(Or what I’m learning while participating in a challenge to write 14 songs in 28 days)
Creativity can feel like an elusive thing- either the spark is there or it isn’t. As a songwriter, I often find myself waiting for that flash of inspiration when it’s all but guaranteed that the words and music will pour out of me without any seeming effort.
The problem with this method is that I can go months without sitting down with my music and creative process. In doing so, I might avoid feelings of disappointment and frustration, but I also miss out on the unexpected treasures that can be found by making intentional time and space for my craft.
When I decided to sign up for this year’s February Album Writing Month (FAWM as it’s lovingly called by folks who have been organizing and participating in it for a while, some as long as 19 years), I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t think I’ve written 14 new songs to completion in the last three years combined – how am I supposed to do it in a month?
But instead of a race toward a finish line, my experience so far has felt more like an inclusive playground full of words and music, a designated place to explore the mundane, profound and wacky with like-minded souls.
It’s got me thinking about creativity and how to stay committed to the modes of expression that spark our innermost joy and help us give voice to the ineffable even when the inspiration dial is feeling low. It’s easy for the inner critic and ideas of perfectionism to intrude on our good intentions when it comes to making more space for the practice of creativity.
Here’s what I’m taking away from this experience so far:
Being surrounded by others who are passionate about creative expression and the art and craft of songwriting is helping feed that passion within me. My creative and motivational flame was burning low coming in, but seeing the fire burning bright in others has helped to re-illuminate that light within me. Just as important, hearing others share about their struggles with the process is validating and helps me remember that I’m not alone in the ebbs and flows.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation and inspiration for your creative process, perhaps it’s time to phone a friend. Look for opportunities to connect with others who share your passion (Open mic? Writing workshop? Dance class?). Even taking in others’ creative offerings at an art show or concert can help.
Deadlines Help (but don’t take them too seriously)
While deadlines can certainly bring on feelings of pressure, sometimes a little push to have something to share or show within a particular time frame is just what we need to help with low motivation. Knowing that others are also working toward the same deadline is helping hold me accountable to making time to sit down with my music.
What are some soft deadlines that might work for you? Perhaps a weekly check in with a friend who is also looking for some accountability around their art? You can also practice making commitments to yourself by writing down your intention around how much time you’d like to spend with your creative process each day or week.
Rest is Essential
I came into the challenge strong, feeling re-invigorated and excited about all of the new ideas flowing. However, I noticed about a week into the challenge that I was feeling drained and starting to feel pressure around continuing to come up with new material day after day. So, rather than push myself too hard, I took some time off. I didn’t try to write anything new and allowed myself to just rest on the couch, spend time with friends or engage in other hobbies.
It can be a fine balance between not getting stuck in a slump and allowing ample time for the inevitable ebbs that come with the creative process. Get curious about what signs your body and mind give you (Exhaustion? Overwhelm? Tightness?) when you’re moving toward burnout and listen to them. It’s OK to take some time away.
Befriend, Don’t Banish the Inner Critic
If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that trying to ban the inner critic entirely from the creative process is not going to work. It’s along for the ride, but I’m not letting it drive the bus. When I notice that the voice of the critic is particularly strong, I take some time to ask what it’s afraid of – often it’s worried that I’ll be judged by others. I can then thank it for trying to protect me while also reminding it that I’ve chosen to take part in one of the most supportive and encouraging environments I could imagine.
Our inner critic is often trying to protect more tender, young parts of us that have experienced humiliation or rejection in the past. Making art and sharing it with others is an incredibly vulnerable experience, so it makes sense that the inner critic would get activated in these moments. Take time to acknowledge its fears, but also give it an update on your current life situation.
Playfulness brings joy to the process
One way I’m finding more playfulness this month is to take inspiration from prompts offered in the community that I would never come up with on my own – such as writing a song based on the phrase on a candy heart. Yes, there are many profound and moving songs I’ve heard (and perhaps written myself), but there are just as many silly, wacky songs and moments that bring up a sense of delight in me that gets clouded over when I start to take myself and my creative process too seriously.
How can you make your creative process feel more playful? Maybe you try leaning into the process, rather than the product of the experience – what thoughts, feelings, images and sensations arise as you sit down to make something new?
I haven’t yet reached the goal of 14 songs, and that’s OK. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but what really matters is that I’ve chosen to immerse myself in an environment where creativity, play and kindness is nurtured. And that’s something I’d like to keep going even after February comes to a close.
Interested in working with a therapist who will nurture a sense of curiosity and playfulness to help you bust through creative blocks? Schedule a free consultation today.