Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

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Incubation and Looking for a Flow

Incubation:  It means literally to provide body warmth so eggs
can hatch.  For a writer, it means giving yourself the time and
space to grow to your full potential; to build strength, gain your
power and define your voice.

nest

Writers desire to be in the zone where their writing flows; they show up as the willing scribe, following where they are lead.  This is a wonderful state for a creative being.    It’s also a state that we have to, in a sense, earn.  Paying dues is something we hear about in other professions…the ice skating champion who practices endless hours to perfect his/her performance; the marathon runner who runs daily to improve stamina; the painter who paints endless hours to perfect certain techniques, etc.  While an artist or writer may appear to be born to it, they also have to practice their craft in order to capture the flow. And flows can be interrupted by many things.

Daily life has its own responsibilities and responses.  We get diverted.  We also may experience what has been termed writer’s block or dry spells.  I prefer to call these periods either incubation or the fertile void.  Within this pause in your creative expression, something is brewing.  You cannot force it.  You cannot prod, poke or otherwise push it.  The best you can do is wait with it and be attentive.  From this place, when the time is right, something is going to emerge.  Trusting your process isn’t easy at such times.

I’ve found that if you can put your creative energy into some other form, which could be rearranging your living room furniture, or planning a garden bed, even cleaning the house, things begin to move within.  The muse is never really far…she takes an occasional hiatus so that you can process and integrate in preparation for what is next.

WRITING PROMPT

What has been your experience of incubation and/or the fertile void?  Describe it in detail…this odd terrain that we’d rather circumnavigate.  How is it useful to you?