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Inspiring Creativity Anthology
Getting Unstuck : Page 4

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

By Rick Benzel

continued from page 3

The Spiritual Approach

In the last decade, the role of spirit in creativity is resurging, as more artists are turning themselves over to a "higher" power to direct their work. For some people, the higher power is embedded in a religious tradition, while for others, their spiritual approach is rooted in a profound respect and appreciation for human creativity within a mystical cosmos. Whichever the case, a spiritual approach to overcoming stuckness suggests that you stop thinking about your creative problem and simply give yourself over to whatever higher power you believe in to provide you with the answer.

It is of course impossible to ascertain if the spiritual approach works because a higher power truly exists and answers the prayers of artists, or if there is something about releasing your worries into the cosmos that allows fresh ideas to come to you. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. What counts is that the spiritual approach seems to help many people feel that their creative work is linked to forces in the universe that guide us into a more harmonious, peaceful existence. By releasing their creative blocks into the ether or to their worshipped God, they lighten their own anxiety about creating, which may indeed be an opportunity for new creating to occur.

If you are not religious, or are agnostic, your spiritual approach need not be any more than going up to a mountain top and contemplating your creativity as you sit among the boulders that have been on this earth for millions of years. I often go camping at one location in the Sierra Mountains in California where, at 12,000 feet, I experience profound insights into my place in the cosmos, which reinforces my love for the creativity that I possess.

The Reward Approach

The Reward Approach can be an effective method to get out of stuckness when the creativity-halting goo is thin and leaves you with a sense of power over your situation. This approach requires you to be brutally honest with yourself in evaluating whether your stuckness reflects factors that you can control — if you truly wanted to. For example, we all experience times when we simply don't want to get to work; we would rather watch TV or go for a walk than feel the pain of writing, painting, or practicing our instrument.

But in these types of situations, if you are truthful with yourself and are able to admit that the problem has more to do with your own negative attitude or your laziness, you might realize that this is the right time to adopt the Reward Approach. As the name implies, you simply offer yourself a reward for committing to get your work done or for achieving certain milestones along the way to total completion.

For example, you might make a contract with yourself that for every chapter you complete on your novel, you will allow yourself a nice dinner at one of your favorite restaurants, and you won't go to that restaurant unless you do complete the chapter. Other rewards could be buying yourself a desired piece of clothing, or a night out, or that new electronic device you desire.

So many of us are not good at abiding by contracts we make with ourselves. It is easy to tell yourself, "I know I said I was going to work tonight, but I'm just too tired." The problem is, of course, if you let yourself off the hook day in and day out, you accomplish very little towards your creative goals. You thus must find a new way to abide by your self-made contract. That is where the rewards come in.

In general, the more meaningful the reward, the more success you will have in fulfilling your commitment.

The Hero Approach

One of the most intriguing ways to learn how to get unstuck is to find yourself a hero, that is, a luminary in your field after whom you might model yourself. If you are a writer, pick a living or historic writer whose life or work you admire. Read everything you can find about the person, including his or her work habits, thoughts on the writing life, and problems with writing that may be similar to yours. Then, each time you sit down to write and especially each time you get stuck in the goo, ask yourself, "What would [insert name of your hero] have done about this situation?"

The value of the hero approach is that it spotlights for you a work ethic and commitment to quality that you will slowly internalize as your own. Finding a hero among the greats of the creative world — whether it be Michelangelo, Monet, Mamet, or Maroon Five — builds your self-esteem and your passion for art, both of which are instrumental in defeating your inner critic and helping you get unstuck.

In addition, as one of the other articles in this Anthology points out (see Michael Mahoney's The Hero Within: Using the Mythic Journey to Discover Meaning in Your Creative Work), you are effectively a hero in your own creative journey, which requires you to survive many battles with the evil forces of non-creativity. In order to return victorious from your journey, you must think of yourself as a hero, with courage, ambition, and daring to get through the combat. But as your own hero, even you need allies, and the best ones are those who have made the journey before you. They know the danger zones, the pitfalls, and the secrets to coming out alive.

However, be careful about selecting a hero and turning him or her into an object of negative comparison for yourself. It is not productive to make an accomplished artist your hero if the person constantly reminds you of your lack of commercial success. Choose your heroes based on their human qualities and the values they bring to their craft, not based on how famous they are or how much money they made. Make them real heroes in your work, not celebrities you blindly worship.

The Hire-a-Professional Approach

The last approach to getting out of creativity-halting goo is, of course, to hire a creativity coach. Like hiring a doctor when you are sick, a lawyer when you need legal advice, or an accountant when you need your taxes done right, a creativity coach can fashion a comprehensive program for your specific stuckness — i.e., the nature of your goo, its thickness, stickiness, how deep in it you are, and so on. A creativity coach is trained to analyze your concerns and problems, and to work with you to devise solutions that get you out of the quagmire and back into happy, productive creating again. A coach can help you decide which of the approaches above — or many others they may have created themselves — might work in your situation. You can find creativity coaches at, which lists coaches available to artists and creators in many locations throughout the world. Coaches can also work with you by email and phone, so you are never far away from having professional assistance available to you to analyze your creative problems and propose solutions to get you unstuck. •

© 2005 Rick Benzel. All rights reserved.

Excerpted with permission from the Inspiring Creativity anthology. Rick Benzel, M.A., is a creativity coach, writer, and editor in Los Angeles with a passion for helping all types of artists get unstuck. More »