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How to Stay Creatively Motivated

Alia Thabit Art is a lifeline we hold out to ourselves and to the world, a human expression driven,

perhaps, by a desire to communicate something beyond “food is over there.” As humans,

we are touched by our sojourn through this world, by beauty, ugliness, rage, grief, joy,

and a range of emotions and impressions—and by aesthetic appreciation for the myriad

things in the world.

There may grow in us a desire to express our feeling, to understand our experience,

to create something with an aesthetic quality—an impulse to sing, to dance to draw, to

write, to capture or free some fleeting image. Or just to put two things together, balance

one rock upon another, because it looks nice, or somehow satisfies something within us.

This is not just a cute thing humans do. It’s an essential feature. I’m not sure where it

would fall on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but it’s down there with food, sex, and safety. We

make art for our own enjoyment and satisfaction way before we do it to impress others.

Yet sometimes it’s so hard to even put one foot in front of another much less balance

two rocks. Or make a song, painting, poem, or dance. Who has time? We are so busy

trying to stay alive, to keep ourselves and our loved ones above water. We are

overwhelmed. We are nobody. We are so, so, tired... Or fractious, edgy, angry, bleak. So

many things all at once. So little available capacity for focus, flow, inspiration..

Maybe we go to dance class, or teach class, and thank goodness for the little respite

(or wonder why we bother). Or we may be all on our own, with no outlet at all.

So what can we do?

Sometimes there will be fallow periods. It’s okay to just recognize this and accept it.

I’ve spent long fallow periods, and I can tell you—they come and go. AND it helps, during

those times, to keep the spark alive, to believe times will change, and to care for our

creative selves in the meantime.

Here are some ideas that have worked for me. As the Queen of Resistance, I can

guarantee these are tried and true methods. I invite you to try one or some or all, and let

me know how it goes for you.

Fill the Well

Go look at pretty things. Online, recorded, or in person, go experience beautiful art,

nature, music, dance, theater, books, poetry, whatever. Place yourself in situations that

spark aesthetic appreciation. It nourishes the soul, and the brain.

Cross Train

Sometimes we may be bored with the art we have been doing. We can switch it up—

instead of dancing, we may draw pictures, or sing songs. We may be absolute beginners

at these modes of expression, and that is fine. The quality of the work is less important

than the act of making. There is plenty of research that shows this. The creative process,

as opposed to the product, is the locus of health and well being.

I know, doing something we’re think we’re bad at spikes our terror of making

mistakes, of being less than perfect all the time, but seriously—go for it. Finger paint if

you have to. Whatever it takes to set aside product quality concerns.

Show Up

We want to regularly make space for our Muse, so that when some little inspirational

spark finally lands, we are ready and able to nurture it. This is key. Yes, it means regular

practice. Ideally every day. Yeah, it’s hard, so be gentle with it. And maybe try a different

kind of practice. Consider practicing joyful exploration. Or maybe creative curiosity. Let

things happen during practice time; be open and available to what arises. We might be


It can help to create a tiny habit ( for movement. Use any anchor

activity—something you do every day. Make it “stupid easy,” something that only take 30

seconds to do. For example, “After I wash up in the morning, I put on dance music.” Just

put in earbuds and put on some music. Thirty seconds. That’s the extent of the


Once you’ve put on the music, it’s easy to dance one song. If you have time, and you

feel good about it, dance a couple more. Dance all out. Let go and see what happens.

Make it EASY.

Streamline your playflow. Have a playlist of fun dance songs ready on your phone (or

at least one fallback song). Have whatever toys you want to use handy. Earbuds, for

example. Dr. Jihad Racy told me, always leave your instrument out. Leave your music

stand set up and your music on it.

The easier it is to do our thing, the fewer obstacles and pre-tasks, the likelier it is that

we will do it. This is showing up. We’re there, available and enjoying ourselves. Hello,

Muse! I’m here!

I hear you wondering, how is this enough? Don’t we have to Work Hard and get

better at our craft? How is just having a good time going to do anything useful?

Well, this article supposes we’re having a hard time getting anything done at all, and

that we’re unhappy about it. So, something is better than nothing. And joy is waaayyy

better than suffering and feeling guilty and furious and hating on ourselves because of

our perceived failure. And still getting nothing done. Been there, done that, didn’t help.

So I’m suggesting a very different tack.

Lower the Bar

Lowering the artistic bar, allowing ourselves to explore and be curious, focusing on

process rather than product, is a great way to soften blocks and freeze. Flushing the

creative “pipes,” allowing whatever is stuck to get out, to be expressed in a safe

container, makes a huge difference in our expressive capacity.

We don’t always have to be pretty or perfect. We don’t always have to know what

we’re doing. We can take risks and let things happen. This is why we have practices

such as freewriting, and free improv, to clear the gunk out. To surprise ourselves. Our

bodies need baths, and so do our souls.

Perfectionism can be toxic. I’m just gonna say it. We are so angry with ourselves and

so hard on ourselves. We drive ourselves mercilessly. Sure, there is a place for that. I

suppose. Sometimes.

This is not that place.

It’s okay to like ourselves. It’s okay to be kind to ourselves. It’s okay to do things

because we enjoy them. We can be messy, and make mistakes. It’s the only way to

learn new skills. And it’s fun. Remember fun?

It’s not the quality of what we do that is important. It’s the doing. What’s important is

the act of making, of saying, expressing, something. Even something very, very tiny,

beginner-y, tentative, even crappy, done for our own enjoyment, to try something new.

Even to look at something beautiful, read a great novel, see a glorious film, does

something good for us.

“The more we immerse ourselves in arts and aesthetics, the happier and healthier we

become,” Those few minutes in the morning to dance, or draw, or

whatever, before any other things, can give us a spark of accomplishment, of creative

satisfaction, of legitimate wellbeing, all day long.

The idea is to enjoy what we do, and then congratulate ourselves for having done it.

Boom! We can do this with any creative activity. Pull out your notebook and pen. Pick up

your instrument. Sing one song. Hell, dance in place while singing nonsense syllables.

See if you don’t feel happier for the rest of the day.

Share the joy!

Accountability is a huge help in developing consistency. Get a friend to also practice

daily. Then text each other, saying, I danced! And write back, Woohoo! (or whatever you

each please). Or announce on Facebook (or wherever), that you are going to do this for,

say, a week. Or a month. Post links to your music every day, or a photo of your drawing,

or just that you did it. People will come to look forward to your posts and cheer you on.

They may be inspired to do some daily practice, too.

Or just put up a big a calendar page and mark off the days—with great satisfaction!

Make the mark a reward for having practiced. See your growing streak! If you miss a

day, oh well. Life happens. Come back the next day and keep going.

All of us have spent far too much time making ourselves do things we didn’t want to

do, even making what we do want a burden by casting it as a grim chore, something we

have to do. Who needs more obligations? When the world is going to hell, it’s ever more

important to have a few minutes a day for joy. The more pleasant we make our practice,

the more fun it is, the more likely we are to do it.

So put on some music, and see what your body might like to do. Lie on the floor and

roll around. Move very, very slowly. Breathe in time to the music. Focus on the

sensations of your body, the movement of your muscles, the air on your skin. Keep

breathing. Be curious. Or draw, sing, play, whatever.

It’s your life. It’s your art. It’s your moment.

Create it, defend it, enjoy it!

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I'm always delighted to hear what Alia has to say. She's so very intuitive and always relevant in all aspects of our art.

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