How to mistreat your creativity & drain your well of inspiration

How to mistrust your creativity and drain your inspiration #365StrongStoiries by Marisa GoudyHave you ever heard about the frogs placed in a pot of water? If the temperature rises slowly enough, it’s said they don’t noticed they’re being boiled into an early froggy grave. It’s not a pretty experiment.  Apparently the 19th century German researchers who did this - they were on a quest to locate the soul - didn’t think much of our amphibious friends' ability to feel pain. 

And it’s not a particularly flattering metaphor either. It has been applied to humans who don’t take action in the face of all sorts of worsening circumstances from the Cold War to climate change to civil rights abuses.

I have no desire to equate myself with our friends from the swamp, so let’s prettify and domesticate the image, shall we?

If you slowly drain the creative waters out of a bathtub and just keep turning up the heat in the steamy room, it seems that a writer won’t notice she’s no longer bathing in inspiration.

When I began #365StrongStories, I made a declaration: I would walk my talk and demonstrate that it’s possible to consistently turn little moments of life and brief flashes of inspiration into stories. Ruthlessly, I named the project, pointed to the calendar, and embarked upon my mission.

I certainly do not have the temperament to be a scientist, but I realize I would have been better served to call this an “experiment” and talking about my "hypothesis" instead. That way, skipping a day or two of writing and publishing wouldn't have felt like a failure. A day of silence would have been a data point on the living graph that tracks the ebb and flow of creative energy, time to devote to the page, and the patience it takes to select just the right font and image.

When the creative waters dry up

I didn’t plan to take a long weekend away from my stories. We weren’t occupied by a special occasion or some family trauma. The creative tub had simply run dry. Ordinarily, I would have put off sleep or couch time with my husband to pull something together for the blog. Over the last few days, however, I just poured a glass of wine and said “let’s watch one more Outlander.

I couldn't even muster the energy to feel guilty or fret over the promises I had made to my audience.

Three days away from writing and generally refusing to show up gave me the space to notice how emptied out I am. I’ve let my most vital resources - my creativity and my inspiration - dry up in the name of some personal mission that was conceived with all too little self-compassion.

What happens after "failure"?

The stories will continue to flow when there’s enough in my reserves to share.

At this point, I am using what creative juices I have left to look at “365” in a new way. I promised a year of stories. Well, who said they all have to appear in 2016?

Today is the 137th day of the year and I believe this is the 132nd story I have written or curated since January 1. That realization alone and seeing how much I have created and held? That begins to fill the cisterns immediately.

This experience is teaching me to become a student of compassionate creative limits. Let’s learn from one another! Please let me know how you manage to keep the tub of inspiration filled and how you might have let your resources run dry.

The Dark Side of Professional & Creative Overcommitment

Let's Get Real about Creative & Professional Overcommitment #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyStories of overwhelm and overcommitment can be funny or tragic. Picture the comedy montage of the woman trying to do it all who ends up passing the dog a sippy cup, placing a bowl of kibble in front of the toddler, and leaving the house in her slippers. You've seen these pictures by Danielle Guenther, right?

The un-funny tales of a woman weeping in the school drop off line and staring blankly at her computer screen, willing herself to get something done aren't the stuff of Facebook shares - though they might be the stories that you use to connect to clients who need to heal overworked minds and bodies and who need support to heal and feel whole again.

Sometimes you can't be funny enough to cover up the ache

I'm running the risk of giving my "oh, silly mama, you can't do it all!" story into something way darker and related to a breakdown. I hope I am seeing this soon enough to make a change so I don't end up really letting myself, my clients, my readers, and my family down. Instead, I am rumbling with what it means to make a daily commitment and what it means to change it or even break it.

Still, I don't have an answer. Still, I am not able to tell you a strong story with a beginning, middle, and end about #365StrongStories. Still, there's no satisfying resolution to my #365project dilemma.

Instead, from the messy middle of it all, I can share with you a daily practice sister who understand - Saundra Goldman is re-examining her own continuous practice routine.

Saundra's current project is a 100-day commitment to meditation, not a year of public writing, but I am inspired by her willingness to listen to her physical, emotional, and creative needs and recognize that life happens. We need to flow with life and the muse and honor ourselves enough to reevaluate when necessary.

Saundra references Karen Brody's yoga nidra training in her post. Here's a guest post that Karen wrote for us last year.

One of the things that is inspiring this #365 review is my free online class, Connect with Readers & Clients: Discover the Story Triangle. Ultimately, the triangle is about keeping your writing is in balance - a lesson I think we could all use in all aspects of work, story, and life.

Save my seat at the webinar!

