How to push through a creative block

Hello, world.

I feel as though I’ve been absent for some time now. The thing is, September and October were a complete blur for me and my need to write was extinguished by a series of, well, craziness.

We packed, we moved, we unpacked. Then, I discovered I had not one but two ovarian cysts. This news was followed by a brief walk through a patch of woods that left me covered front to back with poison ivy for three weeks; it was a nightmare. And then, my dog chased a squirrel into the woods and got speared by a tree branch in the process, resulting in a puncture wound and emergency surgery. My poor girl.

In retrospect, these series of events could have been great fodder for blog posts, but I’ve been unable to create lately. I’ve been feeling blocked. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, I haven’t been feeling like this for just the past two months; it’s more like the last year – or longer. I’ve journaled about it, reflected on it, read books and articles on the topic, but I could not figure out what was at the heart of this creative wall.

To help me uncover what was at the core, a few weeks ago, I turned to an online writing series facilitated by friend and poet Jacinta White. Becoming Undone: Unpacking Life’s Weight helped me identify the things in my life that are weighing me down and keeping me from moving forward. My “A-ha” moment came during the first writing prompt, where we had to write a list poem that began with the line: “Daily I carry … ” Without hesitation, guilt was the first word I scribbled in my notebook.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Somehow putting the words on paper looked different than they did in my mind. Emptying my head, seeing my thoughts on the page before me, it gave the words power.

I’ve been wrestling with this theme of guilt for a few weeks now in my journaling and in my writing. At times, it was difficult for me to even begin to write about it and face all the things that I feel guilty about – the imagined and unimagined. One Saturday morning, I spent an hour, sitting on the couch with my notebook in my lap, unable to even pick up the pen. What was I so afraid of? I kept flipping back to a sentence I wrote in my notebook: Don’t let fear get in the way of your dreams. … Let go of your guilt.

Sunset at Price Park. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Sunset at Price Park. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

So I started writing a list. I’ve been feeling guilty about abandoning my writing this past year, not spending enough time with friends, not calling home enough, not exercising as much as I should, for eating too much sugar. But the one sentence that stopped me in my tracks was this one: I feel guilty about the way Yoshi died.

On my 32nd birthday, my dog Yoshi passed away, and although it’s been almost three years since he died, I’ve been carrying this guilt that I didn’t know existed until the moment I wrote it down on the page.

The day Yoshi died, I had sat by his side all day, waiting for him to pass on his own. But he never did. I had to make a judgement call and take him to the vet where he was euthanized. I felt bad that the serenity I had created for him at home was quickly erased once we walked into the vet’s office. He hated the vet. Those last few minutes of his life have been playing over and over in my head. When we first arrived, he lost his urine on the exam floor, and looked up at me ashamed and embarrassed. He was always such a proud boy. As we waited for the doctor, he stood anxious and scared, panting on the metal table. I draped his favorite blanket over him, petted him, talked to him, but I was not able to soothe him. I feel bad that that’s where he had to die.

Discovering this guilt through the writing process helped me begin to not only identify the source of the weight I’ve been carrying but also how to begin to let it go. I learned I need to replace that guilt with self-love.

Photo by Carla Kucinski

Photo by Carla Kucinski

In the process, I’ve also realized that what’s been keeping me from writing was not laziness or procrastination but fear. Fear about what I would discover, fear that what I would find would be too painful, fear that what I wrote wouldn’t be good enough.

Julia Cameron writes in “The Artists’s Way” (my creative Bible, by the way): Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all. There is only one cure for fear. That cure is love. Use love for your artist to cure its fear.”

So I’m taking Julia’s advice and trying to find ways to nurture my inner artist, cut myself some slack and continue pushing through this block.

Yesterday, I took myself on what Julia calls an artist’s date to The Weatherspoon. Just me and rooms full of artwork. I spent an hour or so, weaving in and out of exhibition rooms, studying each work, pausing and lingering before the ones I felt drawn to. I found myself jotting down words in my notebook, writing down the names of artists whose works inspired me.

Photo by Carla Kucinski

Photo by Carla Kucinski

I emerged from the museum that afternoon feeling full and at peace. There was a calm, a quietness inside of me that I carried with me the rest of day. I felt alive. I felt like I had come home.

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4 thoughts on “How to push through a creative block

  1. This is beautiful, Carla. Don’t for one second think that you are alone in experiencing the difficulties of the creative process – we all deal with it, and struggle with it, often on a daily basis. That doesn’t make it any less easy but it does help to know that it’s a feeling that’s universally felt. I don’t think I know a single person who creates on any level who hasn’t experienced this feeling. I also can’t think of a single person who creates who is truly ever satisfied with their work.

    Thank you for the book recommendations as well! I definitely plan to pick up “The Artist’s Way” and checking out Jacinta’s work.

    Lastly, thank you for sharing this! It’s not easy to share something personal and by god, you’ve done it and done it beautifully.

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    • Thank you so much for the validation, Robin, and for empathizing. Being able to identify the root cause of my block has really helped me move forward. Jacinta’s workshop and reading Julia Cameron’s excerpt on the artist’s block have been tremendously helpful.

      Definitely pick up the Artist’s Way. There are some great exercises in it and practices to adopt on nurturing our creative spirit. You’ll love it.

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  2. I cried when I read this – the part about Yoshi’s last moments. You had never told me that part. I remember that day as so very beautiful and peaceful. It was the day I finally understood the bond you had with him. You were laying on the floor eye to eye with him, feeling every breath with him. And, of course, I can cry now when I can see him pop up like a puppy when I came in to say my goodbyes.

    It was brave of you to share this with anyone, much less here for all to read. Most of all, I love that by telling this story, his story, he has set you free to move forward. Yoshi…

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    • I remember that day as beautiful and peaceful, too. The end was very difficult. It just felt like chaos and felt rushed. There are other details cemented in my brain that I left out, his expression toward the end in particular. But I am trying to let that go and realize everything about those last 24 hours were out of my control.

      Like

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