Blogpic, Pixabay, screwed up paper, blank notepad

I remember being about eight or nine years old and dreaming of being a writer and a poet. I'd create these poems and submit them to the children's section of our local paper. My mom would tell me that I would have notebooks upon notebooks filled with poems, short stories, and ideas for novels. Thinking back, I think I can even recall where in my room I kept all these notebooks. My parents would keep the clippings of written work that would be published in the ‘kids’ section, which I assure you were not particularly brilliant, but they were all unfettered and unbound creative work. Looking back now, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of my childhood self, thinking about how easily all the words and ideas flowed out from my mind onto the very many pages.

And now, here I sit struggling with blank-page syndrome. I think I have been for a couple of weeks now. I loathe this feeling, but also slowly realising that I’m not the only HDR student to have experienced this in their candidature. This has been the topic of many shared afternoon teas in the HDR kitchen. Apart from a blank page being incredibly daunting, I think I clutter my mind with too much ‘noise’ that it restricts the creative juices from flowing.

What ‘noise’? Just all the unhelpful chatter in the mind such as:

  • Pressure about how impressive the first sentence ought to be;
  • Thoughts about how I need this piece to be much better than the last;
  • Pressure about making this THE best blog post ever/best journal article ever/best thesis ever;
  • Worrying about whether my ideas are too silly;
  • Worrying whether or not I am sounding smart ‘enough’;
  • Thoughts about what particular groups of friends would think;
  • Thoughts about what family would think;
  • Thoughts about what your supervisors/lecturers/managers might think; and
  • Thoughts about what stranger would think (you get the picture)

There are many other negative chatter thoughts that come through my mind just when I’m about to start writing. Add to this distractions from email notifications, social media, etcetera, as well as other random thoughts.

For me in particular, apart from the negative chatter, I think I have also tried to jam-pack way too much on my mind. If I’m truly honest, lately there hasn’t been much carved out time for creativity, because I have been consuming too much - consuming news, podcasts, journal articles, LinkedIn posts, #AcademicTwitter posts, and so on. With all this consuming, no wonder I haven’t had space to stretch my mind and come back to creating. There are too many other voices in my head. 

It’s time to turn the volume up on my own voice and start creating again. So the first thing that really helped was to turn the dial down on all the things I’ve been consuming. I’m only going to check the news once during the day and I am going to take a break from podcasts, at least until I finish this chapter for my thesis. If I need to take a brain break, I will read a physical book, and not a journal article I’ve saved in Endnote. I’ll write unfettered in the early mornings and edit ruthlessly in the afternoon. I will try my absolute best NOT to multitask. I’m going to enjoy writing again - it is actually really what I love to do. Sometimes saying a mantra at the moments I am having unhelpful chatter in my mind helps and focusses me back on the creative work before me.

Sadly, my memories of creating end around age eight or nine. In fact, I don’t have a single creativity memory after about fifth grade. That was the same time that we moved from our tiny house in the Garden District to a big house in a sprawling Houston suburb.Brene Brown

Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison. *This is part of a blog series from my reflections during Mental Health Awareness Month and integrating the guideposts from Brene Brown’s book, the Gifts of Imperfections in my HDR experience.

Tagged in What messes with your head, mental health awareness, mental health, phd