What to do when you’re overwhelmed

dark side of the moon creative block card, front side

This past month I’ve been both overwhelmed AND leading a workshop about overcoming blocks.

In creating and teaching the class, in the midst of a really difficult time, (deaths and etc. written about previously), one thing is clearer now than ever: I no longer suffer from creative blocks in the usual sense. I can always write, paint, create, teach…design, whatever it is…I’ve learned how to create on demand.

So I wanted to share with you a few simple things I’ve done to help me do creative work no matter what.

What overwhelms me is ….everything else besides my creative work. Email is at the top of the list, along with business admin stuff, housekeeping, keeping fresh vegetables in the house — and using them before they expire. That sort of thing. The workshop has given me a lot of insight into this…but I’ll save that for another post.

You want to know what to do…

When you feel unable to create

When you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or just downright depressed about getting to your creative work, the number one thing you need is a list.

It’s handy to have what I call a Dark Side of the Moon list – things you can do when you are overwhelmed and doubtful about your work.

Call it a Funk List (or other 4-letter word of choice) Stuck List, or Survival List…whatever works for you.

I learned how to make lists and refer to them in wilderness training school.

When you’re dehydrated or hypothermic, your brain can’t think, not even to access the obvious commands, like: drink water or die!

That’s where I got the idea to make lists for what do during creative overwhelm and despair.

When you’re in the midst of overwhelm, depression or despair, you can’t logically think yourself out. It’s even harder to take action.

If it were so simple, we wouldn’t get stuck in the first place.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have a list, even if the things on the list seem basic and obvious when you’re in your right mind.

Here’s a reminder card list I made…fourteen years ago:

dark side of the moon creative block card, front side

Here’s the list typed up:

Transcribe a poem into your sketchbook that is meaningful to you right now. See what images, colors, feelings come with it. Add collage bits from magazines, junk mail.

Digital camera: Take a photo of yourself right in the middle of this mood. Print it out. Now, be with this tender soul. Meet yourself where you are. Let the photo speak. Write down what she says. Practice not rejecting yourself. Bad moods are allowed. So are tears. It is important to document these moments in your own way.

Library: Wander the stacks and see what grabs you. You are not searching for something to feel better, but you are making yourself available to be found. Libraries hold deep mysteries – and lots of magazines. Something awaits you there.

Fan mail: Write a letter to an artist/writer whose work you admire. Tell them what you like about their work and how it inspires you. Now send it off! This is an act of generosity that opens our hearts wide.

Fan mail, part 2: Now write a fan letter to yourself. Find something you like about your own work, or your good intentions and put it in writing. It’s OK if your kind words to yourself only fill up a postcard. That’s good enough. Send it off.

Read: Chapter 10 of Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Éstes, Ph.D., or your current favorite book. Make notes. Write a book report of the soul. Share this book with a friend. Howl.

Practice watching the moon. Where is she now in her cycle? Where are you in yours?

Mantra: Everything is cyclic. This too, shall pass. Aahhh!

Make your own Dark Side of the Moon list. Keep it handy. Use as needed.

A note about these cards:

Back in 2002, I was invited to contribute a piece to an artist’s block deck. A bunch of artists each created a card with their an unblocking tip, and then we swapped, so we each got a complete deck.

These are the cards I made, twelve years ago. I just came upon them while looking up something for my workshop.

Yup. That’s a naked self-portrait of me in the card. Hey, I was doing the Digital Camera prompt.

Oh…and I started blogging twelve years ago, too. I’ve gone in fits and starts, and had my blog under several other names before just using my own name – so I updated the card image so it had this current blog address on it.

It turns out that blogging itself has been on my overwhelm list…even though I love sharing stuff with y’all.

Not being overwhelmed by blogging is something I’m asking for a breakthrough on…

Your turn to share:

What would you put on your Dark Side of the Moon list?

What are easy things you can do for your creative life whether or not you’re feeling inspired?

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by Lisa Sonora // share your thoughts... in the Comments { 7 }

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