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.

93 thoughts on “Finding the Creative Well

  1. Excellent post! Timely and good for thought for me for me As I attempt to contact my creative beastie. Good luck.

  2. This, as ever Otto is a very interesting article. I wrote a novel once and there were days when nothing came to mind, I lost connection with my characters and I would sit and stare at the computer screen feeling sorry for myself that the connection was gone. I read some advice that was very similar to Julia Cameron’s. Just set yourself the target of three pages a day. Doesn’t matter if it’s not connected to the book you’re writing, just write something. Three pages a day, that’s not such a big deal and slowly but surely by doing this I did get back in touch with my characters and my plot. They started to reappear spontaneously, a little at first and then before I knew it, I was back on course with my book. It is indeed a very effective way of getting back in touch. I can’t say I’d ever thought of using this technique when I’ve felt blocked and fed up with where my photography was heading or rather, not heading but I will certainly bear this in mind. It makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing it with us! 🙂

  3. Great post Otto. 🙂 I can personally testify to The Artists Way and writing morning pages every day. I worked through the entire book many years ago when I had creative writers block and it was the best remedy for me to get the creative juices flowing again.

  4. what a fascinating piece of writing. i really enjoyed reading it and much of it struck a chord with me (no pun intended, being a musician)… i too am a photographer, by profession, however i feel that everything is inseparable. i write, often inspired by what i see and accompany my pieces with my own photographic imagery… i write music/songs – inspired by what i write. i am making a film to accompany my music, with my songwriting partner/photographic assistant/boyfriend (who is also a creative type and just finished his first novel). i find i cannot separate my creative elements. and i just love that. they cross-inspire and meld into one another. thanks for sharing your words on this matter. good luck with your writing… i look forward to reading your posts. it’s good to find another kindred creative soul.

    1. I do believe in cross inspired creativity—just like you. One part of our creative life is certainly not separated from the others. It’s all one creative energy, if I can use such a word. Thank you for writing about your experience and for the lovely feedback.

  5. Great post, Otto…..I used to write poetry before my muse went on extended vacation (she’s still there), and someone recommended Morning Pages. I didn’t ever do them, excuses ranged from a house move, fatigue, anything! But perhaps now is the time to start!!

  6. I enjoyed this, Otto, because I would not have put writing and photographing together to come up with a solution for creativity. This makes sense, though. Thank you!

  7. Truly, any kind of creative effort opens the mind. In fact, to see the world through (for example) carpentry or gardening or writing connects the whole body and mind, using the kinesthetic, physical, psychological, and spiritual. There is something holistically healing about this process to spark creative endeavors. Great post.

  8. I have always enjoyed writing, and I think that’s why I like writing the blog so much. Some days are more simple than others though. I have never thought about the connection to creativity in general, but that all makes sense to me.

  9. I have done morning pages in the past and have found them to be helpful in unblocking other aspects of life as well, not just creative work. I seem to turn to them when I’m feeling stuck or troubled. After a while, I get sick of “listening” to myself whine on the pages, writing the same stuff over and over, and begin to take steps to change my situation. Morning pages then fall by the wayside until once again I find myself feeling stuck. Now that you mention it, it’s probably time to start writing again. I wonder what would happen if I kept it up even after some changes have been made and the situation-of-the-moment improves?

    1. I have experienced that morning pages aren’t always about whining or mourning, but every so often I find gold in my writings. So I would definitely keep writing beyond the getting out of the stuck moment. 🙂

  10. This truth and reminder couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you for sharing! This week has felt a like a dry spell for me. As I trust the larger picture, it is still nice to be validated and recognize the ever so confident, fear-based critic that likes to show up from time to time.
    Thank you for your words.

  11. Very interesting post, Otto. I keep thinking that I must write more, not necessarily on my blog, but just to off-load some of the memories that keep going round and round in my mind. 🙂

  12. I love this post, especially reminding us that creative blocks are when “we have lost sight of the source”. I think I’ll follow the advice for morning writing. I really think I need a moose head light too!

  13. Having been surrounded by artists when I worked at a bronze fine art foundry I learned about the Artist’s Way. Several of the artists would meet and follow her suggestions. I was told about the morning pages and advised to try writing them even though I was not an artist for they would reveal many things over time. They were correct. Thank you for reminding me that I need to once again write those pages.

    1. Not only artists are creative. As a matter of fact we all use creativity in everyday life. Thus morning pages are also good for “just” dealing with every day, too. 🙂

      1. Oh, dear Otto, thank you very much for this post, which particulary touches me in this period of time and let’s hope that Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” will help me get on track again!:) I wish you a very good and creative summer period. Best regards

        1. I am sorry to read that you have lost your tracks. Surely The Artist’s Way will be of great help. It’s been to me and many others. I wish you all the best. And the same to you, may you have a wonderful and creative summer, too.

