When working on your creative projects much like climbing [or cycling] up a mountain, there are times when it feels like you are heading blindly into the mist, unsure of optimum direction and progress. Perhaps you find yourself fluctuating between confidence and uncertainty, or filled with a momentary unease or anxiety about where you and your creative offerings are headed, especially if you are writing a novel or have been working on a longer piece for some time.
It’s natural for creativity to ebb and flow but when creative anxiety, uncertainty, insecurity, or even perfectionism of your prose (that stems from that anxiety and insecurity) thwarts the act itself there are many ways to quell these feelings, calm your mind and return you to your centre, helping you find your creative flow again and write free of resistance, creative or otherwise.
Using on-the-spot acupressure can help ease creative anxiety, overwhelm, stress and uncertainty too, while a cornucopia of other tools and creative practices can facilitate a shift to calmer, more self-assured places, supporting both you and your creativity. Allow me to share a short but strangely related tale, should you wish to, otherwise, scroll down a wee bit to skip the juice.
The acupressure points at the end I’ve also added in a separate post with images of the points here.
Before the cruel twist of fate that led to CRPS, I had a particular fondness for travel and extreme sports. My love of which led me to the wonder that is South Africa where, among other perhaps more intrepid adventures, I found myself somehow lured after a drink or two (never drinking meant being especially vulnerable to such convincers), into cycling up, and perhaps more entertainingly, down Cape Town’s famous backdrop, Table Mountain.
And all at silly o’clock in the morning. Table Mountain, incidentally, does have a fully functional cable lift and all manner of alternative, less-exhausting means to clamber to its peak. Regardless, waking to a curious mixture of confusion and enough head-pounding elephants to silence a jungle, I went to meet a man named Axl, who as it turned out, was a little bit nuts, about mountain biking that is.
We met up with the others, people who were clearly equally enamoured with bikes and heights. Adrenaline-seeking South Africans to be more precise, and I pondered, momentarily, on the forthcoming events. Of course this could have been done by way of organised tour that, perhaps more compassionately, may have matched cycling ability with route but when in Rome, no, Africa. Sometimes, just as with writing, you just have to plunge in or you’re more talk than walk and no one wants to be just walk (or cycle).
The next thing I knew we were headed at speed towards the Cape Town’s famous backdrop. What had I been thinking, or indeed drinking, to agree to this did cross my mind for were I to have admitted to the difficulty while attempting one particularly steep trail — instead of trying to maintain some kind of no-it’s-fine-smile through my own gasping breaths — I would have swiftly aborted and returned to base. Thankfully, much like when progressing through a creative project, it become far easier, incredible in fact, and all the more beautiful and enjoyable too.
Finding Your Own Way
Much like the many means to creating your work the mountain has many trails and tracks to traverse to reach the summit, some are tricky but offer incredible views, others less so and like following the thread of a sub-plot or free-write, may bring you to a difference place entirely. You can stick to the hardy structure of roads but like writing to a detailed outline or brief, that can dim the magic and surprise of the ride a little.
You can even pack up, quit and turn back but that would perhaps be the greatest shame of all. If anxious about the ride or feeling a little lost and uncertain that can also reflect in your writing. First drafts can be like this but you’ll find more ease if you allow yourself a little liberty in finding your way because first drafts that are allowed to be messy — to be a little wayward, a little wild — are often all the finer for it.
Then, much like the descent, which was brilliant by the way — just a bike and a slender track before me, the blur of mountain and trees on one side, OK death was on the other but it was beautiful — you know where you are headed and thus are free to enjoy the show. After this little number, the final track down to Vredehoek and the smooth glide into Cape Town, I wanted to do it all over again, the previous struggles of the day already distant memories.
Those are the times that make all that hard work of the climb — or first draft — worth it to find your own trail and way but it’s vital to keep going, and keep creating through the not-so-fine times too, even if feeling resistance, anxiety or unsure, and find ways that work for you personally to overcome those times of uncertainty or feeling creatively blocked.
Make Room for the Unexpected
As with writing — opening yourself up to the unexpected, overcoming resistance to the uncertainty or act itself, and keeping going — no matter how tricky it gets — truly improves both process and prose. Uncertainty is never the most comfy place to be but without it, without straying to unfamiliar territory and allowing the magic to happen, even if its nonsense that needs to be drastically edited later, inside that nonsense are often hidden gems.
