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Getting Unstuck : Page 3

Getting Unstuck: 9 Ways to Escape from Creativity-Halting Goo

By Rick Benzel

continued from page 2

The Pottery Approach

When I was 25 a few decades back, I decided to try pottery as a form of artistic expression. I signed up for a summer course at a small pottery studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Within months, I was sitting at the potter's wheel, throwing vases, sugar bowls, and pitchers. During this time, another student potter suggested that I read a book called Centering in Pottery, Poetry and The Person, by M.C. Richards, which has turned out to be one of my most inspiring reads.

In Centering, Richards uses the potter's wheel as a metaphor for life. When you try pottery, you quickly learn that if you do not center the clay on the wheel, it is nearly impossible to pull the clay up into a balanced object. For Richards though, centering clay means far more than simply plopping it down in the middle of the potter's wheel. Centering also must take place in your mind, in your feelings, in your entire physical being. In talking about knowing how to center, Richards wrote:

Wisdom is not the product of mental effort…. it is a state of total being, in which capacities for knowledge and for love, for survival and for death, for imagination, inspiration, intuition, for all the fabulous functioning of this human being who we are, come into a center with their forces, come into an experience of meaning that can voice itself as wise action.

When you are stuck, it often means that you are not centered in your being. Your inner artist is at odds with something in your life that does not support your art. Something is awry that tilts your "clay" — that is, your ideas, your projects — and you will not be able to get unstuck in the same way that a potter is not able to fashion a nicely centered pot.

The Pottery Approach is thus oriented towards finding ways to center yourself. Perhaps you need to meditate, go for walks every day, or have a talk with someone who is causing you emotional pain. Perhaps you need to create a nice spot of color on the wall at which you can stare to re-center yourself. Whatever you do to get centered, your goal is to be able to approach your artistic endeavor by being fully there — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, physically — as one integrated, wise artist. When you are in this state, you will be capable of working with your creativity in the same truly blissful way that potters work, becoming one with their clay as it spins around the wheel, their hands becoming the pot and the pot becoming their hands. In short, when you and your art merge into one "beingness," there is much less opportunity to get stuck because all of you, including your inner critic, become one with your art.

And if you cannot find an activity that centers you, I highly recommend taking a pottery course!

The Buddy Approach

Creativity-halting goo can sometimes be thick and viscous, and getting out of it on your own is just not possible. Your inner artist is going nowhere, spinning its wheels, like a car stuck in mud or snow. Sometimes you need a "buddy" to get unstuck, a colleague who can push or pull you out, by listening to you and perhaps by sharing some ideas. Simply talking about your creative block with another person is often enough to get you going again because in the process of articulating your ideas to someone else in a non-judgmental conversation, you can often stumble upon a fresh way to explain your concepts or an insight you didn't have before.

The Buddy Approach is best done with a partner who is, like you, a creator and thus can understand the artistic difficulties you may be going through. It is best not to choose a family member or spouse based simply on the fact that he or she knows you well. This can backfire, causing more problems than it solves if you do not like the advice the person gives you. Instead, select as your buddy an artistic peer, someone who does the same type of art as you or even someone who works in an entirely different art.

The Buddy Approach is useful for several reasons. First, your colleague's comments and listening provide an outside view of your work that can be beneficial when you are lost in your own ideas. The buddy may see the proverbial tree through the forest that has become your mind. Secondly, a buddy can help you silence your inner critic, by being more sympathetic, encouraging, or just plain honest in telling you that your ideas are fine, keep working. Finally, if you are willing to listen, a buddy may have suggestions to enhance your own ideas or that provide you with solutions to your creative problem.

Many artists are reluctant to share their work with others before it is completed, and that is understandable. However, there are times when there is nothing better than a colleague or friend whose shoulder you can lean on in a time of need. Artists who shy away from making community with others may be missing out on the valuable resources that other artists can provide. One way to combat a reluctance to talk to other artists is to take a class. Even if you decide not to share your ideas with others, you can listen to other people sharing ideas and vicariously partake in an extended buddy system that supports you in the background.

The Matrix Approach

When your getting stuck involves indecision or an inability to choose from among what seem to be too many good ideas, the best solution may be the Matrix Approach. This solution is based on resorting to logic to evaluate your ideas and choose the best one according to a set of criteria you develop. The name of the approach refers to the fact that you construct a "matrix" or grid, with rows and columns in table format. In each column, you write one of the ideas you have, and in each row, you list one of the criteria that will help you decide the best choice. For example, if you are writing a non-fiction book and you are trying to decide whether to write a book based on, for example, 7 steps to better health, 30 days to better health, or 10 secrets to better health, you would need a matrix consisting of 3 columns. Then in the rows, you would list criteria such as names of competing books in Row 1, spin-off opportunities for each title in Row 2, the editor's preference in Row 3, and so on.

The Matrix Approach, in theory, can help you get unstuck by simply checking off which column and row intersection makes the most logical sense. Then you can count up the X's and see which decision wins. However, given that art is not science, the Matrix Approach often requires a level of subjective analysis and feeling that might lead you back toward your quagmire. You could end up with a grid that has X's everywhere — and you're back at indecision.

Nevertheless, the Matrix Approach can prove useful when you have a large number of choices because, at the very least, it can help you eliminate a few lesser choices from the crowd so you can focus on just the one or two best ones. In this way, the Matrix Approach can help you get out the quicksand a little faster and without as much pain as you might have experienced.

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