Candy to the Creative Child

Et nysgjerrig esel på den karibiske øyen Bonaire.

Some days I am flowing over with creative energy. There is no end to my cornucopia; it’s like an endless stream of ideas flowing through me combined with an unstoppable desire to create. I can go on and on and on. Other days my mind is completely empty, I feel drained and I don’t even want to think about creative work, let alone attempting to do such futilities. I just want to shut myself down, crawl up in good chair and read a completely unchallenging book.

How do I go about those days? Well, sometimes I do exactly that, shut down and do something utterly mindless. But in the long run that is no solution at all. I risk never getting up of that chair, figuratively speaking, because most times I feel creatively drained not because I am really creatively exhausted, but because being creative is scary as hell. It’s not for no reason that the American existential psychologist Rollo May talks about the courage to create—because it does take courage. It’s a daring path to choose. Or as George Bernard Shaw once stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz; it’s an active battle with the gods—and with oneself I would like to add for my part. The courage to create is something I have already written about in a previous post, so I won’t dwell far and wide about it now.

The question is what do we do when we get into that stage of inertia and creative apathy? As far as I see it, there are four ways around it. We can do nothing, find that brainless book and hide from ourselves. I have already made my point about that solution.

A second solution—which is not a bad solution at all—is to rest your creative mind, not by withdrawing, but by filling it with inputs and new impressions. It’s what I called replenishing the creative well in one of my other, previous posts. Replenishing the creative well (by the way an expression I have taken from Julia Cameron) could be visiting an exhibition, it could be gathering some creative friends and discussing each other’s work, it could be as simple as going to a coffee shop and have a nice espresso or a long walk in Mother Nature.

Another way out of the misery is simply to force ourselves into a creative mood. Is that possible you might ask? Yes, and no. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes the creative work you are pursuing will not come alive with pure force of mind. Other times it’s all it takes. I know for sure when it comes to myself, that for instance when I have been travelling and shooting on the streets for some time, at some point I run into a wall. Suddenly I feel drained, I can’t face the street again with a camera in my hand, and I just want to spend the day in a nice hotel room or even better in a nice bar somewhere. But then I know if I just make that first step into the street again, with camera in hand and start shooting, albeit it will be lousy pictures in the beginning, at some point the energy comes back again, and I am suddenly back on my creative path again.

The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing. So what do you do when a child has decided to put both feet on the ground? You promise it something nice and alluring, something it cannot say no to—if it only starts moving again. It’s simple psychology. If it takes a candy to get the child over the hill, then give the child a candy! So it is with my creative child. If I am only willing to walk down one more street and take scores of photos along the way, I promise my creative child a new camera! That is something that can get me going. Well, I guess I would quickly become a poor photographer if I really did that. But I think you get my point. The point being, you need to find something that you can give yourself to keep going down that creative path you don’t really feel like walking. It’s about motivating ourselves. If not a new camera, maybe I will buy myself that photo book I have long been drooling for. Or maybe that nice bar—but at the end of the day. Give it as a present to myself when I have done my dead, instead of sneaking in with a bad conscious before I have accomplished anything all. Again it comes down to motivation and luring that child to keep going. Just give that creative child a candy!—Or a carrot to the donkey…

45 thoughts on “Candy to the Creative Child

  1. I am afraid I am in that book and reading mood right now. And I have carrots in the garden. I cannot force myself, I feel. It will get sorted in a week or two – but on the other hand, I don’t depend on any work for my living anymore. A good time in life.

      1. Well, I am not sure this is your genre…but I love Neil Gaiman’s stories. Always have. I do believe he is a genius at what he is doing. “Good Omens” was released as a TV series this spring, and I just devoured the six parts of it…Michael Sheen and David Tennant plays Aziraphale the angel and Crowley the demon. Splendid acting. I just had to read the book ( published 1990)! As it was co-written with Terry Pratchett, I had not read it. Pratchett was not someone I read in those days. To make a long story short, Good Omens was a success when it came out, and I guess there are more than me who will read it or re-read it. A very intelligent fun-fic of the Bible you could say. I even heard some religious people tried to stop it from being on TV. I remember when my children (and I…) read Harry Potter – some people in the US organized book burnings for it. My strong recommendations if it suits your taste!

