The surprising 5-step process to ignite creativity

You know that voice inside that tugs at you in the quiet moments?

You wouldn’t know it has anything to do with your creativity as such, let alone think that it holds the answer to making your dreams a reality.

It whispers uncomfortable truths like…

“You’re not living your best life.”

“You never used to feel this numb.”

“You’re not really enjoying any of this work, are you?”

This is your creativity calling. Which is confusing because it can sound negative and anxious. (Surely a nudge to live out your creativity should be full of possibility and delight?)

Sorry. This is your creativity calling. Showing up with all the bruises, comparisons and fears it’s gathered along the road.

But it’s still here. And that’s the miracle, really.

It’s your creativity calling again, despite being put to the bottom of the heap. Despite being given brief and glorious hope before becoming a failed New Year’s resolution. Despite being given lower priority than the washing up ffs.

Because of said bruises, the creative nudge may sound remarkably similar to your inner critic at times. But it’s actually a seriously loyal pup with nothing but your best interests at heart. And you can take heed without needing to disrupt your whole life or neglect your grown-up schedule. Or move to Paris to become a novelist.

Follow these five steps to build your creative courage and your self-trust. To heal the bruises and free yourself from procrastination and creative denial. These are the first steps to start shifting gradually towards a life where your creativity is fully expressed and acknowledged (and you are reaping the benefits).

 

1. Focus on the voice of creativity itself, and let it get louder

 

It’s not always literally a voice in your head, although sometimes it really is! The creative impulse can be quite a clear thought that feels loud and shouty and you just know its message inside out.

It also might have become so familiar that you barely even notice it anymore. In this case, it really takes some reflection and deep listening to be able to identify it.

At times, creativity can only be found through its own shadow… seen through the lens of a harsh comparison, an envy of someone else with an accompanying sense of “it’s too late for me to do that”.

Whatever form this voice takes, it’s a certain type of signal you are giving yourself in relation to your longing and your creativity. The signal itself is like gold dust, but we push it away because it’s uncomfortable.

So this step is about moving towards that signal. Welcoming the message it brings, even if it hurts. Listening as deeply as we possibly can, and grasping the actual content.

Notice, notice, notice. LISTEN.

Stop to take a breath. Journal, catch it in a voice memo, jot it down on a post-it. Just do anything to interrupt the automatic suppression of your whispered longing.

2. Catch up with the feelings to transform them

That suppression is what happens when there are feelings related to creativity that are scary to feel. So the next step is about consciously deciding to feel them.

Usually we don’t even realise that the feelings are there, let alone that we’re trying to avoid them. It’s a really old pattern so we’ve got it on autopilot by now.

The emotion associated with our creativity often doesn’t come straight away, so start by simply stating your willingness to feel them whenever they are ready to surface. Usually all the procrastination and avoidance was specially designed to keep those scary feelings at bay, so it really is an act of courage to invite them in.

A few of the common underlying emotions relating to our creative longings are:

  • Fear of getting it wrong
  • Fear of poverty or disruption
  • Regret about neglecting your creativity
  • Grief of aspects of your life that have not been lived
  • Anxiety that there will be nothing there if you make a start with a creative practice

By inviting these emotions to be known, the backlog can clear. The numb places can start to thaw out and come back to life. The idea is not to get stuck in difficult feelings, but to make some room so that they can move through on through rather than lingering under the floor boards.

Once there’s movement here, the felt experience becomes dynamic, more positive and full of vitality. Even if fears or frustration are still there (which of course they will be) they become fresh and active rather than stuck or old.

creativity journaling woman reading
Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash

3: Get to the bottom of the creative blocks

Don’t believe your thoughts about creativity, whatever you do (unless they’re marvellous). There’s a whole list of seemingly plausible reasons to neglect the creative life and you’ve potentially been working that list for years.

But on closer inspection those reasons start to crumble.

Some of the common thought patterns wrapped up in creative denial are:

  • I don’t have time
  • I won’t make any money from this
  • It will take over my life
  • It’s too late
  • I’m not creative anyway
  • I don’t know what I’m doing

These thoughts are based on outdated assumptions and inherited conditioning. And it’s about time they got an overhaul.

