Dominique T. Chlup is a tenured University Associate Professor turned Creativity & Writing Coach. She is President and Chief Creative Officer of Inspiring the Creative Within®, LLC. What she does best is take you from blocked to breakthrough, teaching you the art of stress-free creating to maximize your writing productivity. She has five degrees behind her name, including two from Harvard University. She is author of $6.7 million in funded grant projects and over 200 publications and presentations written one word at a time.
Here Dominique shares her writing strategies for moving from blocked to breakthrough through the art of stress-free creating.
TAA: At its core, writing is a creative endeavor, and, as you say, there is an art to stress-free creating. Can you explain the stages of the creative process as well as how to recognize the anxieties associated with each stage?
Dominique Chlup: “Writing is indeed a creative endeavor! And whether your creativity is like a wish or an inspired fire raging from within, there is a process to it. My favorite description of the stages of the creative process and their accompanying anxieties comes from psychotherapist Dr. Eric Maisel, one of my teachers and a pioneer in the field of creativity coaching.
Stage 1: Wishing (Hungry Mind Anxiety). In the wishing stage, a lot suddenly interests you. You find yourself hungry to create, but you aren’t exactly sure what yet. You can recognize this stage because it’s when you start a project with huge gusto one second and then abandon it the next. This, unfortunately, can lead to feeling apathetic, exhausted, inert, and depressed. You don’t know where to begin, and suddenly all you want to do is lie down and take a nap. Maisel reminds us too many people end their projects here (or never start them) because they mistake this moment for a tragic one. It’s not a tragedy; it’s hungry-mind anxiety.
Stage 2: Choosing (Confused Mind Anxiety). In the choosing stage, you already know what you want to work on, but due to confused mind anxiety, you keep rejecting the project. At this stage, you might have an idea that you fear will require too much research, so you reject it. Or you believe someone else will do it better than you. Or worse yet, you believe someone else already has done the work better than you, so you don’t choose to pursue the project. You can’t seem to get clear on exactly what it is that you want to choose to work on.
Stage 3: Starting (Weakened Mind Anxiety). Choosing to work on a project is one thing. Actually starting to work on it is another. Maisel describes how the starting stage can be accompanied by excessive amounts of brain fog, fatigue, emptiness, and negative inner self-talk. Referred to as weakened mind anxiety, it derails projects because it zaps the would-be creator not only of strength but self-esteem. Weakened writers often beat themselves up before ever really giving themselves the chance to start.
Stage 4: Working (Chaotic Mind Anxiety). When chaotic mind anxiety is present, the routine of discipline and organization and the day-to-day psychological and practical components of one’s project provoke an inability to focus and work consistently. This is the plodding of working day after day that many of us dread. I love how artist Virginia Cartwright describes overcoming chaotic mind anxiety, ‘I just say to myself: Just give it another hour. Just plod along, one foot in front of the other. And then six months later I see it’s a beautiful piece.’
Stage 5: Completing (Critical Mind Anxiety). Anyone with perfectionist tendencies recognizes critical mind anxiety. When critical mind anxiety is present, there is no such thing as good enough and the work never feels completed. By developing completion criteria, we can begin to dub our work complete and usher it into the world. To do this, develop a checklist of things that indicate the work is complete. The checklist might include statements like: ‘The work is done when I’ve run it through an editing software like prowritingaid.com,’ or ‘The work is complete when three peers read it and offer feedback.’
Stage 6: Showing (Shy and Attached Mind Anxiety). Ah, the shy and attached mind anxiety is why so many manuscripts sit as UFOs (Unfinished Objects) in desk drawers. If only our work was always guaranteed praise and approval as opposed to criticism and rejection, how much easier might it be to show our work? We fear showing our work to others who can ultimately reject it. How many of us don’t have at least one revise and resubmit manuscript that we’ve never shown again? That’s shy and attached mind anxiety at work.
