from this was how helpful it can be to share with others that you're going through a dry spell. Not just to get their ideas for how to deal with it, but because the act of saying "I'm just not feeling it right now," can be incredibly cathartic. Somehow it gives you "permission" to be OK with not being on top of your game. It also helps you feel less alone, as other people clearly experience the same down times.

One thing I thought was interesting in this exercise was the fact that I got a ton of comments on my original post--and all of them were from women, despite the fact that I have a lot of male readers. I don't know if that's significant or not, but it makes me wonder why. Is it that women are more willing to offer advice? Are we more comfortable with the dry periods? I really don't know. It's just a question hanging out there for me.

Thanks to everyone who contributed your ideas and suggestions. You were incredibly generous and thoughtful and I think gave everyone some great tips for dealing with the down times. Thank you!

Photos via Alun Salt and Kazze

Do People Heart Your Organization?

Hearts Here's a question for you. Would anyone in your organization feel like they had the authority to do this?

When I came home this last time, I had an email from Zappos asking about the shoes, since they hadn’t received them. I was just back and not ready to deal with that, so I replied that my mom had died but that I’d send the shoes as soon as I could. They emailed back that they had arranged with UPS to pick up the shoes, so I wouldn’t have to take the time to do it myself. I was so touched. That’s going against corporate policy.

Yesterday, when I came home from town, a florist delivery man was just leaving. It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is.

I'm guessing no. I'm guessing that there are probably a lot of layers of authority and permissions in place that would make most staff not even consider this an option. I'm also betting that your organization would feel like you didn't have the resources to do something like this.

But here's the thing. This is the kind of activity that sets people's expectations for how organizations SHOULD behave. Once you've had this kind of experience, mediocre service just doesn't cut it anymore. And people are talking about it so even if they haven't had the experience themselves, they see what's going on with other people so their expectations are higher, too.

The bar is being raised.

What are we doing to keep ourselves in the game? What are we doing to make sure that people heart us?

Photo via cybele-la

Some Tools for Expanding Your Creativity and Growing Your PLE

A few days ago I wrote about needing to build our creative skills. I've also been all about the personal learning environments (PLE) lately, although I've tended to focus on the online tools in that process. So this morning I was thinking about the tools I've used to expand my creativity, which I would also consider to be a part of my offline PLE. A couple that have worked well for me:

Morning Pages
Writer and artist Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way (a book I highly recommend for building creativity, by the way) has a great exercise she calls Morning Pages. It works like this. Every morning when you get up, you write--in long hand--3 pages of whatever comes to mind. The goal is to empty your head of all of your concerns, what's on your mind, etc. It's a practice that can clear the space for more creative thinking. It's really a sort of writing meditation that I've found very helpful--and far preferable to starting with my "to do" list. Check out this link for tips on how to start your own practice.

Visual Journaling
For the most part, I'm a word person. I like to read and I like to write. But I've also found that sometimes it's the visual that really gets your mind going, which is where visual journals come in. With a visual journal, you use pictures to express your thinking, rather than writing. You don't have to be an artist, either. I've actually maintained several visual journals that are strictly collage. I've used visual journals to explore more subconscious aspects of problems I'm working on and to try to express ideas I can't seem to get across as effectively in words. They've also helped me make connections that I didn't find through other means. And I've found that it's a great addition to longer-term trainings that I've done as a way for people to reflect on assignments or share information about themselves. Check out Visual Journaling and Collaging in Your Journal for more information.

A couple of quick ideas. . . What do you do to nurture your creativity?