One of my favorite psychoanalysts, Marion Milner wrote a brilliant book, On Not Being Able to Paint. The book is a result of her 1950's study focusing on creativity and the multiple forces that get in the way of its expression. It is one of my favorite books and shines a light on Milner's ability to both hold space for her own process around creativity, the process of her patients, and the process of creativity within a greater system. In my own creative process the book has been integral in moving through dry spells and reframing being stuck as just another part of the creative process.
When I am stuck in process, be it creativity or life, I now have a pretty good understanding of how to be in the stuck and how to move through it. I wish it were one of those things I could have learned earlier, but I think in the creative process, there are few opportunities to cut the line of experience. Sooner or later you get there, but the confidence in your ability to move through and survive being stuck, you just have to experience enough times to know that you survive it. In fact, being stuck is what gets you to the next level. It sucks, but is necessary.
I thought all week about what I wanted to write for the newsletter today and continued to come up empty. When that happens in my writing process, I have learned to write about that. About not being able to write, or about not feeling like I have anything to say. These are important parts of the process and best engaged with then skipped over like meaningless moments. Dancing with stuck moves us to the next level.
To honor my own stuck, I thought I would share three things I have learned about being stuck. I'm curious to see if these lessons transfer over to being stuck in life, or if they just pertain to the creative process. Let's see.
- You are part of creativity but not the whole thing.
This took me a really long time to figure out. The kind of thing that I felt in my bones long before I could actually assign words or coherent thoughts. Creativity is a conversation. Between our mind, body, heart and energy with a set of materials. The materials want to respond to us in a certain way and sometimes no matter how hard we try to control that duet, we are best initiating through experimentation and listening. We think we have absolute control and agency when it comes to materials, but materials have their own properties. Can we guide them? Yes. But complete control removes the most natural part of the creative process. The collaboration between us and what the materials can provide. When it is a fight and both are not aligned, the process lacks ease and becomes a power struggle. And that is a lot less fun. Also, a lot less interesting.
2. Surrender sooner rather than later.
I know when things are not working. Time spent trying to make it right when the answer is just to start over is a lie. I can feel it. I know when I just need to start over. The struggle can be romantic, but is actually unnecessary. My art is better without the struggle. Surrendering to the failure or being stuck is something we all fight in the process, but I've learned the sooner I let go, the better.
3. Sleep on it.
This always makes me giggle, but for my process, space and time are really necessary. And I have learned to plan for these breaks in my process. It can be done! Struggle is the first signal that I need to shift my perspective. Let go, make some space. Making the conscious decision to step away and engage again tomorrow has taken me a lot of practice. Understanding that the way I view the creative process as being a conversation and not just about my own agency helps to step away. Sometimes I need to breathe, sometimes the materials need space to tell me where they are headed. Either way, I manage to wake up with a shift and enter back in the process.
What are three things you have learned about creativity?