I’m sitting down at my computer after the longest fallow period of my entire professional life. I haven’t written much of anything since I stopped working on my second book in October of 2020. In that time, I found myself not just completely blank creatively, but with a mind filled with incredibly loud noise. The noise became so intense that, for the first time ever, I was unable to access the source of everything that allows me to write.

I commented on a tweet recently where people were arguing over the merits of “struggle” as a necessary spark for the arising of creativity. I will agree that struggle has informed my writing and has also impacted my ability to think about the world in a multidimensional way. But in my response to that tweet, I argued that struggle more often kills creativity. This is because our minds cannot access creative power when they’re filled with worry, strife, depression, anger, frustration, or fears about basic safety.

Creativity is born from spaciousness.

I admittedly was still a sputtering creative during some of the toughest periods of my life, but I also spent a lot of that time producing underwhelming material or unable to write much at all. I regularly wondered why I could not consistently find any inspiration or flow, or why I had so many fits and starts, or why it took me five tries to finally complete a book that was good enough to have published (and also why it took me five long years to complete that single book). I recognized that my own self-doubt played a huge role in this struggle, but I didn’t really understand the rest of the problem.

As I return to my writing and to other creative means in the second half of my life, I plan to approach my work differently because I feel like I’ve finally found the key to ongoing creativity. It is, as I mentioned, born from spaciousness. That’s it. It’s about decreasing the noise in your head and creating some white space so that you can fully get out of your own way.

I think the act of being creative is not something we do with our minds anyway. Creativity is something that flows through us from another source – when there is enough space available for it to rush in, that is. Then we take it and run with it with the tools available in our minds, and it emerges as artistic expression or a creative solution to a problem or some other tangible output. In other words, our mind simply uses the creative force in the best way it knows how.

So we need to not only keep the space open for creativity to come, but we need to also free the mind to focus on the creative inspiration once it does.

I’ve noticed that when I sit down to write – more specifically, when I am successful at it – my mind quickly switches to an “off” position while I work. It’s a strange occurrence because it seems like you need your mind to do whatever you are doing, but in actuality the mind operates on autopilot for a while. It knows what to do either because you were born with the ability or have taught it those skills over many years, and so it just does it. It uses the creative inspiration it downloads and molds it into something else, all without too much conscious work on your part. This is what so many artists refer to as “flow,” where you lose a sense of time and also of yourself.

I’ve learned to recognize this partnership over the years and have found some important strategies for staying with it. The most crucial one is to work in a place where I won’t be interrupted by anyone or anything, whether it be a person walking in or a ding on my phone or an email notification flying in from the side of my screen. Because the moment my mind switches back to “on” and the noise begins again, the magic is broken. The entire mechanism breaks down and I can no longer find the right words to say.

As far as the daily noise in your head, managing it can take time and determination. All of the following had shut off my creativity completely for almost a year and a half:

  • Financial stress from unemployment.
  • Pandemic stress.
  • Lack of purpose.
  • Disappointment about certain aspects of my life.
  • Worries about my health.
  • Fears about my mobility.
  • Stress related to where I live.
  • The war in Ukraine.

All of this noise is still here, but the difference is I’ve been able to soften it by deciding to just accept of all of these things as part of my reality. Sometimes it takes getting to the cusp of mental insanity before you can do this, which is what happened to me. I’d grown so tired of trying to figure out my life (and my living situation and my job situation and everything else), that my brain sort of gave up. It had been turning these things over for months on end and finding no solution, and had finally reached a level of noise that felt like insanity between my ears. So I threw up my hands one day and said, “Enough! I just can’t think about this anymore, and I won’t. It’s making me absolutely crazy.”

The spaciousness crept back in almost immediately, painting a white opaqueness over the incessant black scribbles in my mind. My desire to write and to create resurfaced, and I even went to a craft store to pick up some art supplies. I plan to try painting for the first time since watching Bob Ross on TV in the 80s, and maybe I’ll finally restart work on my next book.

So for anyone striving to be creative and feeling like you can’t find it (or have lost it), I would say to be gentle with yourself and first work on the noise in your head. You may find some creativity arising even if you can just turn the volume down a bit. Then secondly, practice doing your creative work in a space where your mind can focus intently – without interruption – on whatever it is that you’re doing. Your creativity is not gone, nor has it dimmed. It’s just been pushed to the background while it waits for some space to open up.

And remember that self-criticism is mental noise too. It will produce a creative dam that’s worse than any other type, and can be so strong that it blocks your work for a lifetime. So don’t forget to work on that noise as well.


To leave a comment or share this post, scroll down.

My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, was released on August 18, 2020 by Warren Publishing and was re-released on February 16, 2021 by White Ocean Press. To read an excerpt, check out reviews, see the author Q&A, or find links to buy, click the Learn More button.

Learn More

Get new blog posts via email:

This button will take you to the signup page for my personal work. It is intended for those who are primarily interested in my blog, books, and poems. To receive writing tips via email, please go to the Contact page and scroll to the bottom.

Privacy Preference Center