Elizabeth: Creativity Challenged

In our new viral-normal, it can sometimes be challenging to give free reign to creativity.  I have found myself with much more free time in recent months (thanks to no work commute), but have little to show for it in terms of words on the page (though I did make 2 dozen face-masks and a quilt).

In her Getting Unstuck post last week, Kay gave some great suggestions for how to keep your story going when you’ve hit a wall, but what if the problem is not that you’ve reached a sticking point in your story, but that you’re stuck in reality.

Conveniently, I ran across a couple of posts in my news feed, as well as a list from work, that may be helpful.

First is a post from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University entitled Why You Can’t Concentrate Right Now. In a nutshell (you can read the article for the details) concentration can be challenging for folks right now because our brains are busy keeping an eye out for threats and maintaining a level of hyper alertness. If your brain is busy managing the Bodily Intruder Alert Command Center, it makes sense that there may be little bandwidth left over for creative pursuits.  So, I take that to mean that my lack of creativity is not because I’m lazy or that I’m too busy perfecting my pastry-making skills, but because my brain is busy making contingency plans to address potential death and economic collapse.

Makes sense to me.

Next is a post, also from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, entitled Writing in the Time of Covid-19. It offers several suggestions for things you can do to jump start your creativity during these uncertain times (or basically at any time).  The suggestions aren’t rocket science, but they are good reminders especially the last one, “don’t beat yourself up.”

Last is a list of suggestions courtesy of my day job.  When my coworkers and I started working remotely back in March, our work-from-home packets included a lot of information, including a list of common sense things we could to do remain motivated and productive.

Establish a schedule

This first one is critical when working remotely, especially for people who have never worked remotely before.  From the day job perspective, establishing a schedule means starting work at a regular time and making sure to stop at a regular time too.  From a creativity perspective, establishing a schedule can mean setting a regular time and/or place for creative pursuits and sticking to it.

Eat Healthy and Exercise

We were just talking on today’s morning call about the hazard of an “easily accessible refrigerator” when working remotely.  My working from home has included far more baked goods that it should and definitely more coffee than it should.  My own bad behavior aside, healthy eating can leave you with more energy and increase your resilience, as can making time for exercise.  I currently have access to daily virtual-workouts, courtesy of my gym.  They are only 30 minute sessions, but I can definitely tell that I am more focused and have more energy on days when I am able to fit one of the sessions in my schedule.  I have also found that my evening walk at the local park is a great way to turn off the day job portion of my brain and to get away from the news and internet.

Limit Social Media and News

Speaking of the news and internet, we all know what a time-suck both can be and that is true now more than ever.  Setting aside a specific time to read the news or surf the web or whatever, and then moving on to something else can do wonders, both for your mental health and for your creativity.  Full disclosure:  I am still working on this one.

Make Time for Self-Care

This is the item we most frequently get reminders about at work, possibly since many people have been working long long days for months now and are getting burned out.  For me, this means scheduling a “day off” this Friday (baby steps), painting my toenails blue this afternoon, and listening to one of the guided meditations on the Calm app later this evening.  Your mileage may vary.

Mentally Unwind

Whether you’re working or writing or just handling daily life, taking a little time to give your brain a rest is a good thing.  For me this means jigsaw puzzles and old Ngaio March mysteries.  For others it may mean going on a hike, working in the garden, or a rousing game of fetch with the dog.  Whatever you choose to do, taking a little time to unwind can leave you refreshed and better able to face whatever task is next on your schedule.

Connect with Others

Connecting with others can be challenging if you are sheltering-in-place, but it is definitely worth the effort.  Humans are basically social animals and even a card-carrying introvert like myself needs social connections from time to time.  Fortunately apps like Zoom and FaceTime make it reasonably easy to have “face to face” conversations with friends and family.  I’ve been having weekly video calls with family and they have been great.  It’s very helpful to get out of my own head for at least a little while and interact (virtually) with someone else.

These suggestions aren’t going to instantly make you more motivated and creative, but they may help you put the current pandemic into a more manageable mental space and leave you better able to focus on more creative pursuits.

So, what else should I add to this list?

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Creativity Challenged

  1. I’m guessing another important thing is to watch your alcohol consumption. Most alcohol has enough yeast in it to make it poisonous to my fungus-intolerant system, so for years, in answer to my doctor’s annual question, “How many drinks do you average per week?” I’ve responded, “About one a month.”

    Recently, though, I discovered I can drink a rum-seltzer-water-and-lime-juice concoction with no ill effects. Since the onset of the virus, I started having one each evening.

