Maintaining Creative Momentum

I anticipated riding a wave as monstrous as the surfing delights found on Oahu’s North Shore. Instead I’ve been floating in the bathtub that is the Gulf of Mexico post-hurricane season.

Here are some "surfers" I saw during a visit to Florida's Gulf Coast in the spring of 2011. Not exactly the waves I'd watch surfers ride at Huntington Beach during childhood visits to Los Angeles.

Last July I rode a huge creative wave out of my first-ever MFA residency, seemingly unlimited energy that carried me through two “packets” of creative writing, or 60 sparkling pages over two months’ time. I’ve been back from my second residency for eight days now, and the words are coming about as willingly as a male pit bull follows Bob Barker into a veterinary hospital.

My residency was far from a disappointment; it was a phenomenal creative experience, and I suspect the energy I felt came through in my dispatches from Vermont. But my time there lacked the newness of my first residency. I suspect I’ve been trying too hard to replicate the harmonious magic of that initial experience, as the director and screenwriters did with The Hangover Part II.

I’ll have my packet of creative writing done by the end of the month. And I suspect there will be some compelling prose in there; the last couple of days I’ve actually felt pretty good about some of the passages I’ve produced. I know from experience that if you force yourself to produce creatively every day, some decent results will emerge despite any doubts or disappointments you bring to the moment. Those glimmers of promise will make it easier for me to sit down at the keyboard tomorrow and start typing.

Have you ever tried to duplicate a moment of creative magic, only to have it fall short of expectations? Perhaps you returned to a place of great inspiration, or resumed a routine that once provided a creative spark? How have you reacted when your creative energy was lower than anticipated?

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

22 Responses to “Maintaining Creative Momentum”

  1. “Have you ever tried to duplicate a moment of creative magic, only to have it fall short of expectations?”

    Oh, yes. Who hasn’t?🙂

    Reaction: drink more coffee, consume more m&m’s, then go write in my journal. Mostly.

  2. You are talking about the post-opening night blues that every actor in live theatre knows.

    The adrenaline of opening night creates a emotional surge that is not duplicable. By now, I have done enough shows that I simply accept that this is the way of all things, and keep going. In theatre, there is a growth that happens during the first two weeks in front of an audience. It is subtler than the week preceeding opening night, but that growth keeps many folks inspired.

    The harder part is for shows with a long run. Most community theatres have very short runs, and it is often a strange experience for an actor during their first long run to figure out how to maintain the performance quality over the run. My experience with my first long run was similar to your experience with this second residency.

    In general, I fall back on routine. Once I get to the theatre, I follow the routine I settled into during the first two weeks of the run. Somehow, and it feels miraculous on a bad day, by the time I have the last touches of my make-up on and have checked the placement of all my props, I am ready to go. And, on a really bad day, I just go out there anyway and tell myself the audience won’t notice and trust from experience that the muscle memory in my body will make sure I say the right words, make the right gestures, and move to all the right places.

    I also know from experience that some of my best performances actually happen on those days when I lean on that memory.

    Writing this, I realize that I have not sustained a writing practice for long enough to have developed that trust in my body, that showing up regularly has a power of its own. I wonder how I can build on what I know about creating theatre to help me build those habits.

    Kate

    • This is really fascinating, Kate. It’s been years since I performed regularly as an ensemble singer, but we wouldn’t play the same place every night. We’d do one or two shows in our home theater, then go on tour, but each venue was a brand-new experience.

      You touch on your theater background sometimes on your blog. I’d love to learn more about it, and how it and InterPlay tie in with your current pursuit of creative writing.

  3. Patrick, I’ve been struggling with your same issue (notice the lack of creative adjectives here?). I’m not sure if it’s writer’s block, or lack of inspiration. But I know I need a creative surge, desperately. I wish I could offer you some advice, but I can’t. The only tip I can say is this: take a break from writing and spend time in something else you love. For me, it’s dance or photography. And a good laughing session with my boyfriend always helps too.

    But I’ve yet to find the magic wand that’ll wipe away all creative block for long periods of time. I think sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.😦

    • Hi Shari! Yes, taking a break can be very helpful. I particularly value the idea of a laughing session. Good luck finding your way through your blahs, and finding things for the two of you to laugh about.

  4. I wrote two books at the Caribou coffee shop by my house. Now when I’m there I get nothing done . . . though that might have more to do with having a blog now and not having one then. Hmmm . . .

  5. I think a lot happens when we just show up – I am in a slump of writing, but still show up – who knows, just being there might be stirring stuff up in the unconscious mind that will emerge brilliantly. Maybe look for the new things to be excited about.

    • I like the way you put that, Heather. Yes, if there’s something creative inside of us waiting to emerge, it may not always make itself obvious to us, but it definitely can’t emerge if we don’t give it an outlet. Hang in there!

  6. Hey Patrick. Shelby (my crit partner at VCFA) just got back from her residency, too … this is the last year of her program and I know she’s darn worn out. Maybe you’ve got some of that going on as well?

    But what I LOVE about what you wrote was “… if you force yourself to produce creatively every day, some decent results will emerge despite any doubts or disappointments you bring to the moment.” This is a really similar theme to what Cynthia Robertson wrote about this week about simply “showing up,” if you haven’t seen it. I agree with you both.

