Once Upon a Time… I was a writer

cat-sleepingI’ve started writing this post more times than I care to count. And each time I come to the same conclusion: I don’t have anything to say. It’s a blank. The last time I wrote, I was a month into my new job. It’s been four months, the longest dry spell Musings She Wrote – and its predecessors – has ever seen.

Meanwhile at work, I’m now hurtling toward the six month mark, I’ve earned a place on my client teams and taken on increasing responsibility. Also, I’m completely tapped of creative energy.

I used to write because I felt I had some burgeoning, bubbling creative upchuck (remember ‘brain barf?’) and needed an outlet. And now… I come home and I’m exhausted. I pay my rent, I make food, I go to the gym, I work. I’m completely tapped of that creative energy. Each. And. Every. Day. And that’s not to say I’m running on empty; one of the few nuggets I retained from high school physics is that energy doesn’t die. It’s just converted into different forms of energy.

By the time I get home from the office, I’ve spent nine hours turning whatever creative energy I had into stay-awake-during-client-call energy, and into media pitches, into strategic plans and outlines, into social media campaigns.

And with what little (if any) energy remains, I convert into physical energy at the gym, where I lift heavy things repeatedly.

By the time I stumble home, I maybe cook. Or clean. If nothing else, I’ve learned to be grateful there’s not something else – a puppy or a child – in the picture. Being an adult is amazing, splendid, beautiful. And wholeheartedly the most exhausting thing ever.

At work this week, I was talking to my boss about a new writing class she’s taking at the MOMA. She’s learning how to write art critiques, just for fun – to engage the creative side of her brain that isn’t always engaged by client work.

I have kickball. I have the gym. I don’t have an art writing class. A while ago, I wrote up some steps to boost creativity, to beat writers’ block. Only, I don’t think this is writers’ block. I’m just drained. And short of illegal substances, and/or inserting a caffeine drip into my bloodstream, I don’t know how to combat it.

But I want to use my brain. I want to be creative. I want my art critique course. And I’m taking suggestions.

Step one was stumbling through the two weeks it took to write this post. I wrote something, and it wasn’t a list of tweets or a media plan or an email (actually I draft almost all my blog posts in Gmail drafts, but I digress). But I need something more. It’s bucket list time soon, and I want to look forward to some new challenge.

Calculus class? I’ll take it. Photo blogging a scenic walk every weekend? Sure. Painting? Drawing? Sommelier courses? How do y’all engage your brain? And how do you stay awake past 9 p.m.? When did naps go out of style?

6 Steps to Beat Creative Block

creativeblock1. Acknowledge it. You can’t fix the block if you don’t acknowledge that it’s there. So sit, dwell, and mourn the loss. If you’re me, that means writing a moody blog post about how my creativity is shriveling up inside me that gives AB’s roommate “the feels.” A lot of people will say that when there’s a block, just walk away and it’ll come. This is the time to try that approach. And when that doesn’t work, keep reading.

2. Consume, consume, consume. Just because you’re having a tough time expressing creativity doesn’t mean you can’t absorb it. Soak up everyone else’s inspiration to tap into at a later date. Read books, scan Pinterest, search Google for “how to beat creative block” (oh, hi), read through blogs, shop for clothes, eat fresh foods—all things that I find creative.

3. Ask for help. Creativity is a two-way street. When I was younger, I used to sit with my mother and hash out ideas. And even now, I love participating in group brainstorm sessions. Other people are a great springboard off which to bounce ideas. For me, this step meant reaching out to Captain America for some blog ideas, and reaching out to my parents to help fund my participation in Alt for Everyone—both will spur additional creativity and get the ball rolling!

4. Plan. If the words still aren’t coming, then there are still steps you can take to prepare yourself for when they do. I took the time to work with Captain America to build a preliminary editorial calendar, and look up unique holidays for the coming year to include in my planner as clever “news” pegs. I also signed up for Alt and am mentally preparing!

