The year I Jedi mind tricked myself into creativity
My writer’s block was so bad in 2016 that I decided to spend the next year doing literally anything else instead. Sometimes, you have to play the long game.
It’s the end of 2016, and I’m living in Sheboygan, WI. I’ve spent about two years researching my novel about a global pandemic (oops), but I cannot write. I’ve read all about the transmission of diseases from animals to humans, bird flu, how vaccines are made, the Spanish Flu, cytokine storms and more. I have a huge stack of index cards with scene ideas on, but when it comes to sitting down and actually writing, nothing comes out. Words form in my mind but evaporate before they get to my fingers.
I am in a deep funk.
All of my creativity has left me. I don’t even want to read about pandemics anymore, and my high-concept airport book of a novel feels like an impossible thing to write. I’m scared of getting the science wrong and looking like an idiot. I’m scared of focusing too much on the science and ending up with flat, soulless characters. I’m scared that it’s going to be too depressing and that I won’t find hope amongst the sea of bodies. I’m scared that I’ll never finish it.
(I was not scared that I’d get gazumped by a real pandemic and have an unsellable doorstop on my hands. I should have been.)
I’d been living in Sheboygan for 18 months and was really enjoying it. We had a lovely house with lots of space – it was the biggest, nicest house I have ever lived in – and we were going out and making friends. My business was doing well and I’d just paid off the last of the massive debt I’d accrued when a previous business went under. I had the most financial stability and the highest disposable income that I’d ever had.
Every duck was aligned. I should have been feeling extraordinarily creative. Instead, I was creatively dead. The world had gone to hell in a handbasket and I was feeling, to quote myself from back then, ‘demoralised and unhappy’.
Then, at some point in December 2016, I realised that I had only two choices: Give up or Jedi mind trick myself into a better mood.
So, on 29 December, I launched Creative 2017 – my plan to spend ten minutes every day doing something fun. Ten minutes felt like a doable commitment. I could (almost) always find ten minutes, no matter what my day turned into.
January was spent playing around with a brush calligraphy set that my husband had bought me in Singapore in 2015. I was terrible at it, spending days doing lines, squiggles, dots and little triangles. But such repetitive work rapidly put me into a state of flow, fully immersed in what I was doing. On Day 18, I wrote:
I think one of the things that is so delightful about this project is that there’s no pressure at all. I’m not doing this for a reason. I don’t have an end goal. I’m just doing it because it’s there, because I find it enjoyable. It’s been ages since I’ve been creative for the sake of it, without thinking about whether there’s something to hang on the wall at the end of it, or whether the end result is going to be good enough to give as a gift.
By the end of January, I had learnt a valuable lesson:
Well, firstly, that there’s a lot of joy in doing something for the sake of it, without having a goal or any pressure. I’ve also learnt that you can improve rapidly with just a small amount of time devoted every day. I’m actually surprised with how much my basic skills have developed since Day 1. It’s really rather satisfying!
February was crochet month, during which I learnt a new stitch every day. March was cat month and I sketched our cats either from life or a photo. I loved that month. I’d like to do that month again.
In April, I worked on world-building and planning for my novel. May was a month of general blogging, which was a way to handle a bout of travel that precluded regular crafting. That might sound like I slightly betrayed my premise, but it was a sign that the Jedi mind trick was starting to work:
As I said at the beginning of April, I started this project to try to get my brain back into a more creative mode, and it has worked amazingly well. I used that month to work on my book, a non-bloggable project, and I’m happy to report that I am continuing to find time to work on that almost every day. And I’m still incredibly excited by it, more so than any writing project I’ve ever worked on.
June was round hand calligraphy, July and August were both embroidery with some crochet. Then Ada Lovelace Day came knocking at my door and the blog posts and the work on my novel fell away as I got busy with that. But the lapse wasn’t permanent. Rather, the whole plan had worked. My final post, on 6 December 2016, explains:
There was always an ulterior motive, though, to this whole project, and that was to try to get my authorial juices flowing. In that, the year has been a spectacular success. I started work on my current project in earnest a couple of weeks ago, and am really enjoying myself.
Over the year, I had done three important things:
I created the habit of giving myself time every day to do something creative.
I associated that time with fun and joy.
I nourished my creative mind until it was ready to write.
Sometimes, with all the best will in the world, we’re not writing because there are other things we need to do first. And I don’t mean the world-building or the research, I mean feeding our creative selves with flow and bliss and delight. Reminding ourselves that we deserve to take time just for us, for our projects, for our enjoyment. And once we’ve refreshed ourselves the creativity arrives, not without work or effort but after we’ve put in the right work and effort. If it takes a Jedi mind trick and a year to do that, well, so be it. Whatever works, works.
Love the idea of this project, I have been struggling to rest at the minute and take time for myself, this sounds like a great way of doing it. Thanks for the inspiration!