How To Touch Your Creative Soul: A Zen View

creative soul

The soul of creativity arises from an undivided mind. ~ Stephen Nachmanovitch

At times each one of us suffers from creative fatigue.

Writing can become a joyless activity – if we forget to touch our creative soul.

More about that in a moment, but first let’s take a look at what obscures creativity.

Nothing can actually block creativity. It’s like a wellspring that never ceases to gush.

But any wellspring can become obscured by debris, and we may need to dig down to find the pure water of inspiration. Here is a list of laudable writing skills – each of which obscures creativity.

What obscures creativity

  1. Utilitarian writing When the focus is completely on the usefulness of what we write, we become like a tailor who churns out suit after suit, similar in cut but different in texture. Usefulness is great, but too much of it can obscure creativity.
  2. Strategic writing In order to churn out piece after piece, we learn to use shortcuts and strategies for fast completion. Like mapping out the main section heads and then filling in the detail. Or adding an intro and extro just before hitting the ‘publish’ button. Strategic skills are great, but they can obscure creativity.
  3. Expert writing Those of us who are non-fiction writers aspire to be experts in our field. In order to cultivate our expert status, we try to write what we know about. Knowledge is great, but it can obscure creativity.
  4. Safe writing Most of us play it safe when writing. We don’t want to shock or upset our readers or cause a mass exodus from our website. Safety is a great thing and will help your blog grow, but it can obscure creativity.
  5. Predictable writing Most of our writing is predictable and, well, maybe boring. Writers and readers like to remain in their comfort zone, but predictability can obscure creativity.

Is your brand a prison?

As bloggers we are encouraged to play it safe, and not rock the blog, or bust our brand. I think we have to take care not to become a victim of success. Because once we actually have established a successful brand, we tend to foster and maintain it – at the expense of adventure and risk. And at the expense of creativity.

How to touch the soul of creativity

Right. Here now is the nub of this post. The place where I tell you exactly how to grab hold of creativity – and put it to good use. There’s just one small problem: creativity isn’t like that. At all. We can’t grab hold of creativity. It’s not an accessory, or something we can possess or horde. It doesn’t belong to anyone. It doesn’t belong – full stop.

TS Eliot says,

If the word ‘inspiration’ is to have any meaning, it must mean … that the speaker … is uttering something that he does not wholly understand.

In other words, when we are in the grip of inspiration we are somehow unintelligible and unrecognizable to ourselves. Not only do we not know ourselves. Knowing itself stops.

The more we grasp for it, the more creativity seems to evaporate. The more tricks we use to get our creativity under control, the more it seems to vanish – and we are left with a dreary laundry list of laudable writing skills. That’s because creativity isn’t something that can be manipulated or coerced. Creativity only comes into play when we forget about ‘getting’ or ‘having’ it.

We all want to be inspired. More precisely, we want to have inspiration. We want to be the master of inspiration and control it. But, do we really want to give ourselves over to inspiration and let it have us?

Quite simply…

The soul of creativity arises from an undivided mind.

Sounds good, doesn’t it – but what does it actually mean? If you look through the list of five laudable writing skills, they all force us to write with a divided mind. When we use such a mindset, part of our attention is on writing, and – at the same time – part of our attention is on how the reader might react, how we can shape the post to perform well in social media, and so on.

Our mind is cut into two.

The poet Peter Levitt had something to say about this in the following poem:

Already at birth

I was parted,

not just from my mother –

but body from mind,

mind from its source –

that’s why I take up

this soft blade

of breathe

to cut me back into one

How to cut yourself back into one

‘The soft blade of breath’ helps us to become whole, and touch the source of creativity. Mindful breathing is a great way to return to yourself. To reconnect with the moment as it is. But this is not yet the doorway to creativity. It’s just the preparation.

The doorway to creativity

To enter creativity is uncomfortable. Because the doorway to creativity is dark. The doorway leads to nothing, nada, nichts. What I mean is this: creativity happens when we embrace darkness and give up knowing. Not knowing means that we need to feel our way in the darkness. Sensing outlines and shapes, but seeing only dimly.

It’s uncomfortable, because when we don’t know, there is nothing to hold on to. There is no knowledge to support us, and no known outcome of our work. It’s like a mute having a dream – but not able to express it.  Isadora Duncan said, “If I could say it I wouldn’t have to dance it.” It’s uncomfortable. But it’s also pure adventure. It’s a path into the Unknown. As medieval mapmakers said about terra incognita, unexplored areas: ‘There be dragons here’.

How to open the door

Here are seven tips that will help you open the door of creativity:

  1. Write about a question that is too big and far beyond you.
  2. Embrace not-knowing.
  3. Allow time to muse and let thoughts and words take shape in the darkness.
  4. Write down any stray bits that come to you.
  5. Allow the final shape to emerge at its own pace.
  6. Let your writing invade your dreams.
  7. Let yourself be derailed.

That last point is the most important one. Because we tend to ride on the rail of who we think we are, and who we want to appear as. If we want to touch and reveal our creative soul, we need to allow creativity to derail us. Yes, we’ll be faced with something of a crash site with passengers wandering around aimlessly wondering who the hell they are and how they got there. But touching the soul of creativity is worth the chaos and the pain.

If you walk through this dark doorway,  you’ll renew your love affair with writing. You’ll find that you never lost your creativity – it’s right there, just waiting for you to let go of knowing, productivity, and usefulness.

Ok, so it’s not the kind of writing that productivity gurus talk about. If you’re a blogger who has to produce stuff regularly, it may  not be a technique for everyday writing, but you may want to use it at least once a month to keep on developing as a writer. It’s slow, laborious, heart-rending, and exhilarating – and will remind you why you wanted to become a writer in the first place.

The truth does not ride on a clever response, but on something immediate, irrational, torn directly from the soul. ~ Stephen Nachmanovitch

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at Write to Done. Grab her FREE report How to Write Like an A-List Blogger. Mary has helped thousands of students successfully create outstanding and profitable blogs at A-List Blogging and is the blogger behind Goodlife ZEN.

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Mary Jaksch

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