Stress Hampers Creativity

You’ve no doubt been told stress is bad for the body. It can cause everything from simple headaches to heart attacks to gingivitis.

It’s also bad for the mind.

Maybe that seems obvious. After all, stress is a mental thing. It may be caused by external stimuli, but the pressure is exerted in the brain. People under stress experience — whether they realize it or not — diminished cognitive function.

And that’s a bad thing for artists. Art, regardless of medium comes from inside. It’s expressed physically — whether by words, paints, performance, etc. — but it germinates in the mind.

The author imagines the story. The painter sees the picture in his or her mind’s eye before transferring it to canvas. The dancer hears the music, internalizes it, and then expresses it physically.

The brain has to be working for that function. When it becomes over-worried, the doors into the artistic soul — that special place inside all artists have but don’t truly understand — closes. No matter how you try, you just can’t get back in.

Making art requires peace, quiescence, relaxation.

A couple weeks ago, I was recalled to Kansas on an emergency. I brought my computer with me. I often find having work as a distraction is helpful from the stress of the situation, and there is usually a lot of downtime where you sit around with nothing to do.

So I figured I’d work on the new novel in the hours I had to sit around and wait for something to happen. I opened the computer, cracked my knuckles, and prepared to lose myself in the world of The Usurpers Saga.

Nothing happened.

I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think where to begin. I had notes to guide me, but I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to happen next. Hell, I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to happen first. I couldn’t keep track of what was happening in the chapter I was supposed to be writing. For that matter, I wasn’t sure what was supposed to be happening  in the whole novel!

I very rarely get writer’s block. I don’t believe in it. Writer’s block is defeated by writing your way through it.

But I couldn’t come up with the first word to type. I was like Billy Crystal in Throw Momma from the Train. I knew the night was sultry, but I didn’t know that was the word I needed.

The maddening part of the stress I’ve been under is that I’m really excited about this book. I look forward to writing it, to telling this particular story and exploring the themes in it.

But stress.

Stress keeps me away from the computer. Stress keeps me from writing when I’m at the computer.

It’s bad for the mind. It’s bad for the artistic soul.

I’m working on reducing my stress levels. I’ve managed to eliminate a couple of the stressors in my life. I’m planning to write again today. Because the only way to defeat writer’s block is to write through it.

But stress. It’s my number-one enemy right now.


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