It's Time to Open Up the Definition of "Story"

The classic definition of story: a narrative with a conflict and a resolution. A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. These days, we've lived ourselves into a broader definition of story, however. Now, we talk about "the stories we tell ourselves." This is about positive thinking and inner gremlins. It's the internal monologue that is either filled with lots of "you've got this" or "you suck."

As entrepreneurs and private practice owners, as creatives, as people trying to make a livelihood out of personal passion, that inner voice is often heavy with doubt and fear.

Let's see how we can shift that story.

My own doubt and fear is growing fat and scary because I'm overcommitted. I pledged too much creative energy when I said I would write a story every day. I committed more time than I had to give to conceiving, writing, designing, posting, and sharing a story and an image.

I'm toast. I've discovered that quantity over quality really is a losing proposition.

It's not time to quit #365StrongStories. Not yet. Not when I have so many dedicated guest storytellers involved. Not when I find out that people around town are talking about this crazy great undertaking of mine. I'm waiting until at least day 100 (today is #92) before I decide to make any great changes in the schedule.

So, in the meantime, I am going to tell a different sort of Strong Story. I'll be offering up a few powerful lines that I hope will stick in your head and help shift your mindset into something that sounds a whole lot like hope, confidence, and peace.

My work is worthy, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyAnd so, today: my work is worthy.

This is what I tell myself when I stress over webinar sign ups and the size of my community. It is what I tell myself when I decide that I can be seen even if I'm not pulling off the mad feat of creating and posting every day.

Your work is worthy too. Let's make it our mantra today.

Would a #365project give you what you need in 2016?

Why I kept one #365project promise, broke another, and will make a new one in 2016

 Would a #365project give you what you need in 2016?When you sign yourself up to make something every day for an entire year, you’re making a fabulous commitment to your creativity.

And when you decide to post about it every day on social media, you’re stepping up and saying “I’m ready to be seen” in a big way.

As both a #365project success story and a #365project drop out, I know plenty about what it takes to make it work and why it might not.

And I know what makes a project fulfilling and worthwhile… all year long.

First, ask yourself what kind of content you would want to share every day

Brené Brown makes it easy to decide what subjects to post about and talk about:

“I share what is vulnerable, not what is intimate.”

And how does our Daring Greatly/ Rising Strong sage recommend you make the distinction between the two?

Brené makes sure that she has fully explored everything before she brings it to the public arena. Her ability to heal and remain “wholehearted” does not depend on how her audience reacts to what she shares.

When I heard her describe this during a recent interview, it hit home because I’d learned this distinction myself - the hard way.  

I’m deeply grateful for one successful #365project and one abandoned attempt the following year. They taught me what it really means to share my story, create media, and be seen. And they taught me how to distinguish between intimate and vulnerable.

A #365project helps you find meaning in your own story

In 2014, I participated in the #365feministselfie project.

I cataloged the last month of pregnancy, the wonder of new motherhood, and lots of mundane moments throughout that year. Some of the Instagram shots were raw, some were posed pics to help bolster a bleary-eyed mama’s self esteem. All of them were me.

This daily practice helped me cope with the  isolation of being a work-at-home mom with an infant in the midst of the Polar Vortex winter. It was my chance to discover my own narrative thread when it was all too easy to lose myself.

I didn’t have the free hands to write, but I could snap a pic and use my thumbs to draft a quick caption that gave the moment some context in my bigger story.

A #365project that didn’t work

Giddy with the triumph of devoting a year to someone else’s project, I was excited to start my own project in 2015.

Boldly, I called it #365SovereignReality. The goal was to publicly explore my evolving “concept” that made so much sense inside my own head, but hadn’t made it into easy-to-tell story form.

It didn’t last for lots of reasons. The pressure to make an important discovery about my life’s work every day and post it online was too daunting. It took almost no creative energy to snap and post a selfie. My ill-defined sovereignty project demanded more creative energy than I had to give.

Intimate moments need to stay that way

My own pet project failed for another key reason - my kids.

Now that I had permission to take the camera off myself, it seemed logical to turn it on my constant companions. My little muses had been in plenty of the selfies with me, so it didn’t seem like a problem.

Truthfully, I’d always ignored the little voice that said “don’t start creating your kids’ digital footprint without their consent.” But somehow, when I was always in the frame with them, I could give it a pass. I told myself that my protective maternal gaze warded off predators and voyeurs.

But now that I was casting them in leading roles in my #365SovereignReality, it didn’t seem right. Without their mama in the frame to keep them safe, it didn’t seem authentic - it seemed like I was exposing them to stranger danger.

A new #365project that hits all the right notes

So, what are the ingredients of a sustainable #365project?

  • It has a set form. You don’t have to expend extra creative energy figuring out the focus.
  • It’s related to your professional or creative work.
  • It’s about visibility, not ego.
  • It’s a practice that helps you grow - not just another “should” or obligation.