  14. Excellent post, Otto. I know the feeling of having photographer’s block and the idea of writing, rather than shooting is an appealing tool. Thanks for the recommendation of Artist’s Way. Seemed that I’d heard of it and indeed, it must have been from you.

  15. Brilliant post Otto. You are so very right about writing as a photographer. Since I am creating my new e-commerce web site, the hardest part of it was writing my ABOUT, I just simply sat down reflected on my own work and suddenly it didn’t seem to be so difficult anymore, I also reflected an people’s comments about my photography. Recently I was asked to contribute an article about my photography work for a Photo Magazine, referring to my words I had already written for my ABOUT page, my writing seemed to be flowing and by now I am taking joy out of it. Yet since English is my second language I still struggle a bit with phrasing and wording.

    1. I think any of us using a second language struggle to find the right phrasing and wording. But that is the beauty of morning pages; you don’t have to worry about it, because they are for your eyes only. 🙂

  16. You described the state of “block” very well. It gets me when I see “it seems empty only because we have lost sight of the source.” I think this is very true. Thank you for the exercising to get the censor out of the way!

  17. I’ve done a variant of this, Otto. Rather than three pages each morning, for months I recorded in a sentence or two what I saw when I first stepped outside in the morning. What I noticed was the subject, and my only task was spontaneous description.

    I recorded the process in a blog entry as a way to recommend it to others. You can find that here if you like. But this will give you a taste of what I did:

    9 March ~ A rising cacophony of gulls tugs at my dreams and pulls me from slumber – an alarm unset by human hands.

    4 April ~ An unseen hand stirs the pot of fragrance simmering just out of sight: wisteria and honeysuckle, honey-sweet hawthorn, a soupçon of rain.

    The only problem I’ve experienced with free writing is that it tended to turn me inward. What I liked about the morning sentences was that they made me look outward, and taught me to see. Both have their place, of course, but as a writer I wanted to sharpen my observational skills. Whatever route someone chooses, it really does work!

    1. I think you point it out yourself; morning pages and your morning sentences serves to different purposes. The point with morning pages is indeed to look inwardly and finding that creative well inside of you. Your approach with the sentences is great for training your observational skills, which any writers needs to be able to as well. Thank you for sharing this great piece of idea.

  18. Wonderful post, Otto. I’m a big fan of “The Artist’s Way” – I’ve worked through it many times over the years and have always found something new that helps to “refill the well”. I think it is also helpful to work in different creative formats – gardening is the biggest restorer of creativity for me, since it involves so many types of sensory input, but this past spring I took a drawing class and found myself seeing things differently. This in turn reshaped my photographic eye and I find myself focusing on line as well as highlight and shadow in new ways. I’m a big believer in cross pollination between the arts – one source, many expressions, synergy at work.

    1. As some others have pointed out—and to which I completely agree—creativity increases tenfold by this cross pollination. And that’s why for instance morning pages will be great for not only writers, but anyone doing creative work.

  19. Morning pages are brilliant, really. I did a post on the Power of Journalling and included morning pages along with traditional journaling. Morning pages really help. Having said I restarted them this week after a break. Also, I don’t always do them in the morning.

    Great post here, and nice to hear /read you view on morning pages .

    1. I think you are right in that journalling such as describe in the Artist’s Way doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the morning. But there is something powerful of starting out without any previous experience prior to writing.

  20. I did Morning Pages and followed “The Artist’s Way” for many years, but haven’t for some time. Starting the day with a purposeful intent to creatively tap into those first thoughts is beneficial in moe ways than creative writing. It opens the day to being tuned in to what is most important to us and that’s always impetus for a fresh direction when needed. I will find my book on the shelves and think about starting back in with that morning ritual.

    1. I think your wording describes the purpose of the morning pages very well: To start the day with a purposeful intent tapping into one’s creative well. Thank you, Debra.

  21. Interesting post and some interesting comments too. I enjoy writing and find it a great way to express myself as well as get my brain thinking and creative juices flowing.

  22. I love Julia Cameron’s work, Otto, and I can personally testify for it. It works! 🙂 For years I wrote the morning pages by hand, but then I got involved with dream interpretation and from then on spent up than hour or more every morning writing my dreams on the pc. This I found even more inspiring. And it refined my German. 🙂 Klausbernd as an author, thinks it doesn’t matter what you write as long as you keep on writing, you have to write something every day. And we blogger do, don’t we? 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this lovely post with us, Otto!

    1. And thank you for your testimonial, Hanne. Dream interpretations seems like a great thing to do, except in my own case, I never remember what I dream. Of course, I know this is partially a matter of training, but one only has so much time—and blogging does take time, doesn’t it…

  23. i used to have that book, i got it after getting immovable writer’s block… i think you are right, i will take up the practice again, starting… someday soon haha

  24. I love how you say even non-writers should write–I completely agree! Thank you for sharing your words. Writing can be such a powerful tool for anyone for sure.

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