New Approach To Igniting and Sustaining Creativity*
Anne Paris, PhD
Mary squirmed in her chair as she continued, “I
just don’t know what is wrong with me. Why can’t I just do it? I feel stressed
all the time when I’m not writing. ‘I should be writing’, I say to myself, but I
don’t. I think, if I just get the laundry done, then I’ll be free to sit down
and write the next chapter. But then I don’t. Maybe I need to exercise first,
and I go for a run. I get back home, fully intending to sit down at the
computer. But I don’t. And all the while I’m feeling bad and stressed about not
writing. What is wrong with me? Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe unconsciously I
don’t really want to write. Or maybe it just means that I’m not really cut out
to be a writer. ‘Writers write’, I tell myself.
Through thousands of hours of psychotherapy
with artists, I have found that most are quite familiar with the experience of
being artistically blocked, or of procrastinating and avoiding their creative
work. “If only I weren't so distractible” or “I must not really want to succeed”
are common complaints I’ve heard. These blocks can lead to non-productivity as
well as to more serious problems such as depression and addictions.
Until now, most experts have offered
behavioral strategies to help artists initiate and sustain their creative
process: “set aside a time and place everyday for the creative endeavor” or
“tell yourself you can do it” or “you must exercise a great deal of
self-discipline.” Structure can certainly help artists to focus and to
discipline their time. But many artists do not find the strength to overcome
deeply embedded blocks with this advice. “If it were that easy, I'd do it,” they
New research in neuroscience and contemporary
psychological approaches show that these strategies are only part of the answer.
Revolutionary understandings in clinical psychology now suggest that healthy
interpersonal relationships are the fuel for optimal emotional, cognitive,
intellectual, behavioral, and creative functioning. Contrary to how we’ve been
taught to value independence and autonomy, this new scientific evidence is
showing that we are at our best when we are connected with others.
Applying these findings to the secret,
internal world of the artist, the capacity to be creative is actually generated
by the experience of connectedness with others. When we are feeling frightened
or are lacking self-confidence and vitality, we need to look at the state of our
relationships, rather than to blame ourselves for being weak and inadequate, or
to think that we must somehow find strength and courage from deep within
ourselves. We cannot create in a vacuum of isolation: we are helped along in the
creative process by certain kinds of emotional support from others that help us
to be at our best and to realize our full potentials.
When we shift our focus from searching within
ourselves to reaching for healthy connections, we will be propelled through the
creative process to complete a work of art. To
immerse into creativity, we need to feel strong, inspired, and comforted. Rather
than existing as static “traits” in our selves, strength, inspiration, and
comfort are generated in our relationships with mirrors, heroes, and twins:
Find Strength in Mirrors.
An artist finds the strength to create through feeling special,
recognized, and appreciated by others. Share your ideas and your work with
others who are likely to appreciate your talents and your efforts. Allow
yourself to “take in” this kind of psychological nourishment. If you don’t
have this kind of support, imagine it.
Find Inspiration in Heroes.
An artist finds motivation and inspiration to create through
admiring, respecting, and hoping to please a parent, teacher, mentor, or idol.
Reach for connection with your “real life” hero or immerse in your idol’s
work, ideas, or art.
Comfort in Twins.
An artist finds comfort through the creative process by feeling
understood and understandable by others who are in the same boat. Reach for
connections with “like-kind” (for example, join a writer’s group, or take a
painting class, or go to conferences, artist retreats, or galleries). Share
your hopes and dreads, triumphs and defeats, with these empathic
others—they’ve been there--they understand.
Throughout a creative
project, you are likely to grapple with core feelings of safety, trust, and
hope. When you become aware of how your relationships with others (or lack of
relationships) impact your ongoing sense of self, you can then try to elicit
more of what you need to carry you through the myriad of emotions involved in
the creative process. It is not weak to need others. In fact, being able to
create and sustain mutual relationships is the key to our continued growth as
artists and as individuals. In the end, it is not really how much willpower or
discipline we have that determines our capacity to enter into a creative state.
Standing at water's edge, looking at the vast unknown and uncertainty involved
in the creative process, it is our relationships with others that will empower
or inhibit our dive.
Paris is a clinical psychologist who has helped artists along in their
creative processes for over 20 years. Her approach, which is based on
cutting-edge psychological understandings and research, appreciates the inner
world of the artist in a new way and points to the importance of connections
with others throughout the creative process. Through this revolutionary
approach, she has helped famous, professional, and hobby artists start and
sustain their creative process so they could complete a work of art. You can
visit her online at
Based on the book Standing at Water’s
Edge: Moving Past Fears, Blocks, and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative
Immersion © 2008 by Anne Paris. Printed with
permission of New World Library, Novato, CA
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