Creativity Blocked? Here’s the Solution…

    A guest post by Noelle Sterne from Trust Your Life

    When I scanned the mail the other day, one letter caught my eye with handwriting I couldn’t quite place. Curious, I tore open the letter and, to my shock, saw I’d written it to myself.

    Maybe I should have recognized my own handwriting, but it was like seeing yourself reflected in a window. Even though certain aspects look familiar, there’s a gap. Most of us don’t have a clear picture of what we look like or write like.

    Three weeks earlier, a particularly important professional writing project had been rejected. After I poured out my despondency to a friend, she suggested I write a letter to myself extolling my virtues and mail it without a second glance or draft. Desperate, I followed her advice.

    When I saw the letter again, I remembered writing and mailing it. But the mind is a marvelous, perverse organ, often defying logic. And writer and reader are two different creatures. Now, as intended reader, I felt I was looking at the letter for the first time.

    In the past, I’d occasionally fed myself words of praise, but they always got towed under by the persistent waves of doubt and whipped by the accusing winds of audacity. Only now, seeing the scrawled self-acclaiming phrases, did I begin to believe them and, amazingly, felt lifted.

    Writing yourself a letter isn’t a new antidote in the writer’s self-help bag of tonics for depression, futility, blocks, redefining your purpose, or other occupational ills. The letter can be used by any creative individual to support, encourage, and affirm. In The Artist’s Way, my favorite book for “creatives,” as Julia Cameron calls us, she assigns such a letter. Anticipating objections, she knows that writing and mailing a letter to yourself “sounds silly” but, as I discovered, “feels very, very good to receive.” (1)

    Why Bother?
    “Jeez,” you’re saying, “With all I have to do, I can hardly squeeze in some real time for my writing, painting, music, dance, pottery . . . . Why should I fool with a letter to myself?”

    Here are only a few reasons:
    1. It makes you write about your blocks. If you’ve been having trouble, the letter pushes you, not unpleasantly, to get the flow, or the pots, going.

    2. You can scold yourself or spill out your frustrations and betrayed hopes without suffering through anyone else’s well-meaning, superior advice.

    3. The letter nudges you to face your unproductive behavior and self-indulgent attitudes—procrastinating, avoiding a commitment to stick to a creating schedule, yielding to childish grief that you’re not in a gallery or command huge sums for your paintings, even though you’ve done nowhere near enough work to get so much as a sniff of recognition.

    4. With your soul clean, in the letter you can now commit, or recommit, to correction and new action.

    5. Without inviting the muffled giggles or outright scorn of friends and family, you can enunciate on paper exactly what you want—the well-worn but still precious ideal day/life.

    6. When you describe your perfect day on paper, you’re visualizing your ideal creating time and activities and affirming that you do indeed deserve them.

    What Should You Tell Yourself in the Letter?
    You’ve probably already thought of several things. Cameron suggests two. Your adult self can address “your inner artist” about the dreams you want to make real. Or you can write as a best friend suggesting “a few simple changes” in your life toward achieving your dream. (2) You know them: solid gym sessions, more (or less) sleep, tactful withdrawal from a friend who calls five times a day or the committee sucking all your energy, cooking fewer gourmet meals (your family/relatives/friends will still like you), or other adjustments that give you more time, creative space, and focus for the work your heart cries out to do.

    You can also address yourself as if you’re 90 looking back. Or write your letter as an “artist’s prayer,” as Cameron does in a powerful poem. (3) Or write out unabashed declarations of your artistic pluses and accomplishments. How often do we really acknowledge ourselves for accomplishments, even those as small as setting up our easel or buying a new CD to choreograph? (4)

    So, the purpose of the letter to yourself is to make you feel better, remind you of your all-important life vision, and conquer those teeming demons of self-doubt. The letter bolsters, motivates, heartens, inspires, and chides you into more work, better work, and more consistent and daring work.

    What Others Have Told Themselves
    Many types of letters to yourself will work. I asked a small writers’ group to write to themselves. To help you to your own letters and learnings, here, with permission, are excerpts that apply to any of us creatives.