Make room for the unexpected and never be afraid to try new directions or methods with which to work, for it’s often in relinquishing a little control and allowing a piece to find its [and your] own way that shifts you from the analytical to the creative, from the writer who is concerned with outcome, reception or success, to a writer who is writing for the sheer joy of it and love of language, storytelling, prose. Which of course makes the whole thing far more joyful too, and everyone knows that that what we enjoy we do. There’s nothing more motivating than enjoying it and completing the work.
Overcome Creative Resistance, Anxiety and Perfectionism and Let Your Writing Flow
Our creative expression is so intrinsically linked to our self-worth that when we create — no matter the medium — it is far from rare for creative souls to become a little anxious about our work. “Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something or to get in touch with something within,” said actor David Duchovny.
As our creativity and expression comes from the deepest part of ourselves — from the very depths of our being — it exposes us quite unlike anything else so putting our work out there can sometimes, quite naturally, fill us with unease. “Writing, because it connects to your self-worth, your meaning needs, and your very identity, is experienced as a certain sort of risk,” says creativity coach, Dr. Eric Maisel.
Be On Your Own Team
No matter if your creative confidence sings from rooftops or hides in the deepest dark of a garret, you need to let your expression express and it cannot do that if you are forever concerned with the final outcome or result.
If you find yourself lingering or tweaking every sentence before you can continue, this is perfectionism manifesting as creative anxiety, which halts your progress and inhibits your flow. Instead of glaring in frustration at the page or screen, mentally scolding yourself for not writing as fast as you would like or even feeling stressed and anxious because of lack of time for your writing, do not believe the rantings of your inner critic, inner slave-driver or even inner killjoy.
These thoughts inhibit your true voice and creativity, censor your offerings or simply just make you feel bad, in turn perpetuating more anxiety and therefore more resistance or simply slow your process. They can be so insidious, they entirely thwart you in your creative tracks but only if you listen to them.
So mentally thank that inner critic/slave-driver/killjoy, say that it’s been lovely and that you’re charmed you’re sure. Then wave goodbye for there’s nothing, no reason at all to be on any other side than your own.
Keep Going, Keep Creating.
When you continue to climb the metaphorical mountain that is your creative work, and keep going, aside from any slips or momentary mishaps, eventually you’ll ascend to the peak. It might take longer than envisaged but although reaching the pinnacle is a worthy goal to attain, it isn’t only the summit you must navigate but the descent.
Just as the accent and the decent are very different process, so too are writing and editing, or creating and then refining your art but key in the process is to allow the process, and be flexible in your approach. Even if feeling unsure, insecure or anxious of the result, you persist. Even if you’re having one of those not-so-creative-days, you open yourself up to the unexpected and allow yourself the grace to make mistakes.
“Being a writer is not a romantic skip through the daisies in a flowing gauzy gown. It’s a nasty trudge through the mud in pajamas. Uphill. In the rain. With wolves chasing you,” says lifestyle and fiction writer Sarah Brentyn.
To write anyway is to move through the blocks, anxieties and uncertainty too, for so much comes through the act. Details present themselves, connections link up as you write, and you soon find yourself moving forward despite not knowing exactly where you needed to go.
“You don’t start out writing good stuff,” said Octavia E. Butler. “You start out writing crap and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
Finding the Best Trail [and Making Mistakes]
When writing the first draft of a piece, whether fiction, non-fiction or prose, always give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, which in turn allows you to make progress and discover the piece you are writing instead of trying to work out all the detail and then find yourself stuck or overwhelmed. “The best trail is for second drafts. First drafts that are allowed to find their own shape and form very often do find the best trail or something very close to it,” says artist and author, Julia Cameron.
“Writing that is over planned and over rehearsed is juiceless. Later drafts, then, are about plumping it up. How much better to have a wild and somewhat unruly first draft, something that can be shaped and tamed, something so full of detail, it’s a question of what we want to leave in, not a question of what still needs to be added.”
When you grant yourself a loosening of perfectionism and a liberty in prose, that is, let your own words carry you with trust instead of pausing to linger, question or tweak, your writing is no longer constricted but free, and you free with it. Inside that messy draft is gold. So let yourself write badly, give yourself the grace to make mistakes, persist and lay down all you have.
