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Creativity: Don’t Think – Do.

Dr. Susan Raeburn shares with vocalists a way out of the creative rut.

Last week we identified self-care as a key part in each stage of the creative process.

We looked at Barbara’s challenge of feeling inadequate and subsequently abandoning her CD project.

Today, I want you to consider steps ahead you could take in your creative processes.

We need to do much more than “think” about it; thinking can keep us mired in our creative rut so, I invite you to try the following exercise.

EXERCISE: Taking Care of Yourself During the Creative Process

Think of something creative you are trying to accomplish now, perhaps a specific project.

Grab a journal or a blank piece of paper. Sit down in a quiet place and spend just a few minutes asking yourself the following questions:

1) How well do I take care of myself during the different stages of my creative process? Where am I the most successful at taking good care of myself? Conversely, what stages of the process are most challenging for me? Note your answers.

2) Describe what is challenging. Are the challenges:

• Physical? (e.g. fatigue, sleep disruption, headaches and such)

• Psychological and/or emotional? (e.g. negative thinking and judgmental self-talk, anxiety, depression and so forth)

• Social? (e.g. unhealthy relationships, feeling lonely, conflict about not meeting demands from family, feeling guilty when you’re not putting others first, etc.)

• Behavioral? (e.g. poor time management, avoiding and procrastinating, drinking to escape, etc.)

• Spiritual or existential? (feeling alienated, doubting the meaning of what you’re doing)

List as many as apply and be as specific as you can.

3) Pick the area that is the most challenging or the most important to begin improving your self-care. Note it now.

4) Make a plan to improve your awareness in this area, perhaps by practicing self-observation with acceptance (that is, without judgment) over the next several days or weeks. Summarize your plan here.

5) Is there anything that you already know you need to change about your current approach? As best as you can tell, what barriers will you be facing when you make the necessary changes? For example, are the barriers under your control (changing your thinking or your habits) or outside of your control (changing other people’s thinking or habits, or the marketplace)?

Start by working on the parts that you can influence. Ask for help if you need it.

Have fun with this and keep it simple. Remember that you are the final expert on how you work best and what you need to do for yourself. If you need more help with this exercise talk to a supportive friend, a therapist, or a coach. Keep going!

Getting Back on Track

In the past, Barbara allowed fear and the frustrating parts of her creative process to derail her efforts and to divert her with loads of TV, chocolate and cigarettes.

This time she knew she had a choice: she could put herself down, keep numbing-out to distract herself and give up on her dream or, she could apply what she has learned about taking care of herself to this most important area of her life.

Happily, Barbara chose to emotionally regroup, to persevere and to problem-solve what she could do differently.

She figured out that she had been quite unrealistic about how long the process of writing and recording her songs would take. She then learned to pace herself more effectively and to increase her support, both emotionally and practically.

Barbara completed the remaining songs on her CD having discovered nuances that were fresh and unanticipated for her.

When the project was done, she started planning a CD release party…

… but first she went dancing with her husband at the seaside.

Useful Links:

SPAM in the Vocalist’s Brain

Care Enough To Create

Creative Recovery

Susan Raeburn, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is the co-author of Creative Recovery. Susan maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, Calif., and is a staff psychologist in the Chemical Dependency Services program at Kaiser Permanente. Susan’s mother, Ginnie Powell, was a professional vocalist during the Big Band era, singing with the orchestras of Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Boyd Raeburn.

© Susan Raeburn December 2009.

Material from feature image:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/blacklord/537470565/ by Blacklord

  • I find this article the most interesting among those published in the last weeks. I do agree with you that action is a must and working hard is the only way to make ideas come out from your inside. When I am writing, I just have my guitar and let my fingers move without thinking what I am doing till something calls my attention. But I would like to share with you a problem I have. I am too critic with myself. Many times when listening to other's songs I found me thinking: “oh, this is rubbish, I would have never developed a complete song from that”. So, many ideas that come to me I usually through away. I have to be very impacted emotionaly by a seed idea so as to allow myself to work on it. The problem is that I can produce a very small number of songs yearly.

    But I do not agree with you in one thing. In the process of creating I need to “live” the song. I need to be emotinaly linked to the story and the words. And somtimes this is temporarily devasting. I do feel down, even to the limit of holding my tears, when I am building something sad. Or, on the contrary: can I only create something great when I am previosly having a bad time? I not sure what goes first, but I do believe there is something dual in the process of creating: the joy of sharing your deepest you and the sadness of allowing your creation get life. Isn't there some kind of losing is this process?

  • Hello Susan,

    Paco always beats me to the best topics…I can't help but think he's intrinsically more deep than I. Wow, just when ya' think you're makin' a good turn and whack – ya' get a smack across the brow! I've come to realize that I beat the living crap out of myself…somehow I excuse this abuse with a strong and unrelenting work ethic. I meet all of my commitments with severity…save one…my personal health. I live on caffein and nicotine and no more than 5 hours sleep a day = terrible, I know. Time to carve off the fat! Currently I'm capable of the juggling act; but I know it's only a matter of time before I cause too much damage.

    I find that I fight to be emotional…there's something in me that is machine, or insect like that is as fascinated with precision and mechanics as it is the emotions of love, hate, happiness, sorrow…in fact…it's almost as if acheiving that unique conformity is what causes me an emotive response.

    I most often express love through acts of servitude. So, in a way, my work for an individual displays my love for that person…and pretty much any emotion I have will come from that vehicle. I've always felt that I had a lot of heart and a focused mind but no way to connect them. What do you all do to bridge the spiritual gap between thought and emotion?

    In Paco's second paragraph he talks about often having to go through deep pain to bring something to life…in essence, we're the long-term parents of our songs, whether the band is divorced or still married. It seems that writing is an almost soulful occupation regardless of the content. As we expellee our thoughts and feelings we think we will become free of them…but we have to honestly know that place to be able to perform it with conviction. If people resonate with something dark in us we tend to have to relive this emotion each time it is performed. That can be pretty tough over time.