A Show About Nothing

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Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re talking about nothing.

Well, not really nothing, but I want to talk about what happens when you want to be creative, or you might even need to be creative – maybe for work or for some kind of deadline – for whatever reason, you need an idea right now, and you’ve got nuthin.

I’ll tell you where this idea came from. You may know that I challenged myself to do a podcast episode every single day for the month of February. And since my last episode of January was the 31st, I’m technically on day 27 of writing, recording, and producing daily podcast episodes. This was definitely the case of me being overly ambitious, which I am no stranger to doing, but I figured it was a great way to get back into the groove now that the podcast is back, and who doesn’t love a good challenge? You know I do.

Originally I wasn’t sure if I could come up with that many ideas back to back, but as the month started to unfold, my list of ideas kept growing. And growing.

And for the first three weeks, it was all well and good. But by week four, the inspiration started coming a little more slowly.

I still had the list of ideas, but fleshing out those ideas and turning them into something worth 10-15 minutes of your time to listen to, started to feel a little harder.

The month isn’t over, and I am still committed – and I am so close. But I went from ideas pouring out of my head to a very faint trickle dripping from the faucet of creativity.

It was inevitable, though, right? It’s impossible to maintain a high level of inspiration and creativity every single day without ever hitting a slump. But the goal is still there – and I still need the ideas to come to me. So … what do we do when we’re pushing toward a goal and the wellspring dries up? I want to talk about this because I think sometimes maybe we make it look easier than it is. If I never told you that I ran out of ideas, you might think that some of us are immune to that struggle. And we’re not. Just as much as I want to share the creative wins, I also want to share the creative struggles – because they’re something we all share.

So let me tell you how I found my way out of the fog.

I should start by circling back to that long list of ideas I already have for new episodes. There are a lot of good ideas on there. So why can’t I just grab an idea off that list and turn it into the next episode? Well, I tried. I tried with one idea, and I just wasn’t feeling it. So I put a pin in that one, and I tried the next idea. And I wasn’t feeling that one, either.

After trying on three different topics from my list, and feeling none of them, I knew it was time for Plan C. Or maybe Plan G by this point.

Think about a time in your life when you just completely ran out of ideas. Has it ever happened to you? What was behind it? Because I think often if we’re being creative in a more organic way, like just messing around with art or fiber or music and we’re just letting ourselves play – creativity loves that. It’s going to hang out for a while. But creativity on a deadline feels a lot different. It’s not impossible, though. It just means that sometimes we have to coax it back.

So to do that, I stopped what I was doing, made some fresh coffee, and walked away from my computer. I watched a couple of TED talks. I chatted with my husband. I listened to the complaints of my cat, Opal, of which she had many. I checked in with my sister. Read a few articles about creativity and went outside to check the progress of my magnolia tree, which has just started to bud. I then sat back down to outline an episode about nothing.

That’s right – here I am right now, telling you that my solution for this sudden loss of inspiration IS the inspiration for this episode.

But really, what came to me during that brief break from my desk, was the awareness that we are all going to hit a creative wall out of the blue on a Monday and yet, we may not be able to say okay, I don’t want to be creative today, so I just won’t.

Creativity loves to tease us. But I don’t think it really dries up, necessarily. It feels like that – have you ever had a day when you just can’t tap into it no matter what? I think it’s important to talk about those days, because we all have them, and they can arrive at very inconvenient times.

If you ever watched the show Seinfeld, they famously called it a show about nothing. And that same kind of “nothing” is what most of our average days feel like. And obviously, they are NOT nothing. Life is such a gift, and those mundane, routine days are a gift, too. But they are routine, and we’re often going through the motions, doing the things that need to be done. We’re taking care of our responsibilities. We’re going to work. It’s not nothing, but it’s also not necessarily groundbreaking. The things that become routine and familiar start to all blend together.

So it is any wonder if we’re going through the motions of life and flipping switches and clicking buttons and ticking boxes – doing the people-y things we do, that we may fall out of step with our creative flow? And is it meant to always be with us? Or is it something we need to be mindful of and actively seek out in our lives?

If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I have to disconnect periodically to tap back into my own creative wellspring. I know this about myself. I can survive on fumes for quite a while, maybe longer than most, but when I hit that point where I am staring blankly at the screen and nothing is coming out, I know that’s a sign that I need to stop and take a break.

We can technically force an idea. Have you ever done that? You just need to come up with something, so you do. It’s not your best idea, and you know you could have done better, but at least it’s out there and you did it. Right? Tell me I’m not the only one who’s done that.

But I’m convinced that creative flow – where we really feel connected and inspired and excited about the ideas that we’re generating – I’m convinced that we have to be intentional about creating that. It’s not a given. There’s no guarantee that when we’re navigating our routines through the day that creativity will bestow itself upon us. We have to invite it. When is the last time you intentionally invited a creative experience into your life? And remember – creativity isn’t just sitting down with some paints or with a new project.

Creativity is a little bit like a car that we’re driving around. And when you’re running out of juice or you feel disconnected from it, you need to refuel. Refueling means – going for a walk and soaking up some fresh air and sunshine. It means stopping and quietly watching the birds out your window. It means making sure you’re drinking enough water. Clearing off your desk. Taking some good, deep, cleansing breaths. Watching an inspiring talk. Reading. Going to the library. Getting to be early.

It’s a process of filling back up, rather than always pouring out. Does that make sense? We expect creativity to come out of us, but if we’re not filling ourselves back up with the things that help us be healthy and rested and balanced, then what do we expect? We can’t draw from an empty well.

Which leads me back to nothing. Or rather, that feeling of creative nothingness when we need ideas and they’re just not available.

When you run into that, like we all do, check your fuel gauge. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and recharging your battery. More ideas will come when they’re ready – and you can usher them in sooner by refueling in the ways that you know help you be your best.

Inspiration won’t always cooperate exactly the way we need it to, and sometimes it might require a little nudge (or a shove), but I promise, it’ll come back. Do the best you can for yourself in the meantime, and before you know it, the next idea will strike.

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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