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Nine Ways to Screw Up Your Creative Mojo

Talk a lot and don't do anything. Rattle on to people who won't challenge you to act on your ideas. Regularly pepper your language with long lists of excuses, and shut down offers of help or suggestions for solutions.
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There are a lot of resources out there for us writers/artists/creators wanting to crank up our creative energy and productivity, and some of them are fantastic. (I may have a specific one in mind, even.) However, it's often easier to find wisdom under the hearty contrast of what NOT to do than in all the fine suggestions of how to be a perfect creator.

You never know... maybe there's even some value in having your creative energy messed up from time to time.

So how does one head straight for creative muck? Here are some ideas.

1. Blow off inspiration. Don't bother to jot down a phrase that strikes you, to sing that hooky part of a verse onto your voicemail, to sketch the invention that wakes you up in the middle of the night. It'll probably come up again if it's any good, right?

2. Talk a lot and don't do anything. Rattle on to people who won't challenge you to act on your ideas. Regularly pepper your language with long lists of excuses, and shut down offers of help or suggestions for solutions. For extra-credit, frequently stare into the distance, and with a dramatic sigh, simply utter: "Someday...".

3. Wait until everything in your life is perfect. Think of your creative work as a luxury that you must earn by fulfilling external obligations. Complete everything you should do before allowing yourself to do anything really creative. Make sure your kids are raised and thriving, house is spotless, 'real job' situation is solid, marriage is free of any troubling rumblings, retirement portfolio is overflowing, body is fit, friends are super-supported, and aging parents are happily enjoying their prime of life before you embark upon any creative project. Then you can think clearly about how to proceed.

4. Nurture and feed your inner (and outer) critics. Remind yourself often that you're probably no good, there are a lot of people better than you, you don't have a lot to show for your efforts so far, and that that one college teacher didn't ever really 'get' your stuff. Show your least supportive family member your new work early and often. Time the presentations of your work for hectic, unfocused moments, and preface with a litany of self-deprecating statements.

5. Cling to your limitations and constrictions. Refuse to commit to your work, since you know that your education/weight/age/experience/whatever will eventually hold you back from the kind of success you really crave. Think of new issues when old ones get stale. The economy has been a good one lately.

6. Embrace the "hamster wheel" approach: keep moving, go nowhere. Keep yourself overwhelmed with things that have nothing to do with your true desires. Frequently begin new things that are unrelated to your art - hobbies, house renovations, relationships - anything to keep you from completing projects and getting them out into the world, where who-knows-what could happen. When pressed, beat the dead horse projects you just can't release; rework old pieces over and over instead of leaping into new, uncertain territory.

7. Shut down instinct with well thought-out logic. Sure, you may feel like playing with a funky approach to that photo shoot, calling your high school friend who just opened a gallery, recording vocals with the damaged microphone, or posting that off-topic blog, but that doesn't really make sense. It might not turn out. It might be a waste of time. You know what works. Stick to the plan.

8. Resent the process, your community, and your audience. Dread your creative sessions. Have long, complex, detailed rituals and requirements that must take place before any creative work can happen. Complain about everything. Shoot for a creative persona of mopey, irritable, entitled, and bitter. Hoard resources and contacts when talking with other artists. Be rude and disrespectful to people who are interested in your work.

9. Above all, resist all urges to rest, play, eat, laugh, or fill your senses. There's no room in a very serious and important artist's life for breaks, messing around, seeing what happens, or straying from the day's schedule. Put your basic needs last. Enjoy the edginess of chronic low blood sugar. Snap at the people and animals in your life. Avoid colorful and richly sensory places like flower markets, pastry shops, street fairs, or art supply stores. You know what to do. Keep that nose to the grindstone.

Ahhh, I jest. Kind of.

Because I do see a value in faltering. Experiencing a screwed-up creative process isn't pleasant, but it can help us recognize when something really cool or amazing or brilliant is actually happening (when it finally does). The contrast of imperfection (and even failure) serves an incredible purpose: it brings definition and detail to parts of our life that might otherwise slide by us in a vague, unexamined blur.

I've pretty much done all of the above at some time or another, and I've suffered creatively and personally for my foibles. Still, I appreciate the gifts in these mistakes. Every day I get clearer on what helps to keep creativity alive and kicking in my life (and also on which actions will close off the valve to that big creative flow).

If you prefer to consider creative actions in a more affirmative way, here they are:

  • Collect the pieces when they come.
  • Stop talking and do it.
  • Decide the time is now.
  • Detach from critical thoughts and circles.
  • Find and believe in your strengths.
  • Focus your energies.
  • Try anything.
  • Enjoy the journey and your companions.
  • Be nice to yourself.

I look forward to discovering your favorite shortcut to full creative flow, but what I really can't wait to hear about is your most spectacular path toward screwing things up!

Go out there and be brilliant, no matter what approach gets you there today.