Finding the Creative Well

It might sound a little strange, me being a photographer that is about to recommend anyone who is working creatively, to start writing. Because that is exactly what I am going to do – and I am going to recommend it even for photographers and other non-writers – yes, even if you think you can’t write. It’s about getting in touch with the enormous creative well that dwells within us all, but at times seems to be completely gone or empty. We all have days or weeks or even longer periods of time when we seem to be creatively stuck. Our imagination seems to have vanished, we can’t get anywhere, and we feel paralyzed. Writers talk about writer’s block, but it happens to everyone who is working creatively. A photographer might just as well talk about photographer’s block, a painter about painter’s block, a musician about musician’s block, and so on; name you creative field and the block follow suit.

The question is; why is that some days the creative well seems to have completely dried out, and, more importantly, how can we get access to it again? Because it isn’t really dried out, it seems empty only because we have lost sight of the source. What happens is only our own censorship that cuts the connection with the creative well. When we start to think «it’s not good enough», when we start to doubt our own creativity, that’s when the creative well starts to dry out – or seems to dry out. We are simply victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic that resides in our (left) brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive and negative remarks that are often disguised as the truth.

In her book The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron talks about the Censor. «The only sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs the Censor likes are the one that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings. Not exploratory blurts, squiggles, or jotting. Listen to your Censor and it will tell you that everything original is wrong/dangerous/rotten», she writes.

I have referred to Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way before, simply because I think what she has to say about regaining one’s creativity and setting it free, is among the best ever written about the theme. Her book is actually a twelve week program for recovering of the creative spirit. She describes two tools for getting in touch with one’s creative well. First of all what she calls morning pages, which is daily unconscious writing, and the artist’s date, which is a way of filling the well again – and which I will write more about another time. For now I am just going to stick to the morning pages. It’s an incredible strong tool to make you dig into your inexhaustible well of creativity – even if you believe you cannot write.

Morning pages are in essence very simple. It’s three handwritten pages every morning as the first thing you do after waking up. You just sit down and write whatever comes to your mind, without consciously thinking, or without any censorship. Whatever pops into your mind gets down on the paper. It has nothing to do with art or good writing, but just streaming you mind onto paper. If nothing comes to you mind, then you only write «nothing comes to my mind» until you have filled three pages. As Cameron writes; «The morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the paper and writing whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included».

The whole point is to retrieve you creativity. Morning pages get you to the other side; the other side of fear, of negativity, of your moods. Above all, they get you beyond your Censor. It actually works and I can only recommend you to give it a try. Not only a couple of times, but every day – I mean every day – for a longer period of time. Months. The one only rule, is not to skip a day. It works. After a while you start to see yourself, discover beauty within yourself, feel inspired. You are beginning to connect with your inner creative well again. Try it out! And more so I strongly recommend reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Camero – and try her twelve week program. Reconnect with your creative well.

63 thoughts on “Finding the Creative Well

  1. I enjoyed her “The Right to Write” where she encourages “morning pages” as well. I agree she has much to say and writers can nod vigorously understanding that she knows what she is talking/writing about. Another good one by her.

  2. Terrific post as always! I am a huge fan of morning pages. As a creative, I find the first thing I do every day has got to be a completely free expression of feeling and thought, weather that be in words, photos or music. Perhaps it’s a bit of a leftover dream? You know what they say, why stop dreaming just because you wake up?

  3. Writing has put me in touch with myself. It has caused me to dig really deep and find myself. When I first began writing as a child, I wrote stories. The older I became the more my stories transformed to thoughts explored. Now I do both. I like to challenge myself in all ways, writing has been the perfect outlet for me. It also pushed me to try other arts, such as drawing, which in turn helped me discover even more about myself. Great post.

  4. I love this advice! I have been writing most days, but I haven’t been disciplined about it, and haven’t done too much with morning pages. Thanks for suggesting it, and Cameron’s book. I think I read it a long time ago, but a trip to the library sounds like an excellent idea 🙂

  5. How funny that I’m reading this one today – I just started up on my morning pages again this week. I read The Artist’s Way years ago. Wonderful book! I’m a writer and photographer and it’s so true that our inner critic/perfectionist dries up that well of creativity within us at times.

  6. Thanks Otto, I will look for this book. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but this morning I took some photos almost first thing…and it felt so good to just snap some impromptu photos out of bedroom windows. I’ll have to try morning pages; I like the idea.

