Sometimes the path to creative productivity is a road less traveled when you’re willing to go out of the norm. Today I wanted to talk about the idea that digging into your daily chore list or completing an otherwise mundane task can lead you to become unblocked creatively on the project you desperately need to gain momentum on. Whether it’s a plot line for your novel, a color scheme for your latest painting, or even a blog post that you just can’t seem to sit down and let the words flow, the answer to your problems might just be the laundry you’ve been dreading to fold.
Cooperating with the Creative Process
One of the biggest challenges for me as a writer is sitting down to do the work. Often times, I feel like I will do everything else BUT sit down to finish my scripts. I’ve come to know my habits however, and part of the reason I do that is because I am a type-A perfectionist and I want my story lines and my dialogue to be perfect before I even sit down to write. I also get impatient. I just want it to be finished already, especially because I can see it so clear in my head! I’m not asking too much am I? For it to be all perfect before I even start?! I know, I know. I thought so.
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity,” says Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way. “That, and surprise. All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive—but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.”
So what I’ve learned to do is to trust the creative process, not force it.
Treat Your Work Like a Cupcake
Yes, like a cupcake. Your story, your painting, your blog post…whatever your project is that you’re feeling blocked with, it needs time to bake. And sometimes when you sit down to delve deep into your project, you’re just creatively blocked because the right ideas haven’t come along yet. No one knows how frustrating that is more than me. But treat your project like a cupcake. Give it time to blend together and rise!
To Begin, Begin. Or…Finish Something Else
Often times the best way to get through that gray period where you’re feeling blocked, frustrated, and unproductive is to go do a nagging chore. Yes, I’m actually telling you to go do the laundry which you hate, the dishes that you despise, or drag yourself to the gym that you’ve been avoiding. How in the world does this relate back to finishing that creative project? Because sometimes completing a mundane task has a funny way of leading us into the perfect idea for our story or hitting us smack in the face with a blog post title that will make your fingers fly across the keyboard to get it out. That “dark period” where you feel like a complete failure because you just can’t get into that productive creative flow can be a tricky state. But in a weird reverse psychology way, the art of finishing something seems to be a nice remedy to your beginning.
A Mundane Task: Part of Creative Discovery
As Julia Cameron puts it in The Artist’s Way, “We are an ambitious society, and it is often difficult for us to cultivate forms of creativity that do not directly serve us and our career goals.”
So while you may think that going for a dreaded run or doing laundry will do nothing to unblock you or push you along in the creative project that you just can’t seem to be productive with, it actually can very much do the opposite.
“Many hobbies involve a form of artist-brain mulling that leads to enormous creative breakthroughs. When I have a screenwriting student stuck at the midpoint of act two, I ask them to please go do their household mending. They usually balk, offended by such a mundane task, but sewing has a nice way of mending up plots,” says Cameron.
It’s hard to do things that at first seem like they won’t further our goals or our career. I don’t think any of us are exactly thinking, “Okay, first vacuum and then I’ll be straight on my way to being a New York Times Best Seller!” But creating order in our life can suddenly put in us the need to create order in our creative project, which then turns to productivity. The routine of doing another task can often jump start our creativity and even the sense of accomplishment that we feel when finishing a nagging task. Suddenly you go from 0 to 100 with a newfound sense of energy and purpose with your work.
The Answers to Your Creative Productivity Questions
When unfinished work presents itself, a million questions can run through your mind. I know when I’m stuck on a specific scene I’m working on, I’m usually asking myself a thousand “what if” questions. “What if this character does this instead of that?” “What if my plot goes this way instead of that?” Completing a mundane task can sometimes provide the answers to those questions.
Cameron gives a great example of this in The Artist’s Way (last quote I promise). She talks about a woman, a designer, who bicycles home from work every day. The rhythmic and repetitive motion provides solutions to her most nagging creative questions that block her from being productive and coming up with simple design solutions. When bicycling, “Solutions just come. Somehow, I am freed to free-associate, and things begin to fall into place.”
So, go clean your room, take a shower, put the dishes away, or take a run. These everyday mundane tasks are itching to get your creative juices flowing, whether or not you think they are. These chores just might be the needed step towards unblocking yourself/your creativity. How else do you think I got this blog post done 😉