Introducing #365StrongStories

Marisa Goudy's #365StrongStories projectEvery day in 2016 I am going to write a story.

It will be less than 200 words. Sometimes, it may not look like much more than a metaphor. There will be days when I’m sharing someone else’s story and using a quote. Each story will be accompanied by a picture, so you'll find it on Instagram and Facebook and all the usual social spots.

It feels a little crazy to sign myself up for something so ambitious. After all, taking a picture is easy compared to promising to write an actual story every day. But I’m dedicating my professional life to helping people tell stories that matter… and I need to walk the talk about how it really can be easy.

My 2016 #365project why…

  • I am a storyteller, but I want to get better
  • I want to be a more concise, efficient writer
  • I’ve been in retreat for a while and it’s time to be seen online again
  • #365StrongStories is aligned with my work. In a week or two, I am launching an offer called 5 Strong Stories that helps emerging thought leaders write content that connects.

Would a #365project give you what you need in 2016?

Saundra Goldman, who created a brilliant community around her #continuouspractice project posted her reflections on 2015 and her plans for 2016. Check out her post for ideas for creating your own project and why it's totally valid to make a much shorter commitment than 365 days.

And I'm grateful to Saundra for another idea - who will you dedicate your practice to?

I am dedicating #365StrongStories to you, my dear reader. I am going to tell the stories that I must tell, but only because I think they are the stories that you must hear.

How a 365 photo project makes you a better writer

Your #365project makes you a better writerThe more pictures you take, the better writer you’ll become. Yeah, right, you say. Writing makes you a better writer, not messing around with photo filters and getting lost in the endless Instagram dinner plate captures.

From more than a year’s experience of daily shooting and posting, I can promise you that the process really does take you closer to your writing goals - especially when it comes to writing for the digital universe.

Five Things Writers Gain From a 365 Photo Project

  • Discipline: In order to become the sort of writer you want to be you need to practice. Once you establish that you can do something every day, like taking a picture and sharing it to social media, you prove to yourself that you can do anything - including writing every day.
  • Visibility: Being a writer isn’t just about writing - at least not if you want people to read your stuff. Daily images boost your overall online profile, even if they aren’t each perfectly aligned with the work you ultimately wish to promote. In 2014, I participated in the #365feministselfie project. Did all those pictures of my kids and me tell you about what I can do as an author and a writing coach? No, but they told you a lot about me and that’s what will really help potential clients pick me and future readers get excited about my books.
  • Brevity: Photo projects aren’t just about the visual. The picture is worth a thousand words, of course, but the words you use to introduce and contextualize the image still matter. One of the most important skills for online writing is the ability to be engaging and yet concise. When you're limited  by what your thumbs can comfortably tap into your phone and you know shouldn’t say more than your distracted viewers will take in, you learn the skill of the the short and sweet. (Full disclosure: I have trouble with this and often write wicked long captions because they're still quicker than a blog post!)
  • Outliers: To paraphrase Alice in Wonderland, you’ve surely imagined six visionary creative projects before breakfast, but they’re all outlier ideas you have to dismiss. They're “distractions” from your “real” project. What if your daily photo snap could be a five minute journey into those excess ideas? Your satisfying the muse and you're cataloging those ideas for later.
  • "We are fully human only while playing, and we play only when we are human in the truest sense of the word." - Rudolf SteinerPlay: Though defined as “pleasurable and apparently purposeless activity," we know that play is so much more than that. It is what keeps us vibrant, engaged, and flexible on every level. You’re not a photographer. Your pictures will only occasionally be brilliant. Allow that and find delight as you mess around with something you don’t have to be good at.

Is there a downside to devoting a few minutes a day to a 365 project?

I'm an unabashed #365project devotee and I can't imagine I'll ever quit, the practice has so many benefits. If I stretch, I can find one downside though...

I take pictures to illustrate the story going on in my head, whether its actually from a piece of fiction I’m working on or part of my professional or personal story.

My images likely suffer since I’m grabbing the phone to snap a pic to explain a work in progress rather than seeing the magic of the moment or object itself. Taken out of context, the picture may not be all that meaningful to your audience (and you’re practicing brevity in those captions and don’t want to write a novel about each pic).

But that is the joy of a 365 project - you always have a chance to make a distinctive piece of art tomorrow! And again, simply showing up every day and creating a 365 piece puzzle has a magic of its own for your visibility. Every puzzle piece isn't meant to stand alone.

But really, should you just do a #Write365 project?

Yes, you could always do a 365 writing project… It would help you build discipline and visibility and maybe brevity, but there’s a great chance you’ll lose out on the play and the chance to explore those outlier ideas.

My project for the year is called #365SovereignReality. Follow me on Instagram or Google+ for a window into my 2015 as I discover what it means to “become sovereign in my own reality.”