In the dead of winter, it is dead hard to find the means to be creative. Days are short, grey, and generally dull. While in the spring it’s easy to peek out the window and find inspiration in a gentle, puffy cloud or a bird’s song, in the winter there is little of that. Some days I swear that the only thing keeping me writing is a deadline, which – if I’m honest – even if I’m doing what I love, it feels like a slog.
About 18 months ago, I gave myself a gift. I had been working long hours building my business, rushing to slam dinner on the table before bedtime, and generally had little time for myself. I felt like I was dragging and I definitely didn’t feel creative, even though I was doing “creative work” all day long. When I found a beginner’s pottery course at my local adult learning centre, I enrolled for the Monday night class from 7 – 9. Not only did I carve out blissful 2 hours per week that were just for me, but I signed up for getting my hands dirty. I had an inkling that pottery would be a therapeutic practice, which is probably why I chose that craft over others, but it actually turned my life around.
Manipulating clay, being physical with material that comes from the ground, having to keep my mouth shut and mind focused, all while working towards a creative goal other than writing...all these things were incredibly freeing. Even more freeing was the idea that I didn’t have to be any good at it. There is nothing like staring at a lump of clay and knowing you can do anything with it, then picking it up and starting to mold and shape it. I don’t think I had experienced a total lack of self-judgment since I was a child.
The other day, I put on the Trolls 2 movie for the kids and I pulled out the watercolors and paper. I put down some newspaper, chose a blank sheet, and got the brushes out. I don’t think I’ve touched watercolors for several years! They watched the movie while I played around with paints (and joined me in painting for a few minutes here and there). I had no intention of making something worthy of admiration, and it just so happened that it took the entire length of the movie for me to finish. It was so relaxing. While I painted, I listened to the film and was able to pick up on the deeper themes I had missed the first time around because of all the flashy songs and glitter. There was no pressure to make something that was good; it was all about the process. And in that process, I had gone into an “alpha state,” which is said to help focus and open up the mind, allowing it to tap into creativity.
There is a great new series over at Picture Book Builders, a blog on all things picture book, called "Outside the Box." This series chats with picture book creators who also pursue other types of writing and have other creative outlets. The aim of this series is to show the varied lives and directions of picture book writers. This month's feature is with picture book author Terry Pierce, and I found her journey fascinating. And next month's guest is...ME! So, I'm currently answering some fun questions about the variety in my own writing life for a blog post that will publish on February 9th. You can follow along by going to https://picturebookbuilders.com/ and subscribing to be notified when their posts go live.
Now, pottery and painting might not be your thang. That’s OK. Find your creative fuel elsewhere. Maybe your like to cook, walk in nature, craft, draw, or make Minecraft houses that look like video game controllers:
Any of these creative pursuits will help you get out of your head so your brain can do the behind-the-scenes work to power up your writing. In your “other” creative activities, the farther away you are from expectation and pressure, the better. Make mistakes! Try and fail! Draw a dog that is unidentifiable! Paint a blob and add a face! Go on a walk and make up a silly song! Knit a misshapen sweater!
Sometimes these other creative activities will merely be relaxing, which is totally OK. Other times, your creative pursuits might take you in a whole new direction. What might you discover? When you allow your creative self to be free and have some fun, it can be fuel for the fire of your writing life.