Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stimulating the Inner Artist

I write on my walls.
I close my eyes and allow my hands to spell out words at random. I do not think about their meaning or their order. I simply allow them to escape me.

I first read about a similar idea in Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. Julia calls this exercise the "Morning Pages." Every morning, she advises that you write three pages of longhand, pointless, stream of conscious material. For example:

"I've noticed lately that my dog's hair is starting to form these vicious little matted clumps. How I will brush those out, I never know. Looks like it's time to have the groomer shave him again. I hate the groomer. She looks upon me with the most pitiful eyes, as if I have no compassion for animals. Does she know I never wanted this dog in the first place? Does she know he was brought home without my consent? She wouldn't care even she she did . . ."

There is no right way to write these. No one is allowed to see them and she even suggests that you put them in an envelope so you can't leaf back through yourself. You might notice that this exercise yields all sorts of self-pitying, negative, repetitive or even bland thoughts. Perfect! The purpose here is to simply drain your brain of all the nonsense that stands between you and your creativity.

Another essential exercise in creativity that I have loved from this book is called the "Artist Date." This is a block of time (perhaps two hours a week or so) dedicated to nurturing your inner artist. Most of the time, this is an excursion of sorts where you open yourself up to insight and inpsiration from the environment of your choice. Your artist date might be a stroll through a local art gallery, a treasure hunt through a junk store, taking yourself to the matinée, or a quiet walk on the beach. No one is allowed to accompany you on your artist date. This is meant to be done alone. You may notice the urge to resist this, finding it too self indulgent or using the excuse that you don't have the time. You must defend your artist date from all others who might encroach upon it. Regarding the "Morning Pages" and the "Artist Date," Julia states:

"Think of this combination of tools in terms of a radio receiver and transmitter. It is a two-step, two-directional process: out and then in. Doing the morning pages, you are sending--notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving--opening yourself to insight, inspiration and guidance."

Something I have personally found very helpful in my creative process is shifting my body position when I feel blocked. I may be sitting on the couch for an hour and when I start to feel stuck, I lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling or I go sit in a corner and view the room from a different angle. This somehow stimulates my brain to think of new ways to write lyrics from a different angle as well. One of my mentors, Tony Litster, suggested once to try standing on my head.

I try it.

I fumble.

I start laughing.


My husband starts laughing while snapping shots of my fanny.


Next time, I think I will try it alone.

What do YOU do to stimulate creativity?

P.S. Quinn Curtis is featuring me today on her awesome blog, "Created by Chicks." Check it out!


  1. I love that Quinn featured you over on Created by Chicks today. Your story of triumphing over naysayers in high school is inspiring. And I love your tips above for stimulating creativity. Though I'm not a singer/songwriter/painter/poet I'm sure I can still use these ideas in my life.

  2. I feel a bit like an introducer... I was the one who GUSHED about your music to Quinn. And now she loves you, too (who wouldn't... unless of course you say something innocent about Taylor-you-know-who :)!!). When you do lunch with Quinn, I'd better be invited!!!

  3. When I want to write, a couple things I do NOT do (Tried it and it had the opposite effect) is to read old writing. It just depresses me. Sometimes a hot shower works, something about the cleansing (pun intended) nature of steam and running water with a pretty-scented body wash makes me feel fresh and creative and inspired.

    Enjoyed the pics! Next time? It is easier if you try it on a harder surface. Heh.

  4. This really cracked me up. But I have also learned in life, that some of the wisest things, are also, initially, the funniest. :)

  5. Sometimes when I write a song, I find my best ones are the songs where I have an in-my-head conversation with someone. Sometimes it’s based on a real conversation, sometimes it’s based on conversation I wish I had or could have had. It’s very therapeutic but sometimes depressing that I can’t express my feelings like that in person, but at least I can vent them into a song. For example I found an old journal once in a trash pile by a house I was working on for a job, and it was about twenty years old based on the entry dates. (It was by our trash tailor so I wasn’t praying into any body’s personal journal that they hadn’t meant to just throw away). It has several entries written by a 13 year old girl and I wondered what she would be like today years later; how her concerns might have changes. I have been playing with a song with that idea in mind for a while. Anyway I might have to try standing on my head, that might get some blood flowing.:)

  6. You are one crazy girl.

    I go for a run. That always does it.

  7. Thank you for your great comments and cool ideas everyone!

    Mandi, if I ever go to lunch with Quinn, you are so invited. And you are never an intruder here.

    Megan, you are right. Running is the cure for so many things.

  8. I find that in order to be creative and artistic I need to be in a continual state of learning. So, if I feel stuck, I like to try something new and dedicate myself to 'mastering' that as quick as I can. I think the idea is similar to that handstand or changing positions. Yours is a quicker fix. I find that when I focus so intently on learning 'whatever' it is then I gain a few things 1) it allows my right and left brain to work to exhaustion in tandem releasing the tension and putting me in an altogether more 'free' mindset 2) I'm lucky in the sense that if I try something I'm well-rounded enough to be successful so I get a boost of self-confidence and 3) as an actress, it just gives me another skill set and a different experience to pull from.

    Right now I'm trying to write two different pieces, one a skit and another an actual big production and frankly, I've been mindblocked about them both. Maybe the answer IS a shorter diversion...something simple like a handstand or writing underneath the dining room table or making a tent out of sheets.

    I def need to get that book...although I much prefer hearing your tried and true methods that you have gleaned from them...because inevitably the ideas won't all work for me. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Mandy & Mindy, we NEED to do lunch together! That would be so fabulous! I now feel like such a slacker that I failed to mention in my blog feature about you that it was MANDY who introduced your music to me!! Mandy, I'm sooo sorry - you deserve all the credit, my dear!

    And Mindy, I LOVE this post! Seriously, you are always inspiring me. I love the pics of you trying to stand on your head! Awesome. I need to nurture my inner-artist more with ideas like you suggested here. Negativity really does squash creativity, so I try to keep negative influences out of my sphere to allow my creativity to blossom.