Keep Calm And Write On. Or Not. Creative Self-Care For A World On Fire
September 24, 2020
In times of distress, being creative can feel like a luxury. But, as much as it can be a struggle to focus on a project in times of turmoil, sometimes creating something new is one of the few things that can actually help one overcome stressful times.
So what can you do when your career and your mental health rely on an expected perpetual ability to produce? Here are five self-care tips for creating during dark times.
Give yourself permission to take a break. Unfortunately, sometimes resting can feel like quitting. Or worse, like failing. But all one needs to do to avoid that mistaken thinking is to simply set an end point to your rest.
And here’s the best part. If you come to the end of your scheduled rest and you’re not ready to get back to it yet, simply extend your deadline. As long as you don’t extend it ad infinitum, your extended break is officially “part of the process” and prepping your creative fuel tank for when you’re ready to return.
Even when the world isn’t on fire, scheduling rest is a strategic part of any creative life.
INPUT > OUTPUT
Throughout your creative career, the ratio of your input to output will vary. But ideally, you’re able to take in more than you put out, so there can be some sort of life lived and inspiration to draw from when you do go to create. So don’t guilt trip yourself over not using all 10 free hours of your Saturday to finally finish your script. Instead, schedule an hour to write. Pens and laptops down after 60 minutes, no matter what. Then, go live a life that will inspire your writing.
Granted it’s harder to have huge life-changing moments and revelations when we’re stuck inside during a pandemic, but carve out time to TAKE IN — meditate, watch and read other stories, listen to music, FaceTime with friends, Google museum exhibits, or deep dive into a Wiki or Reddit subthread on an incredibly niche point in history. Because if all you’re doing is writing—and worrying about writing—you’ll have very few fresh takes to provide on the page.
UNNECESSARY VS ON-DEMAND CREATING
Writers have a create-on-demand existence. Our job is to come up with ideas on a deadline with little luxury to wait for inspiration. I first heard the phrasing of a “create-on-demand world” 15 years ago from author Todd Henry in his podcast The Accidental Creative. The purpose of his podcast (and accompanying book of the same title) was to help creatives develop the focus, relationships, energy, motivation and inspiration to keep their creativity flowing even under high stress and tight deadlines.
Henry’s podcast and book are both worth checking out, but I especially want to highlight his advice on Unnecessary Creating. He advises intentionally setting aside time, not just to rest or take in content as recommended above, but to create something just for the joy of it.
You could take that to mean write a script that’s just for you and not intended to win a competition or get you a meeting. But this practice is even more helpful if you get broader with it. Write a poem, a short story, or a short play based on a writing prompt from a friend. Paint a picture. Choreograph your own dance. Build a bookshelf. Design a cocktail. Give all your friends nicknames. The sky’s the limit!
Making time for unnecessary creations, Henry says, “allows for experimentation, skill development, and growth in a low-risk environment and can often yield tremendous benefits in the on-demand environment as well.”
These unnecessary creations are also often easier to complete than the “must-be-perfect” projects that sit in the back of our minds, so by jumping into an only-for-fun activity, you’ll get a quick shot of victory when you complete it, and you can carry that energy back into your work.
One of the easiest ways to stay productive during stressful times is to keep a Spark File. You can read more about it here. While there are variations to choose from, essentially, a Spark File is ONE master document where you continually compile every single idea you have.
Sending yourself emails, filling up Notes documents, overflowing Post-Its on your desk—it can be a huge relief to take every single one and put them all in one document. And any time you have a new idea, you add it to the doc. You can even add hashtags and keywords in order to find #dialogue, #characterideas, or other specific mentions, but overall, the document is best kept as simple as possible. No pressure. Just a mass collection of your ongoing creative thoughts.
Then, when you once again have time and energy to write, you’ll have all your ideas ready in one place. You can scroll through the document to see which ideas still Spark Joy and pick which one to jump into now that you’ve got the ability to focus.
When life emergencies demand your full attention, you can easily feel disconnected from your creative self. The best thing about this tool is that by having a special place reserved for your ideas, you allow yourself to stay tapped into your creativity and open to inspiration no matter what's going on. Meanwhile, your ideas wait patiently, safely gaining compound interest until you can fully engage again.
EVERYTHING IS WRITING
When all else fails, if your energy is depleted and inspiration has run dry, remember this one thing: everything is writing.
Everything you have ever done in your entire life can be used in your writing. No part of your past is wasted. It’s why you have the stories you do, the experiences you can bring to the page, and the voice to do so.
But this applies to your present, as well. And the future. Everything you’re doing now, everything you WILL do—it can all be used on the page. Even the darkest, least creative, most hopeless feeling moments can be a source of inspiration in the future.
So what if these feelings aren’t stirring your writing right now? Multitudes of writers have used dark times to inspire their work. And even if things aren’t dark, but you’re still not writing, guess what? This thinking still applies.
All you have to do to make this shift in perspective work, is to write again. Someday. Doesn’t even have to be soon. If you pick up a pen again in 50 years, you can do so knowing that every life experience lived between now and then is a well to draw from. And once you realize this, that everything is writing, it should remind you of how productive of a writer you are just by living your life.
Yes, getting pages done is important. And when you’re ready to give yourself harder deadlines again, you will. Until then, take care of yourself, and enjoy the process.
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter and freelance development consultant. She has one show currently in development, is featured on The BitchList 2020, and won the 2019 Tracking Board Launch Pad Julian Silver mentorship. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook, and can be found on Twitter at @howtoliz.