Creative friends who know me well, often call me a “machine,” or a “content machine.” I’m a natural-born storyteller, so if you need a blog, teaching, podcast, or video about a particular subject that I’m interested in, I can usually come up with something fairly quickly.
But there are times, especially when I’m going non-stop, that I sit down, pen in hand, and the well is dry. There’s nothing there. No inspiration. No thoughts. Nothing. Just a bunch of white noise.
No, it isn’t just you. Sometimes even content machines like me struggle with a lack of creativity.
In January of this year, I was feeling particularly unmotivated and frustrated. I tapped the creative well for a couple of weeks in December and kept coming up dry. I had no new ideas for the podcast, I’d been dragging myself to the keyboard to blog another bit of content that I just didn’t care much about, and I was grumpy.
Why? Because creatives were born to create. It’s in our DNA. And when we feel that we’ve said everything there is to say, it is scary as hell, disheartening, and leaves us wondering what on earth we’re even doing here.
Thankfully, we had a long weekend at the beach scheduled for New Year’s. I knew the rest and disconnection from busyness and productivity would be good for my soul. I didn’t bring my laptop or tablet on the trip so I wouldn’t be tempted to fill my time with the mindless chatter of social media. In fact, I only brought three things: a blank notebook, a pen, and one guilty pleasure: a fiction book I’d been dying to read.
One the second night of the trip, weather reports were grim. The next day, there was a 100% chance of rain. And not just a light rain, not scattered showers – flash floods. It was going to pour all day. We were on this trip, sharing a beach house with some of our favorite friends, who have kids the same ages as ours. Four adults, five children under the age of 6, in one rainy little seaside cottage – kill me now.
Thankfully, my wife is a saint, and so is our friend Drew. The two offered to take the kids to an airplane museum of some kind, about an hour away. Drew really is a better man than me, and my wife knew just how much I needed a day alone, to find my true self again. So, my two saviors took off the next morning with the kids, leaving Emily to take care of a work phone call, while I sat on the back porch, in a rocking chair, with a glass of whiskey, my notebook, and a pen.
It was heaven in the real world.
In 8 Habits of Love, my friend Ed Bacon says:
Over the years, I’ve come to view reaching daily stillness the way I view my morning shower and toothbrushing. I spend an hour each morning in stillness, which for me, is my deepest form of praying, and I don’t want to enter my day without this act of spiritual, mental, and emotional hygiene.
As I sat in that creaking wooden rocking chair, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain, the stillness began to wash over my soul, cleansing my inner-sanctum . I permitted myself to disconnect from busyness, the unrealistic expectations of self and others, and the infernal white noise of social media. It was exactly what I needed. I began to clear the clutter, and find myself again.
I started taking some deep breaths, whispering, “thank you.”
For a long while, I didn’t do anything. My notebook and pen sat beside me on a little table. I was wrapped up in a quilt, to block some of the chilly dampness from my legs. I sat and observed. I breathed. I listened. Eventually, I closed my eyes – not to nap, but to allow my mind to become even quieter, and enable me to do the deep dive down into stillness.
Maybe this is too much for you. Perhaps silence is incredibly uncomfortable. I would encourage you to ask yourself why and dig into what it is about stillness that scares you. From there, I would urge you to find a stillness practice that works for you. Maybe it’s running. It could be sitting at the piano, or playing the guitar. Perhaps, it’s journaling or taking a walk through the woods or yoga. Whatever works for you, do that. And allow it to form a habit in your life – as Ed says, just like toothbrushing.
The truth is, stillness continues to save me on a deeply spiritual level. And also at the level of merely being able to move and exist in the world in a way that is both compassionate and creative. When I skip my stillness practice, I’m not my best self. I’m not the father or husband I could be. I’m not the writer I could be. I’m not the coach or the employee or the citizen I could be.
Stillness makes me a better human being at every level of my existence, and that’s not an exaggeration. When you find that you don’t have a creative bone in your body, get still, get quiet, and listen to the still small voice inside of you, telling you the truth about yourself and what you need.
According to Shayna Hiller, “Meditation reduces activity in the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).” Stillness also helps you sleep better (read more here). A 2013 study on mice, while preliminary, even showed that a couple of hours of silence per day could regenerate brain cells. It appears, as they say, that silence – or stillness – is golden.
After about thirty minutes of quiet contemplation, deep breathing, and prayer, I felt my shoulders drop, and I knew I was ready to write. When I picked up the pen and paper, the words I wrote that day became one of the foundational pieces of my upcoming book, Catching Your Breath. Why? Because I was living it out in real-time.
For you writers, when is the last time you put pen to paper? When is the last time you didn’t start the blog on the keyboard? When is the last time you sat on a park bench or at a picnic table, or in your empty living room, and allowed your soul to pour out on paper? Did you know that you use a different part of your brain when you write longhand? I dare you to try it the next time you fear that your creativity has vanished.
Be quiet. Be still. Wait for the whisper. Notice the robin on the branch. Feel the sunshine through the window. Listen to the tink-a-plink-patter of the rain on the metal roof. And allow the gift of stillness to stir those creative juices that have been lying dormant in your soul. You may be a creative, but you are not a machine.
In the comments below, tell me what sparks your creativity. Let’s learn and grow together!
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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