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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Getting Unstuck: pure craft

Some days, the creativity just isn't there even though you're a creative person. Exhaustion, stress, and illness are creativity robbers, and odds are you've either encountered them or will encounter them at some point in the future.

Note that this isn't writers block. What I'm talking about is putting your bucket down into the creativity well and hearing it rattle its way back up with a hollow thunking sound, as opposed to going out to the well and finding it boarded over. Writers block means you know the creativity is there and you just can't get to it. Stress, exhaustion, and illness are creativity thieves.

I've mentioned before that after my daughter's death, I couldn't write fiction for two years. Even after that, it took another four years to write a short story about anencephaly and another six months before a story touched the emotions of infant loss.

But during that time, I was still creating. I wrote non-fiction. I journaled. And the next time I had to deal with a hard grief, I learned to knit. I started by crocheting scarves (a friend gave me a ridiculously simple pattern) and I moved on to knitting different scarves, then knitting hats. I knit baby blankets. Everything I knit got donated, and I just buried myself in yarn and hooks and needles, stitch in and stitch out, knit, purl, yarnover, k2tog, bind off, cast on the next one.

Why could I knit up miles of yarn when I couldn't write a word?

Ivy Reisner in her KnitSpirit podcast says that to some extent knitting (and by that same metric, crocheting) is "pure craft." If you've got a skein of yarn and a crochet hook, you can mechanically create stitch after stitch without having to think about what you're doing. With writing, you're drawing from the well of your own creativity, and that takes energy. When stress, illness or exhaustion have already laid claim to every bit of energy you possess and put a lein on your next several months' worth, it's just not there for the stories.

Before anyone howls at me, absolutely knitting, crocheting, tatting, nalbinding and cross-stitch can be super-creative. But you can dial it back to just the physical motions, whereas you can't turn novel-writing into just typing as if you're taking dictation.

That's why I recommend a writer have some kind of creative outlet that can to some extent exist as pure craft. Cooking, for example, gives you the satisfaction of creation without draining your emotional resources. (Plus, then you get to eat, which may be an issue for someone in grief.) Even coloring in a coloring book can give you that boost of having produced something as an active participant, rather than just crushing candy or settling deeper and deeper into your couch reading endless Facebook posts.

 If you find you're stuck because of issues in the rest of your life, be gentle on yourself. Don't keep sending that bucket into the well and getting more discouraged when it comes up with dust in the bottom. Instead find a way to nurture your creative side without draining it further.

Take it slow, and when the stress ebbs, you'll find your writing urge returns. Plus, you may have several pairs of cozy socks and a few new recipes, and that's always good.


Brenda Jean Hyde said...

Thank you for this wonderful blog post. I was surprised when I saw it in my inbox because I'd just blogged about this very thing. After reading your post I realized that perhaps I was being hard on myself. I don't knit, but I do garden, so I'm going to use that as my "pure craft".

Thanks again!

Laura Maisano said...

This is an amazing blog post. Thank you for sharing!