The Open Window: Are you Smothering Your Creativity? Part II

Insights on Creativity by Quinn McDonald

In the last Open Window, I described the work needed to prevent your creativity from being smothered. Here is one example:

Creativity killers are habits that drain the considerable energy needed to fuel your creativity. They may be fun, but they are empty calories in our creative diet. And they are sticky, so once we connect with them, they seem more harmless, or more engaging than we gave them credit for. Having powerful creative minds, we begin to rationalize that these creative killers are really “people watching” or “observing how people interact.” Nope. If you haven’t been in your studio for three weeks, but haven’t missed an episode of Flipping Out or Hell’s Kitchen, you aren’t observing, you have a drama addiction.

Three more ways you might unintentionally smother your creativity and what you can do instead:


Creativity Killer #3: Fear and Anger Mongering. It doesn’t matter if it’s financial (the horrible economy), emotional (dysfunctional families) or health issues (this week’s dreadful doctor reports followed by a full organ recital), nurturing fear and anger is stoking the reptilian brain and sending it to jazzercise class to get stronger and more flexible. Talking about your disasters certainly puts you on center stage; it also invites the drama-lovers to compete with you. Pretty soon fear, danger and anger have you spending your time circulating inane emails about dryer sheets instead of working in your studio.

Try This Instead: Start a gratitude journal, no matter how difficult it seems. Do it every day. It will seem impossible at first. But we see what we look for. We begin to expect to find what we keep track of. That makes gratitude realistic for us. And gratitude is a great extinguisher of both anger and fear.


Creativity Killer #4: Social Networking.

Wait. Haven’t you been told it’s important to market your art with Social Networking? It is. Timing and time management is the difference between success and disaster with social media. When you start your day with Facebook, Twitter, emails and news, you don’t get your own creative work done. Everyone else’s posts are more important. So is their drama, their anger, their excitement, their new art, what they think about their favorite TV shows. All of a sudden it’s 11 a.m. and you haven’t really done anything. So you play catch-up all day long and it’s another day that you don’t make it into the studio.

Try This Instead: Start your day with your creative projects. Spend the first hour in your studio. Have a day job? Get up early. It’s worth it. I learned that lesson from getting up at the impossibly dark hour of 4:30 a.m. for three months to write a book. I still refuse to admit how I’d work for an hour and then watch the dawn and feel like I’d invented the world and everything in it. But it’s true. It was an incredible emotional and physical boost. Leave the social networking for a specific time and time of day when your creativity is low. You will get to scratch your friends-and-family circles itch, and your creativity will have room to develop. Oh, and you’ll be sleepy at night and not have to watch TV to relax.


Creativity Killer #5: Not Enough Sleep. Not Enough Rest.

You are so busy that you never go to bed. When you finally drop, you can’t fall asleep fast enough, so you reach for a chemical solution or you turn on the TV timer. Both of these are bad for your REM-sleep, the deep sleep that produces dreams. Dreams are vital to clearing your mind, warning you of upcoming problems, helping you explore answers. Leaving the TV on interferes with REM sleep. You won’t dream and you will wake up feeling tired and sleep-deprived.

Try This Instead: One of the most important things we teach babies is how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, without music, a bottle, or screen media. We can teach ourselves the same skills. Drinking warm milk (with vanilla) actually does help make you sleepy. Setting an evening schedule so you don’t pay bills, watch adrenaline-rush TV, or explore the Internet on the iPad for an hour before bed also helps. Develop a ritual in which you begin to wind down and get to bed at a reasonable time each night. The first week you will invent a million excuses you really need TV to sleep. Once you learn to drift to sleep anticipating a dream, then remember colorful dreams and use them, you will never use the sleep timer on the TV again.


Your creativity is a valuable part of your life. It needs periodic examination, care, and cleaning, much like your fridge. We all have mystery containers in the back of the fridge, or years-old fancy mustard. Every now and then, we throw out all the clutter, petrified leftovers and fuzzy items, wash the shelves and feel good about keeping our family healthy. Would you do less for your creativity?


Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art (North Light Books).

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