“Bad writing precedes good writing,” says author Janet Hulstrand. “This is an infallible rule, so don’t waste time trying to avoid bad writing, (that just slows down the process). Anything committed to paper can be changed. The idea is to start, and then go from there.” If there’s nothing on the page, it’s tricky to edit [that nothing] so write. You can deal with that gloriously wild and mess of a draft later.
Trust You’re Where You Need to Be
“When faced with resistance, fear, or faced with not wanting to write, or feeling discouraged by a clunky rough draft, trust that you and your writing are exactly where you need to be,” says writer and creator of Finally Writing, Jackie Johansen. “You are being asked to write through these uncomfortable places. We must push ourselves. That is when breakthroughs happen.”
Just as no muscle is strengthened by sitting still, the art of writing, creating and storytelling cannot be strengthened without the act itself but always speak kindly to yourself, especially if things are not moving as well as you would like, and trust you are where you need to be.
Our creative expression is so unique to us, and such a gift that to not express said expression would be a missed experience, so grand, it could make the muses themselves weep. “The worst you’ve ever felt while writing will never compare to what you’d feel if you gave it up,” says author and creator of the Authorship Program, Stephanie Lennox.
“You have the potential to provide the world with something that no one else can, through your words. Something that has the potential to bring happiness and fulfilment to not just you, but to the rest of the world. That’s not something you should revel in, not resist or ignore.”
Trust that you are where you need to be with your writing and trust that people will want to see your creative offerings and benefit, be edified or empowered, even if at first it feels like pretence. The trick is, as with honing every skill, to trust and to practice.
“I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer, I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.” Sonya Chung
Use Rituals for Creativity, Equipoise and Calm
It’s hard to create anything when feeling anxious or overwhelmed, sometimes it even becomes its own vicious circle. “You’re stressed so you can’t write, which makes you more stressed, makes it harder to write. Routine and ritual are two of your most powerful weapons in your battle against anxiety-related writing problems,” says author Cheryl Reif, who like so many successful writers and artists, advocates using creative rituals.
Whether it is sitting down to meditate before you start writing, using music to help you write or a playlist to slip into your story, piece and writing flow, or simply a ritual of always practising yoga asanas to limber your literary limbs, our own personal rituals can truly help us write. Especially if feeling off-centre or stressed and overwhelmed.
“When you’re stressed, you need to trick your conscious mind into looking elsewhere. Setting up a writing routine, or establishing some sort of ritual to take you into the writing mindset, can help you to create a habit of diving quickly into the writing process,” says Cheryl Reif. Optimising your environment for creativity can help and be fused with whichever creative rituals help you personally. You may also enjoy: 10 Creative Rituals You Should Steal and Why Weird Writing Rituals Work.
“A ritual’s ability to ease anxiety isn’t just a way to make you feel better,” says creativity coach and author of Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, Rosanne Bane. “Because rituals are so familiar, they soothe the limbic system, sometimes called the mammal brain or the emotional brain. An agitated limbic system will override the creative cortex’s desire and ability to write—this is the neurological reality that underlies writer’s block and other ways we resist our writing. Rituals not only make it possible to write and make you want to write; rituals will make you need to write.”
Just Remember to Breathe
One of the easiest and most accessible yet underused techniques for bringing you back to centre, reducing anxiety and therefore resistance, helping you find instant calm through uncertainty is simplicity itself, the breath. By always maintaining a calm awareness of breath — and breathing through any difficulties with calm equipoise — you keep your mind clear and body relaxed but can also quell any anxieties and tensions too, simply by always being mindful of your breath.
Depending on external, and indeed internal circumstance, your breath may be full and deep or it may be stifled and short. In any difficult or stressful situation, or anything you find yourself resisting, you may also find that your body has tensed and breath too has shortened in response. Spend a few minutes focusing on your breath. Mindful breathing helps you let go of stress and brings body and mind back into balance and is a beautiful way to rebalance and is always available.
- Relax your body by mentally attending to any areas of tension.
- Inhale slowly through your nose if possible and fill the lower part of your chest first, then the middle and top part of your chest and lungs. Ensure that you do this very slowly, over 8 to 10 seconds.
- Hold your breath for a second or two then gently exhale. Wait a few seconds and repeat.
- If you feel dizzy, stop. You are overdoing it. Slow down.