    One author wrote to himself from a simulated advanced age:
    Don’t make the daily excuses. They add up to a wasted life. Don’t do what I did and live each day only to get through it and for creature comforts. You still have time. Your yearnings to create won’t disappear, nor will your gifts. They’re waiting patiently for you and, with the least encouragement, will rush to express. Take hold and don’t lose your dream.

    Another writer instructed herself in the need for balance and self-nurturing:
    Listen to music again. Read the books you like. Instead of stupid television flipping, you know how fulfilling a symphony or well-written paragraph can be. Take a course. Get outside and enjoy the air. Go play with your husband. Sit in a field and write. Breathe.

    A third underscored visualization of the ideal life:
    Keep dreaming. Dream that you can be and are what you want to be. Dream you’re writing exactly what you want to NOW, and keep returning to this dream. Eventually it will become what you are.

    A fourth cheered on:
    You’re on the right path. Keep seeing your path with passion and purpose. Whatever writing you’re doing, do it wholly. Whether you judge it “creative” or not, you’re developing and enriching your gift. Believe in it and yourself to do it.

    Your Turn
    Go on—give yourself this gift. Take about a half hour, settle into a spot you love, and begin. Once you finish, fold the letter into an envelope (somehow email isn’t as powerful), and mail it.

    When, in a few days, you quizzically peer at the dimly familiar handwriting on the envelope, as I did, and then open and read your letter, I guarantee you’ll be astonished. You’ll also be bolstered and buoyed, moved and humbled. Your creative fires will flare and fuel your dedication. You’ll resolve on a schedule for your current project and stick to it.

    And, more than ever before, you’ll accept and value the person who wrote that letter.

    Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction and has published over 250 pieces in print and online venues. In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), she helps readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

    About the author

      Noelle Sterne

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, Noelle. I especially love the idea of “keep dreaming.” That is so important, particularly as we grow through midlife and beyond!

    • Ursula says:

      Wow! What an innovative approach to creativity!

    • So many thanks to you all for your enthusiastic and validating comments. (Yes, Leslie, I need them as much as any other writer.) The remedy for our writing dips is always– keep going, pecking out that next (terrible) sentence, gentle or not-so self-talk, and letters, even scribbled notes, to ourselves. We are our own best prodders, mothers, and cheerers. Through your shared experiences and advice, you’ve indeed empowered me!

    • Thanks, Noelle for sharing this strategy to inspire and empower. It’s indeed something to consider.

    • PJ Reece says:

      Noelle…your article reminds me of that shock of recognition…”That’s MY handwriting!”…whenever I receive a rejection letter that I have personally addressed and stamped. Over the years, I’ve kept all those letters in a ‘Rejection” file. But somehow those letters always made me want to get back on the horse and make another pitch to another publisher/producer. Perhaps it was because someone once told me that “acceptance” is a numbers game. You need those rejections in order to win the numbers game. I have subsequently published three books. Sorry, this isn’t on the topic at all. But you did remind me of it.

    • Such a great idea!! I first learned about this concept when I took a course about six years ago. The leader had us write a letter to ourselves about the goals we wanted to achieve over the next 12 months. And then he mailed the letters to us 12 months later! Just as you describe, by the time I received the letter I had completely forgotten about it and, like you, I didn’t recognize my own handwriting!!

      I think talking to yourself in a positive way or a goal-setting way is extraordinarily powerful. Especially for writers because, after all, we know how to write a decent letter, right?

    • Z Parks says:

      Wow, I write letters to friends and even to my husband when I feel they need a little extra happy in their lives–but I never considered writing to myself. And let’s face it, if I’m not a friend to myself when I need a friend, I’m probably doing something wrong. This is great advice, and I’m going to do it. Today.

    • Leslie says:

      Noelle, not only is the topic timely and valuable, your writing is lyrical, arresting and immediately absorbing. I cannot imagine you would ever doubt your writing at all….

    • Thanks, Noelle for sharing this strategy to inspire and empower. It’s indeed something to consider.

    • Aziza says:

      I’ve done this and I love it! I actually gave it to someone to send it to me a year later so I completely forgot about it! My year younger self was so full of joy and hope for the future! She told me that I had made great decisions and that she was proud of me. Definitely warm and fuzzy, but also really encouraging. Highly recommend doing it!

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