  2. I bargain with myself too. Sometimes I give myself a deadline for goofing off, say by 3:00 I have to be productive. Other times I tell myself if I do this much first, then I’ll let myself goof off. Usually, if I can get started I get in the groove and keep going.

  3. Sometimes just diving in works for me. If one project isn’t happening, I will try another. Eventually I can get excited about a project, and then go forward from there.

  4. Perfect moment Otto! Back from my road trip I have many many photos to edit! Now working on the Polaroids but…I’m postponing it since a few days, tomorrow, tomorrow, to….
    I realize reading your words my creative block is because I’m scared to edit, to make a mistakes, to do it in a wrong way…so it is better to sit in that chair, a comfortable one!
    Which solution now? I discard the first, and the second also doesn’t work for me in this moment because it could give me the desire to postpone the Polaroid editing even more and start something else…but I do not need to much meet on the fire !
    Solution #3 partially work (I need an effort to start but than it goes) therefore I’ll go for a combination of #3 and #4

    Forcing a little bit to start and thinking or dreaming of a special”candy” . But which one? I think maybe the idea once finished to make a zine or a small booklet or and small series of hand made books for my friends …I’m thinking about…

    Thanks for your post Otto!


    1. Oh that fear is always a there, ins’t it. Almost like a companion to any creative work. I am sure you will find ways to going. A zine of a small booklet sounds great. I would like to buy one if you make one extra.

  5. Today, just a few hours ago I told my Love, I want to live in Gobi desert in Mongolia… Just being with sky and earth… and living in a nomad tent… Nia you can’t stay there without doing anything… and without your camera and without your notebooks… Then I imagined… yes, how can I stop my creative mind, I am not sure… I can’t sit in anywhere (even in that chair) more than ten minutes… at least half an hour… but the main problem is not, to sit, it is to be in relax without thinking anything (create a silence in my head for creative talking mind)…Anyway, it was so nice reading you dear Otto, Thank you, Love, nia

    1. I love how you describe yourself and your dream about Mongolia. I would say that there is nothing wrong to want to go to the Gobi desert and just be under sky and earth. It doesn’t have to be for the rest of the life, does it? But, yes, we do need find time to relax even when it goes against our character. 🙂

  6. Your references to “reward” remind me of what I used to say when my children were at home. I’d often offer a reward at the end of a chore, and a friend once scolded me for “bribing” by children. I explained that in my mind it was creative incentive! And I think we all need that from time to time. Sometimes the blocks we face are really just the inertia of fatigue and the promise of a reward stimulates us and makes our energy move a little quicker! I hope you’re experiencing a creative summer, Otto, and with our without need, treating yourself well with any rewards that come to you. You work very hard!

    1. I guess there is a fine line between bribe and reward, but I would say in you example that there is not doubt what it would be. Encouragement always goes a long way when it comes to do things we don’t really want to do. Thank you for the creative well wishing. Wish the same for you, Debra.

  7. As strange as it may sound, when my writing or photography hits that wall, some nice, concrete work usually refreshes me. There’s something about moving out of the world of the mind into the world of concrete reality that really helps. Taking some time to clean the kitchen, tend the plants, or do some laundry helps me to refocus. Seeing real results in my environment helps me to re-engage in a way that produces better creative results, too.

    1. I totally agree, doing something practical and maybe even mindless, is a good way to get the juices flowing again. For me it could be doing the accounting or clean up some mess. Cleaning the kitchen, though, is something that only annoys me (although, of course, it has to be done).

  8. Usually I have creative inertia because I’ve run up against some form of indecision. A prime example is my current painting, which produced some color choice quandaries. I took two weeks to let my brain come upon what I finally decided the colors had to be. That didn’t mean that I knew they would work with what I had already laid down—only that nothing else would be appropriate. So I still had to take a risk, and fortunately it’s turning out to be better than I had imagined. But time spent waiting for the proper inspiration was worth every day it took.

    1. Creative work is about taking risk, it’s about taking a path not walked before. But sometimes that might lead to times of indecision. All the better when you succeed moving through that inertia, like you did.

  9. I agree … sometimes we just need to rest our creative minds and we should never feel badly about it! We can’t be creative and burned-out at the same time. Our camera batteries need recharging and so do we!

  10. I like all your ideas! Sometimes when I don’t feel creative, I just do something else. I always seem to come back to what I like, but apparently I need “creative” breaks. That sounds really weird.

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