Does your typical day involve mouse-clicks, coffee sips, and about five zillion screens? Do you march through your weekday routine on autopilot, checking off the internal to-do list like a robot? It wasn’t always this way, you know.
There were those of us that cartwheeled through childhood, our imaginations limited only by the hours in the day. There were the elaborately staged backyard productions, poems written in sidewalk chalk, and impromptu masterpieces painted on refrigerator boxes. The possibilities around us were intoxicating.
But at some point during the transition from Crayolas to MacBooks we tucked our creativity into it’s snug little bed for a very, very long nap. And the longer she slept, the more distant of a memory she became.
Did she die?, we wonder sadly. And then suddenly, our insides hint at her survival.
Perhaps it happens when you’re buying school supplies for your son. “Buy me some fucking supplies,” she hollers while pounding her fists on your chest.
Or maybe it’s when your colleague is waxing on about his self-published sci-fi novel in the break room that you hear her say, “If dip-shit Devon can write a novel, then you certainly can!”
Bottom line — your inner-creative is not dead. She is, in fact, highly revive-able. And the benefits of following the steps below will reach far beyond the confines of your cubicle. Reuniting with your creative spirit will send a welcomed shock-wave through the parts of you that completely suck.
I’m not just blowing smoke here. I’m walking the walk. After stifling my own creative screams for nearly a decade, I’ve opened the floodgates. And in turn, life has opened back up to me. The possibilities are intoxicating.
Have A Chat with Your Second-Grade Self
Sit down at your desk with a pencil and paper. Not a laptop or a smartphone. I’m talking old school. Write her a letter. Tell her what you miss. Reflect on the moments that were brightest for you. Let her know you remember what she wanted to be when she grew up. Warn her about possible missteps.
If approached gently and vulnerably, you will leave this process with a really strong sense of her wants and needs. End the letter with a promise of what you can give back to her.
Find An Entourage
Review your current list of supporting characters. If your posse is void of creative types (writers, artists, musicians, dancers, craftsman, bookworms, and general weirdos) it’s time to “date” around. You know your niche and you know how to use the internet. Start searching.
Whether it’s a Meetup, a catalog for continuing ed, or a commitment to frequenting haunts that attract like-minded talents, you have to take the plunge. After years off the right-brained bandwagon, I found this step quite terrifying. But guess what? I found my entourage.
Crown Your Creative Outlet a Habit
If you can commit to clipping your nails every Sunday and cooking tacos every Tuesday, why not view your creative time in equally non-negotiable terms? Habit formation is all about repetition. It’s about creating anchors.
Ain’t nobody gonna mess with me between 6 and 7 a.m. That’s when I journal, dammit. That’s my sacred time. I’ve anchored myself to that routine by creating a quiet writing space, finding the pen and the notebook, and documenting my daily commitment on a goal-tracking app. My year plus “streak” is my digital gold.
Once you provide your inner-creative with a bit of leeway, she won’t shut up. Everyday demands will tempt you to sedate her. And at times, it will seem easier to snuff out her nagging than to nurture her wholeheartedly. This is why you need reinforcements.
Call in your entourage. Message your life coach. Pull out your oil paints or new guitar strings or favorite book. It’s not the second grader in your belly that’s crapping out. It’s you. She’s ready. She’s jazzed. She is always desperate to play.
But momentum is not without its obstacles. So now, as you sharpen your trusty #2s, whenever you feel that initial oh-my-god-I’m-totally-gonna-write-every-day-this-year enthusiasm shape-shifting into dread and resentment — try some prompts.
I originally designed these for the writing communities on Coach.me and they have now been test-driven by hundreds of users. We all need a creative kick-start at times, and a prompt is nothing more than an oil can for your your rusty Tin Man days.
Without further ado, here are fifteen of my most popular writing prompts from the past year:
- Write a letter to your eight-year-old self. Knowing what you now know about life, what advice can you offer? What warnings can you issue?
- Jot down three things you don’t like about yourself. Possible examples range from your hairstyle to your workaholism to your anger management issues. Now choose one of them and write it a break-up letter.
- You are permitted to commit one crime with absolutely no consequences. What would you do and why?
- You wake up one morning to discover that you have lost your favorite of the five major senses. Which one is gone? How does it change your life?
- You find yourself in a packed auditorium. You look down at the program and see that you are the keynote speaker. What is the subject? What do you say? How does the audience respond?
- You are suddenly sitting in the back row of your own memorial service, listening to the eulogy being delivered. What is being said?
- Select one of your pets (past or present). Today, that pet woke up with the ability to speak in your native tongue. Write out a detailed dialogue between you and your companion.
- You walk into an art gallery and find a series of paintings that illustrate your life. The final painting stops you in your tracks, because it represents what you consider to be the biggest turning point in your life, thus far. Describe the painting in detail.
- You find yourself in a boxing ring with your greatest fear. Describe the scene and detail your plan of attacks.
- You are rapidly sinking into a pit of quicksand. A booming voice informs you that the only way to survive is to issue a heartfelt apology for something you did in the past. Write your apology. And HURRY!
- You are meeting with the architect and contractor to finalize the plans for your dream home. They ask you to describe how it looks from the moment you approach the front door. Detail your description here and then reflect on which of the elements (if any) are embodied by your current residence.
- You are on a five-mile run and discover a large photograph at each mile-marker. You immediately realize that the photos are portraits of important people from your past. As you continue to run, you shout a statement of thanks to each person, highlighting how they’ve impacted you. Write these expressions of gratitude and describe how you feel as you cross the finish line.
- Describe your childhood bedroom. Include smells, colors, and textures as you detail the space. How, if at all, does it reflect who you are today?
- Write a heartfelt love letter that you will never send.
- Create a contract with yourself that details your future commitment to writing. Include reminders of what you gain from the process as well as ways to maintain momentum when roadblocks emerge. Sign it. Date it. Keep it in your journal where you will (hopefully) see it every day.
Jen Anderson is currently taking a break from her therapist gig to focus on writing, coaching, motherhood, and her self-proclaimed Jendependence Movement. Hire Jen or one of her awesome colleagues at Coach.me today.
This essay originally appeared in Better Human for Medium.