    1. You don’t have to be a morning person. If you wake up at midday – just do the morning pages then – even if it’s technically not morning any more…

  7. Excellent suggestions…….it is easy to get stuck on the wrong side by the exact things you mention. When I used to swim competitively there were times when I was injured or under the weather and my coaches would tell me to work through it. It seemed tough at the time but just going through the motions helped me to get back in the groove. I think it’s kind of the same with creativity….just keep going through the motions, cause it’s still there. Great post.

  8. That woman has done more for artists! It would be neat if she captured some of the stories that would be most intriguing. Your enthusiasm is so contagious. If there is anyone who hasn’t at least looked into The Artist’s Way, I bet they will now!

  9. This was an inspiring post, Otto. I also did the morning pages for a couple of months, including the artist’s date, and loved the whole process. I found it hugely helpful too.

  10. It ‘a post full of information .. beautiful ..
    I went to see Giulia Cameon on the internet .. I like it!

    You must be a very passionate person 🙂
    Thank you and very good day

  11. Thank you Otto, you have put things in perspective. I often have a day when my frame of mind is such, that taking the camera was not a good idea. These days don’t happen often, thankfully.
    I shall look for that book, its looks interesting, and indeed, useful.
    Thank you for another fine post.

  12. Thank you for these suggestions. I really needed this. I never ever heard about the morning paper before. But last night I did the same thing. I was trying to write something in my blog. But nothing came to my mind. So rather than leaving that page blank, i wrote what ever were there in my thoughts and posted it in my blog. I will try to read this book, let’s see if it can be available in this part of the world.

  13. That is a great advice Otto. I used to do this but my problem is not creativity, but sharing what I write because when you write for yourself, it is not often something to be shared. So I get these blocks while sharing 🙂 btw, can one type on the computer? I have lost the art of writing on paper with a pen or pencil 😀

  14. I just finished The Artist’s Way. Although I didn’t care for Cameron’s style, I found many helpful things in the book and I’m glad I read it as well as worked through some of the course. It prompted me to start writing again and, as you pointed out, the morning pages work. I am amazed at what a difference that morning ritual makes in my life. 🙂

  15. Fascinating advice. I started blogging 4 months ago and I have experienced a surge of creativity. It has provided me with a focus, an outlet, for the writer within me that has always wanted to write but never quite found the opportunity. One creative form, has fired another. I find I write well first thing in the morning party because if I am awake overnight, my brain seems to have a creative surge which I can tap into on waking. The other powerful stimulus is running. When I was training for Marathons, the endorphins really got to work, and my brain went into overdrive – creatively and in the capacity to problem solve.

  16. I have Julia Cameron sitting on my book shelf and I have dipped in and out for years…tonight you have me wondering why I don’t stay with it. Does “not being a morning person” work as an excuse? 🙂 Thank you for the gentle, but confident nudge, Otto. Really good direction. Debra

  17. Wonderful post Otto. Sometimes 2 different creative outlets inform each other. I find many times that when I’m out photographing I’m thinking about the story that I want to tell not just visually but narratively as well.

  18. Pretty much truth in words IMO. Sometimes you just need to create even if you don’t think it’s any good. You’d be amazed where that can lead at times…

  19. “it (the creative well) seems empty only because we have lost sight of the source.”
    So true.

    I have heard of ‘morning pages’ before, only called by some other name – to be done the first thing after one gets up, on a simple paper with a pen/ pencil, routine to be followed daily. The new rule I am hearing is the three pages. Why do they have to be 3? And, is there anything specific we need to do with them later?

    I must confess to have tried & failed miserably. As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I am thinking of all the things I have to do for my son to get to school and my husband to get to office. And I just can’t bring myself to sit down at one place to do the ‘morning pages’. I havn’t been able to get up earlier to do them either. I barely get any sleep anyway. Oh well, I am full of excuses!

    Getting up earlier seems to be the only way it will work for me. And I will get there, if I really want to. Sorry for the long comment, Otto. This was a nice read.

    1. Why does it have to be 3 pages? I think the importance of that is first of all to write long enough to get connected with you inner self – without rational thinking. And usually you need one or two pages to get to that stage. Secondly I think you need to have a fixed number, so you won’t stop after say 2 pages, saying that is enough – and you don’t get beyond the first stage of writing. But if you want to make it 4 or 7, I believe that would be just fine.