    Here’s to nurturing the creative muse in2012! I really liked Milli Thorton’s post before the holidays, also, about how we can feed the muse by trying new things – foods, hobbies, exercises. I liked it so much, I printed it out and want to REMEMBER to do some ‘new’ things this year to keep my muse well fed and happy!

    • Hi Melissa! Yup, I read Cynthia’s post, and commented on it. Just went to make sure I did, and saw my comment there is just above yours! Obviously my comment made a good impression on you…🙂

      It’s always a good time to nurture our creative muses, but I like the idea of pronouncing it as a 2012 mission. I’m with you!

  7. Ha ha… I ‘thought’ I had seen you over there, but in my old age, I can’t remember (oftentimes) WHERE I’ve seen someone. Ha ha! Here’s to Mission Creativity … and, for me, remembering more!

  8. I’m having a hard time relating to commenters who back off their writing because they don’t quite feel so much like doing it today. Personally, I can’t afford the luxury of waiting for the muse to amuse me. That all sounds so amateurish. I mean, every project has a deadline, right? I hope so. So, the motivation is to get it done. And done right. Because someone’s going to read it! Good god! That should motivate anyone to suck up all concerns of not being in the right place at the right hour with the right background noise, etc… and just bust through all that crap. Am I being too harsh here? Somehow, I just felt it needed to be said.

    • PJ, with all due respect, it does sound a tad harsh. Because some of us work full-time as writers, and find it difficult to write AFTER work creatively without a break. I, for one, am a former newspaper reporter and now work for a company as their primary health writer and media strategist. I write under deadline constantly. But when it comes to my creative writing, that’s for fun, AND for people to read. I agree with you that sometimes you just have to force yourself to get it done, but to call those of us who need a break “amateurish” is almost insulting. Because I know for sure I’m not an amateur, and neither are the majority of commentors on here. Like you, I don’t have the luxury of awaiting the muse to amuse me. That’s why I prefer for the muse to strike when I’m writing after hours, because I can’t afford it anytime else.

      • Thanks, Shari, you strike the appropriate chord. I just felt there was a groundswell of reasons to avoid the inevitable. I can relate to what you say because I too have been a full time writer for many years–television, newspapers, teaching. With little time after hours, that`s all the more reason not to collude with all the potential excuses to procrastinate. I think, generally, writers who are still trying, still fighting for recognition, need to toughen up. I love writers! So, maybe I’m just employing tough love. Cheers.

    • Hi PJ,

      I think Shari did a good job articulating a challenge I also share, having to shift from journalistic writing to creative writing, and staying motivated for both. But this exchange has reminded me of advice given to me by Steve “Voice of Golden Eagle” Cox, a songwriter and musician I interviewed on my cross-country road trip. Steve told me to create when the creative tide was in, and take care of busy work when the tide was out. He shared lots of other bits of wisdom as well. Here’s a post I wrote about him, with the five-minute video interview embedded: https://artistsroad.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/when-creativity-knocks/

  9. Patrick… just watched the Steve Cox video again and, yes, thanks, he’s got some cool things to say, especially that bit about not responding to inspiration when it knocks… I too believe the muse will give up and go elsewhere. So, yes, at 2 a.m., answer the door. Steve also advised to create from the heart. Sometimes the heart hides its secrets, and to discover them takes long hard hours of work, secrets that will never emerge as we live languidly on the path of least resistance. He also warned that with so many artists out there now, that there’s a special challenge to rise above the millions (something like that)… and that too is going to take a strong discipline that can easily be undermined by taking a too casual approach to the craft of writing (in my experience). Steve also said that we’re either “creating or copying”… and in order to not copy (my words now) we have to shovel a lot of gravel off the motherload of creativity. It`s a lot of hard work, getting beneath all that conventional wisdom that overlies the gold. I`m hearing a lot of conventional wisdom around the creative process, and I honestly don`t believe it`s in the best interests of getting deep into that heart of which Steve speaks. Hey, this is an important issue, and so thanks, Patrick for getting it going. Cheers.

    • PJ, I’m so honored that you actually went and watched the video! You’ve really hit on a lot of key takeaways from that interview. It was tough to fit him into my 5-minute limit, the jumps and starts reveal that. The knocking muse really stayed with me. When I decided to step down from that organization and start on this new path, I heard him loud and clear.

  10. Great post Patrick! The thing I like about you is that you’re still writing. Many people would be lying on their lilo in the warm bath, awaiting the muse. Who’s clearly stuck in traffic. Writers write. That’s what you’re doing. And I bet what you’re creating is better than you think it is. I’m going to follow your lead…

    • Hi Allison! I like the idea of lying in a warm bath, and if my muse is stuck in traffic, I think I’d stay in the bath rather than wander the streets naked in search of her. But I can always write, then take the bath, and hopefully by then she’s made it home. I’m going to embrace what you said about the writing being better than I think. At my MFA residency one of my workshop leaders said we always think our great writing is worse than it is, and our poor writing we think is better than it is!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Creativity Tweets of the Week – 01/20/12 « The Artist's Road - January 20, 2012

    […] “Do You Write When You’re Not Inspired?” Joe Bunting, The Write Practice: Can I answer yes and no? (Related: Maintaining Creative Momentum) […]

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