- You can also imagine yourself in a peaceful situation that is tranquil and calming to you. For instance, a boat on a warm, gentle ocean and with every rise on the gentle swells of the water, you inhale, then sink down into the waves as you exhale. Alternatively, a bluebell carpeted forest with you, gently swinging on a hammock and listening to birdsong, all the new life around you.
- Continue this breathing technique until you feel relaxed and calm. You may like to fuse this with…
Release Creative Anxiety and Stress with Acupressure
I’ve posted this as a separate post here, with images of the points. I’ve also added others that can help ease stress, while awakening your own self-compassion and innate courage too.
To overcome anxiety:
- Use your thumbs to press the acupuncture point kidney 7, for a minute on each side.
- To find this point, trace from directly behind your ankle bone and up the inside of your leg, approximately 1 inch from the edge of your shinbone and 1 1/2 from your ankle bone, where in this subtle indentation is the point Kidney 7.
- Press firm enough to produce an ache that radiates through your ankle and then repeat on the other leg.
To release anxiety and increase motivation:
- Use your thumbs to press the acupuncture point kidney 3, which can be found directly behind your inner ankle joint in the hollow. Press so you feel an ache radiate throughout the ankle, which should help your kidneys relax, and your anxiety ease a whole lot too.
- A useful point in conjunction with kidney 3 is stomach 36, which is found lateral to the shin bone just below the edge of your knee. When pressed with kidney 3, this point can help increase your motivation.
A powerful acupressure pairing to quell both anxiety and stress, and awaken self-compassion:
Using this powerful combination of the poetically named, Sea of Tranquillity or CV 17 (Conception Vessel 17), which is a wonderful point to know as aside from calming you, liberating you of anxiety and offering you a little stillness in a busy day, it also awakens your courage and the Third Eye or Yin Tang point (GV 24.5), and Shen Meng or the spirit gate (Heart 7), which is a heart meridian point.
- Using your left hand, press the Third Eye Point or GV 24.5, and breath gently.
- Using your other hand, press the dead centre of your breastbone.
- You’ll feel a little hollow or dip, this is the acupressure point known as the ‘Sea of Tranquillity’ (CV 17).
- Next, using your thumb, locate Heart 7 on the other wrist. It’s found just under the hand, on the bands that run across the wrist where the hand and wrist join. Follow to the end, just beneath your pinkie or little finger and feel for the small hollow. You will feel your hand go a little numb and radiate, sometimes pulse quite strongly with this point.
- Press for up to 2 minutes and swap hands and repeat for 2 minutes on that side.
Another fine reason to gently but firmly press the Sea of Tranquillity point that is perhaps pertinent for creative should who are trying to speak more compassionately and lovingly to themselves. Because of the very nature of creativity, we can and so frequently are our own worst critic. Pressing here on a daily basis can help facilitate a transition from disregard or destructive tendencies to one that is more loving, kind.
Fusing this with the calming benefits of the Third Eye Point or Yin Tang, and Shen Meng or the Spirit Gate, both calm, sooth, bring you back to yourself if feeling overwhelmed, stress or simply a little out of sorts. In fact, Shen Meng means the spirit gate and, in some schools of thought, pressing it is said to welcome the spirit back into the body. So if overworked and starting to space out in front of that unfinished piece or chapter, press this point.
To relax your entire nervous system:
Another useful point is GB 20, found below the base of the skull and between the two vertical neck muscles, you will feel the two hollows on either side, below the occipital ridge and between the trapezius and other neck (sternocleidomastoid) muscles, about three or four finger widths apart.
Press in these hollows, underneath the base of your skull and on both sides, while breathing smoothly, deeply, and evenly.
Next, gradually apply a little more pressure and carefully tilt your head back so that you direct this pressure by leaning onto your thumbs or fingers.
Relax into this and keep breathing deeply, staying in this position for about two minutes.
Doing so relaxes your entire nervous system. It can relieve headaches that are caused by stress and overwhelm, and also calms your mind, feelings of anxiety and generally make you feel far finer. Try it. It’s very soothing, especially if in need of a moment of stillness in an otherwise hectic day.
These psychology techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are designed for writers and artists faced with doubt to overcome that doubt. While other, more timeless and ancient tools and practices can deliver you from uncomfortable places in your writing and art to being centred, calm and able to create with more ease and joy in the process too.