    Which is not enough to make me an alcoholic, but it’s still 30x more than I’d been drinking.

    So now I’ve reined that back in. Sigh.

    • I have found it interesting these last few months that the grocery store shelves have been pretty barren in the baking aisle but well-stocked in the liquor aisle. I wasn’t sure if that meant people were drinking less or that industry just had more robust manufacturing and distribution. Or maybe folks just have less disposable income and/or activities that call for an adult beverage or two.

      A few months ago I attempted to cut down on my coffee consumption by having a pre-dinner mimosa instead (I had both champagne and orange juice in the fridge). That lost its charm pretty quickly, though at least I got my daily allowance of vitamin C for a while.

      I’m guessing moderation is the key, whether it’s drinking, eating, or surfing the web.

      • I read a fascinating diet book a few years back that linked alcohol with sugar addiction — it apparently converts fairly easily to sugar in the body? And white starches also convert to sugar in the body — one of the most memorable eighth grade science classes was when we got to eat crackers, which we held in our mouths until it turned sweet. (Crackers in class! Food is a great way to get my attention!)

        So, I have seen a lot of people connecting sugar overdoses to brainfog, inflammation, aches and pains . . . not sure how scientific it is, but my personal experience is that there is something to it. I can’t go cold turkey.

        Lord knows, I tried. My daughter is very interested in getting her weight to the ideal level right now, just to see what happens. We did The Woman Doctor’s Diet which only allows sugar/sugar conversion in the form of fruit and a piece of melba toast twice a day (and since we didn’t have the melba toast, and the book said OK, we didn’t do it). Pure hell, mentally. I was so crabby and couldn’t think of much else during the week we did it. And I didn’t lose that much weight.

        I’ve been lawn mowing instead, and that uses up some of the instantly available sugar and I’ve been much happier mentally. Muscle aches are another story!

        But anyway, to get back to the point, I can see that it would be a good idea to stay steady on the alcohol. Don’t decrease it unless you want to, but don’t let it creep up, either.

  2. Such good advice, Elizabeth! I find myself slipping off the good-habits bandwagon now and then, here and there, although mostly I’m following these suggestions. I’m retired and naturally a stay-at-home type of person, so the adjustment wasn’t terrible, although the circumstances of the pandemic are certainly more limiting, and more stressful.

    Alcohol, though—yeah, my consumption is up, too. I’m enjoying it, that’s all I’ll say about that. 🙂

    • It is hard to remain on the good-habits bandwagon, isn’t it? Perhaps seat-belts would help.

      Sounds like you seem to have things well under control and, judging by your Friday Sprint contributions, your creativity is doing just fine.

    • I’ve noticed in the past week or so I’ve been slipping on the basics. Not handwashing quite as vigilantly when I come back from shopping, that sort of thing. Also, I want to have two weeks of “sick food” in the pantry/freezer in case we all come down with it at once. We’ve been digging into the “sick food” and not replenishing it, so . . . . Fortunately, we’re having a spell of chilly weather, so I’ve made and frozen some chicken stock, and probably will do some more tomorrow.

  3. This is so timely, Elizabeth! I’ve been getting a bit irritated with the whole “stay safe” routine, and longing to go to Costco to stock up on pistachios and frozen pizza (Sapporo, where our Costco is, is the worst place in Hokkaido to go right now). My daughter is also getting annoyed, but fortunately, we seem to be on different cycles, so when I want to break quarantine, she’s practical, and when she’s itching to get out, I’m practical.

    I’ve been making lawn-mowing my daily (almost daily) exercise. The PLAN is to get out there and mow for 30 minutes, and finish the lawn over the course of five to seven days, but I’ve misjudged my lawn, and I’m out there for nearly two hours once I get started. (And it still take four days to finish everything, at that.) Getting motivated to do that is tough, but lately, I’ve started getting in my work clothes, then brushing the dogs outside for 30 to 45 minutes. Something about the fresh air and the calmness gets me ready to go . . . and the dogs are looking good!

    I want to do more stuff outdoors in July. My daughter is getting her driver’s license, so maybe we’ll take some early, early morning trips out to beautiful spots to catch the sunrise and morning light, and get home before the crowds come out. A trip to the beach to see the sunrise over the black sands . . . a trip to the mountains to see the lavender (if it ever stops raining). If we bring our breakfast and our own snacks and water, we can stay safe, I think.

  4. Pingback: Michille: One More Writing Course – Eight Ladies Writing

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