5. Cleanse. If this list were just for me, step 5 would simply be “clean.” I find that I can’t do anything creative—write, cook, paint, sing, think—when things are dirty. In my family, it’s called “Blue Rug Syndrome;” we had a blue rug in our living room and when it was dirty, the whole house looked dirty. This is similar—when my surroundings are cluttered, my brain is. So I clean. But this can also mean cleaning out any toxic excess, going for a run to cleanse your mind (or whatever). Anything that wipes the slate clean for a fresh start.

6. Now go. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, sit down and work at your art. With the planning from step five, you should have some springboards to work with. But sit down and try. Think of this as intense interval training. Write or work for 15 minutes and then take a break for 10. But still use the break time proactively. Read, go for a walk, look through old photos, do yoga, stand on your head for all I care—anything to mix it up and stir the imagination. Then put that imagination back to use.

Best of luck! Do you have any bad experiences with creative or writer’s block? How’d you overcome it?

Musings on Chalk and Celery and Creativity: My Quarter-Life Crisis

celeryWhen I was younger, I loved loved loved the 1995 remake of “The Little Princess.” There’s one scene when little Sara draws a circle in chalk on her damp attic floor, then curls up in a ball in that circle, fetal. This is how I feel. She was reeling from the presumed death of her father; I’m just having what I can only describe as a quarter-life crisis.

I just feel… off. Let me attempt to delve into the complexity of what, exactly, I’m feeling: I am a limp and rubbery stalk of celery. I feel completely drained of my battery; I have no backbone, like I’m wilted.

And I think I’ve figured out the root (ha) of this anxiety: I am homeless. The closest I can possibly come to my own personal happy space is that circle drawn in chalk. Sure, I have a sublet with great roommates, but none of the things are mine. A stranger’s art lines the walls; her dirty pink rug sits on the floor; her clothes fill the armoire; I sleep under her linens in her bed. And sure, I have an amazing boyfriend with an amazing apartment complete with amazing roommate, and I spend a lot of time there. But it’s not mine. I may cook and clean and sleep there, but AB never fails to remind me that I don’t, in fact, live there. The couches, my very first adult purchase, no longer belong to me. Nothing, save for some clothes and toiletries, is mine. I express my frustration to him, and he says to go home and have alone time there. But it’s not “alone time” that I need. It’s “me time.” The fact of the matter is I can’t be who or do what I want when my life is boxed up in a basement far away.

I’m actually on the verge of tears right now. This reality is excruciatingly difficult for me. It has detrimental effects on my psyche, and completely goes against my mental health clause. Because when I don’t have “me time,” my creativity dies a slow, painful death. All the things that make me feel like me—the majority of my wardrobe, my furniture, my cowboy boots, my yoga mat—are sitting in a basement. I thought I’d be settled in my own place in March. I now know it won’t be until June or July. You try living out of a suitcase, and in the shadow of another person’s life for six months and tell me how sane you feel.

I want to write a book, I want to tackle my Pinterest-inspired DIY projects, I want to ramp up my blog, I want to take up yoga again, I want to host a party in my own kitchen with my own kitchen utensils. Mine, mine, mine.

I don’t have the means to fix this right now and, as a result, I feel trapped.

I believe it was Maya Angelou who said something to the tune of—when inspiration hits, she has to scramble to write it down, lest she lose it forever.

Recently, my mother and I were taking about my older brother, a photographer and the definition of an artist. Many times in his life he’s said that if he is unable to pursue his art, it will—literally—kill him. And though I used to brush off his remarks as exaggerated and dramatic, I now believe him. When his circumstances prevent him from shooting, a part of him dies. I feel the same way. My circumstances—tolerable in small doses—are now stifling my creativity and my happiness. I feel the artistry bubbling up, but don’t feel I have the means to express it. My reflex is to either implode and curl up in that chalk circle, or explode and somehow find my escape—literally and figuratively. If celery can be saved with an ice bath, then so can I (right?).