      And yes, time is always an issue. You need to decide to do it, and then you will be able to get up half an hour earlier. That’s how it works for me – and I am not a morning person…

  20. Outstanding advice … and this line hits home for me: “Because it isn’t really dried out, it seems empty only because we have lost sight of the source.” … thus one can’t lose that source.

  21. You make a great point — “block”age occurs with any creative profession. I never even thought of it like that. I enjoy pursuing a number of creative outlets, but I am only “good” at a few. I always thought, “I’m just not a great photographer; I’ve never been trained; I don’t take photos for art shows,” whatever it is that internal and eternal (loved that description) censor claimed for a reason I’ve bought it.

    But then there are days I take photos I’d love to enlarge and proudly hang on the walls. Though I am far from a professional photographer, I enjoy it very much. And the days when I can quiet the censor are the days I believe I can capture the soul of whatever I’m shooting.

    This line, “After a while you start to see yourself” was so powerful — if that’s not a motivating factor, I don’t know what is. Great post, and thank you for the book recommendation, I will check it out.

  22. All excellent advice… I draw my inspiration from the settings around me… light, color, texture, movement, sound, etc … for me it is these things that excite my senses.

  23. Otto,
    I have read this post a couple of times. It comes at a time when I have felt my “creative well” has become quite dry and was at a loss to what to do about it. As you say we all have those times in our life, but this one struck me as an extremely strong block. Having just read your follow up blog I believe that you have the stumbled upon a perfect combination. I will be looking for the book by Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) and will figure out a way to spend some time with me, myself and I to replenish. I thank you Otto for being such an inspiration.

    1. I hope you get going again. And have enjoyed your blog very much so far. So keep at it. But, yes sometimes the block is profound. I know, because I have been there myself – and will probably go there again.

  24. I bought “the artist way” by Julia Cameron many years ago. I read it but never did the morning pages exercise. The excuse was that I had to go to the office and work (hard of course) without time for such exercises. Now as retired maybe I can try it,hmmm…starting next week…
    PS: thanks for pushing us…

  25. Great information, Otto. I find that nothing keeps me in the “zone” like my commitment to a daily blog (or at least my every-weekday blog). I just don’t allow myself any excuses. (I haven’t missed a weekday post since I launched the blog on Nov. 1, 2010.)

    I could NOT, however keep posting in a vacuum. Isolation can kill determination faster than anything. A creative person (whether a writer, someone in the visual arts, a musician, etc.) needs to tap into the nurturing side of the blogosphere–a network of supportive people–by visiting sites that feed or reflect his/her particular creativity and leaving comments frequently.

    You and I are on a first-name basis with photographers all over the world, simply because we once visited their sites and commented, they returned the visits, and mutually supportive relationships developed. (We run into familiar gravatars everywhere!) I find that interaction essential to my determination, and I cherish the friendships that have developed.


  26. After I wrote the above I realized that my comments related more to bloggers feeding off of each other’s creativity, but my essential point is this: creative people need to surround themselves or network with other creative people!

  27. Coming late to the party it seems that everyone’s got a copy of the book “sitting on the shelf” but most of us haven’t been able to keep it up beyond week 5 or so. The last time I started it was on January 1st 2000. I kept it up for about 6 weeks.

    I can say “I shall take my pen and paper and write my 3 pages each and every day…” Can anyone tell me the secret to keeping it going?

  28. Great post! I love Morning Pages, but unfortunately have slipped into the bad habit of only writing on the weekends, if at all. You’ve inspired me to wake up early tomorrow and try to make it a daily thing again. It definitely works and I could use some creative sparks!

  29. As a writer who more recently discovered the joys of photography, I enjoyed reading this post. I’m always suggesting to my writer friends to explore other creative outlets aside from writing (sometimes writers get a wee bit stuck in their own minds!). I have been meaning for years to read Cameron’s book, and now I know I have to just buy a copy.

  30. I find that I’m most creative when I first wake up. I grab a cup of coffee and maybe write a little for my blog or go for a ride to take pictures. I think of creativity as Joy and when I am in Joy there’s a chance that I may be doing a creative project. I also seem to need time to recharge as well resting or just being quiet. I have the book The Artist Way I bought several years ago I enjoyed it back then.

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