So write down your thoughts and pick them apart. Write down a big batch if you need to, or catch them one-by-one if they surface when you’re going about your day.

  • Is the statement categorically true?
  • Is there some element of choice that you do have that you hadn’t thought about?
  • Is this thought your own, or did someone else say it to you some time long ago?

Underneath those thoughts is usually a more stark and honest reason for creative procrastination.

(And it usually boils down to “I’m afraid”)

girl hiding her face wants to hide creativity
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

4. Take the smallest of steps to get the wheels of creativity turning

It’s easy when delving into creativity to ask “what’s the grandest, most real and important thing to do?”.

Of course that’s the question. And there’s probably a backlog too, so it’s natural to want to go big and bold.

But it’s also the best way to feel like a failure if the rest of life gets in the way.

Instead, why not ask yourself “what’s the smallest, most realistic creative commitment I can make? What’s the minimum step that I’m least likely to fail?”

Not as sexy, but much more realistic and productive in the long-run.

Sorry to be so boring about it, but what really counts here is consistent effort to build your self-trust. Just doing something on a regular basis is so much more heartening than doing a big blast once every year or two (or ten, whatever).

Set yourself a tiny creative goal and do it a few times a week.

This is enough to take away the ache of neglect and the drain of avoidance. It gets you going, and that is the most important thing right now.

It matters less what you actually do at this point, more that you do something. Often. Here are a few quick snack ideas to whet your appetite:

  • Take a photo once a day just because you like the pattern, the shape or the colour.
  • Dance to one song when you get up in the morning.
  • Buy a mindful colouring book and spend half an hour colouring in.
  • Make a meal that you’ve never made before. Go and get special ingredients that you don’t usually use.
  • Plant some flowers.
  • Draw a scribbly doodle and colour it in.

Just. Do. Something. Often.

Then congratulate yourself for your commitment to creativity.

Make a deal with yourself to pat yourself on the back instead of criticise yourself for any sort of not-enoughness in your seedling process.

Let yourself be in the rekindling phase and let that be enough right now.

 

creativity blossoming man reading and flowers
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

5. Tend to your vision of creativity, let it grow

Now the road blocks are clearing, there’s a shimmering glimpse of the horizon ahead.

Now it’s time to feed those creative longings. It’s time to grow them, gaze at them, get obsessed with them.

No two creative visions are the same, there are as many particular flavours as there are human beings on the planet. So it’s time to familiarise yourself intimately with your own.

The very idea of a ‘creative vision’ can sound intimidating, so let’s just clear that up first.

I call a creative vision the version of your life where you feel creatively satisfied.

Where that little voice we spoke about earlier is on the same team as you. A beautiful creative vision could be having work that is fulfilling, making an art journal regularly or feeling lit up by the food you make for yourself every evening.

  • What is it for you?
  • What is the type of creative expression that you are longing for?
  • How often does it need to happen so that you feel satiated and alive?
  • Do you want to share it with others, or is it just for you?

Allow your vision to take shape.

Jot down thoughts, gather articles and clippings, notice your dreams and ideas (without judging them or trying to make them reasonable).

Approach your vision with a feeling of ‘yes’ in your heart. Yes, I can make some version of that happen. Yes, that is important to me even if it’s not practical. Yes, the feeling of joy is worth the effort here.

And here’s a big YES from me to your creative visions, whatever they may be. To your beautiful, imperfect creativity.

When you take any of these steps consistently for a while, something shifts. It doesn’t take much to get a sense that your creativity is actively in process rather than on-the-shelf.

The thing that makes that creative calling feel so menacing is the firmly-fixed blinkers that are designed to avoid it, and these steps will prise those blinkers off so you can open your eyes.

As you keep noticing the voice, the feelings and the thoughts that are underneath, you will notice a change. Momentum will gather, along with the sense of well-being and rightness that comes from listening to a voice that is truly your own.

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