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When Freedom Creates Paralysis, and Limitations Inspire Creativity

October 6, 2010
Ha ha just kidding

I want to start writing as a little daily ritual. I’ve had dozens of teachers encourage me to do this, and they’ve tried to make it “easier” by telling me “oh, just write anything, it doesn’t matter, you’re a creative person, just write at least three pages of whatever comes to your mind”.

And then I say, “GACK!” and can write NOTHING and get stuck.

It’s exactly like staring at a blank piece of paper with no still life, reference photos, model, or composition sketches planned out. “Just draw” never “just happens” with me. The only way I can do art is with a LOT of planning and intention and set-up. I am not a doodler. This weirds a lot of people out, because hey, aren’t all artists compulsive doodlers? Not this one, sorry.

One of the best art lessons I received was a mini-workshop taught by a marvellous woman who had spent years working as an art teacher in prison. Art classes for inmates. And she told us about the art these guys created and showed a few examples of things they’d made outside of her class. And here’s the thing: these guys had extreme limitations. They were not allowed any possessions, no supplies, they were not given unsupervised time, and if they were caught with this stuff, it would be confiscated. They unravelled their underwear (which wasn’t really theirs, it was property of the state, they could face severe punishment for destroying it) to pull out single threads to do embroidery and sewing projects with needles they carved from the cafeteria’s plastic forks using illicit shivs they had also made using other really creative methods. They shaved the coating off of smuggled-in M&Ms to get pigments for doing watercolor or an interesting delicate faux-enamel technique on plastic (stolen from the cafeteria, again). Incredible origami composite structural work out of hundreds of tiny illicit candy wrappers. All of it painstakingly done.

No freedom… incredible creativity.
Blank canvas, a room full of supplies… no ideas.

So what if I need… not more permission or more openness or more freedom to write, but more structure, more guidelines, more (gasp) rules?

Hell, it’s a theory as likely as anything else, and all the other things I’ve tried HAVEN’T worked. And if it sucks, I’ll stop doing it and try something else.

So I’m creating some structure. Rituals of writing. Liturgy of what to write and when.

Monday: notes on Shiva Nata. Or musing about my patterns. And things I’m letting go of.
Tuesday: letters to myself. Perhaps even dialogues with myself.
Wednesday: not sure yet. (Oh, haha, it’s Wednesday today, no wonder I’m dodging it.) Mad poetry? Storytelling? Something juicy and visceral and inspiring? Or how I’m applying Feri right now?
Thursday: cool things I’ve learned, stuff I want to teach, resources I want to share. Maybe some projectizing?
Friday: a review of the week, both the “ack” and the “awesome”. Also, love letters.
And the weekends are writing-optional, because I often travel or have crazy weekend events.

[Edited to add a very important exception: I reserve the right to not write on days when my husband has a day off work (yes, this is always italicised between September and March, aka the busy season of DOOM) and we have the opportunity to snuggle, work on the house, run errands, and nap. Days with him trump just about everything.]

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