Want to Be More Creative? Stop Doing This.

This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there! 

I’ve been in a major creative slump lately. Like, major.

So major that I just said “like” and repeated the word major three times in three sentences. I know. Bad, right?

Anyway, so I’ve been doing the things I always do when I’m in a creative slump. I have my usual go-to books and habits and practices. I wake up at 5am and write first thing on my mind. I take myself on Artist Dates (thanks, Julia Cameron). I try to give myself permission to slow down and notice things and be more imaginative.

But nothing was working. I was so frustrated.

Then this morning as I sat down to write and for some reason I thought back to advice that was given to me awhile ago about something unrelated, and I made a connection.

Photo Credit: Erin Kohlenberg, Creative Commons

Last year, I had a pinched nerve in my back. It was terribly painful, lasted for months, and I wasn’t sure I was ever going to feel normal again. During that time, I started seeing a doctor who worked with me through the process so I could type again. She had some unconventional (think: not Western) thoughts about medicine, but she helped me heal without the use of narcotics—so I really grew to trust her.

One of the surprising things she told me to do was to stop icing the injury. Icing had been the only thing (other than Vicodin) that had helped my pain and reduced the swelling, so I was really shocked by that advice. But her reasoning was this:

Icing numbs the pain, but it also reduces blood flow.

In other words, Icing might keep the bad stuff at bay—the pain and swelling. But it will also keep the good stuff at bay, all of those helpful blood cells that speed up the healing process. In other words, I could do all the right things (yoga, stretching, resting, vitamins, therapy, etc) but ultimately, if I was numbing my pain, I wasn’t going to heal as quickly as I could heal.

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but see how this applied to my creative life. You can’t numb yourself to the bad stuff in life without also numbing yourself to the good stuff. It doesn’t work like that.

I’ve been numbing myself for awhile now.

I have a great life. I get to wake up every day and do the work I love. I’m married to a man who respects me and believes in me and is constantly putting my interest above his own. I live in a beautiful apartment where I get to host all kinds of family and friends. I have everything I want and more. I have no complaints.

But life is still hard, you know?

There are still difficult decisions to make. There are conflicts to work through. There are mistakes I’ve made and anxieties I hold and things I have to grieve that have nothing to do with my current circumstances. In fact, it seems as if the more I like the circumstances of my life, the more glaring these difficulties become.

I can’t blame them on my situation anymore… I have to admit they’re a problem.

It would be easier to pretend this wasn’t the case, to pretend everything is “just great” all of the time. It would be easier to go through the motions… so I could keep working, keep making “progress…”

I use TV or social media or food or exercise or alcohol as a way to shut out those negative thoughts or feelings. I don’t do it consciously, but I do it, and each time I do it, I block more than just negative feelings. I shut out the very source of my creative energy.

We all do this—numb ourselves to reality.

We watch TV and drink alcohol and tool around on social media and distract ourselves. We follow the rules and say the right words and go through the motions and act like everything is “just great.” And while numbing ourselves to life reduces the pain, it also slows down the healing process.

It impacts our ability to create something beautiful, whatever that looks like.

Do you want to create something meaningful?

For each person that looks different—a piece of art, a book, a song, a business, a family, a child, a marriage. But if your primary goal is to avoid the inevitable pain of life, you might be missing your creative power, like I was.

Try taking a sabbatical. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to watch less TV and take more walks. I’m going to drink less alcohol and more water. I’m going to be more intentional about the food I eat—opting for something cooked on the stove, rather than something out of a package.


Already, in the writing, the admitting, the letting go… I’m starting to feel my creative power come back.