If you have multiple projects, in multiple stages, it means you are dealing with multiple anxieties. The good news is the anxieties are a normal part of the creative process, and all of them can be managed effectively.”
TAA: What can a writer do to overcome creative blocks such as procrastination, self-doubt, and a chaotic mind?
DC: “I love this question because it’s all about getting us into our ‘write’ mind. Here are a few of my favorite techniques from the world of creativity coaching:
1) Write a letter to your creative block. My clients swear by this exercise. Write as you’d write a friend asking questions and patiently waiting for the responses, ‘Dear Self-Doubt, How are you?’ ‘What are you here to teach me?’ ‘Why am I so belligerently committed to my work these days?’
One of my clients recently sat down to write to ‘Productive Procrastination.’ When a client is working on something, just not the project he or she needs to be working on, I tell them that’s ‘productive procrastination’ at play. Some of the smartest and most talented writers I know productively procrastinate. Imagine her surprise when ‘Productive Procrastination’ insightfully wrote her back, ‘It’s not me you need to be writing. You need to be writing Fear of Failure.’ Bingo…that opened up the channel she needed to get back to the project she’d endlessly been putting off.
2) Set an intention for how you want to feel while you create. Another exercise I love comes from author and illustrator Jill Badonsky and that’s to choose a combination of words that describe how you want to feel when you create. Rather than allowing the creative blocks to dictate how you feel, you set your own intentions around your projects. Some of the phrases that my clients have developed for themselves include: ‘Flowing easily and effortless,’ ‘Extreme acceptance,’ ‘Magnificent outcomes,’ ‘Be willing.’ Then I have my clients go one step further and pick a talisman or some sort of visual representation for their intentions. This can be a photograph or object that they return their attention to each time they recognize a creative block is stymieing their progress.
3) Transform your to do list. I think many of us block because we live in a world of To Do’s. ‘I have to write. I have to publish. I have to…I have to…I have to.’ With this exercise, take all of the tasks associated with your project that you feel you ‘have to’ accomplish, and write them down with ‘I have to’ in front of the task.
For instance, ‘I have to write the purpose statement for my article.’ Now change the phrasing to ‘I get to…I get to write the purpose statement for my article.’ Next change it to ‘I want to…I want to write the purpose statement for my article.’ And finally, when you’re feeling really brave, change it to ‘I love to…I love to write the purpose statement for my article.’ It’s such a subtle but profound shift in your thinking from I have to write to I love to write. It also releases us from the judgment that comes from constantly feeling like ‘I have to,’ as if one is not measuring up to their life.”
TAA: What strategies can a writer use to develop their best writing ideas?
DC: “There are so many excellent strategies to help writers develop their best writing ideas. Here are four really transformative strategies for generating ideas:
1) Meditation: I have been an avid meditator for years, and I believe in the science that indicates we can rewire our brains using meditation techniques. This means you can train your brain to create new ideas for you. If you’d like more information on the power of meditation to help you generate ideas, I suggest Rick Hanson’s and neurologist Richard Mendius’ audiobook and CDs Meditations to Change Your Brain: Rewire Your Neural Pathways to Transform your Life.
2) Take a break: Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m engaged in activities that don’t require much mental taxation, for instance, when I’m taking a shower, going for a walk, driving in the car. It’s the notion that we are writing even when we aren’t writing. Novelist Will Self says if we don’t capture an idea within 3 minutes we’ll lose it forever. So capturing our ideas is as powerful as generating them. This is why I keep dry erase markers in my bathroom—they’re perfect for writing on mirrors, why I don’t go for a walk without my phone to capture my ideas using a digital note-taking app, and why I keep a small journal in my car’s cup holder. I remember when I was living in New York City, and I used to jog around the Central Park reservoir. I’d see the same gentleman going from park bench to park bench stopping to pull out a tiny notebook. I once asked him what he was doing, and his simple response has stayed with me for more than twenty years: ‘Writers write. I’m writing.’ Now that’s the kind of writer I want to be…the writing kind even when I’m taking a break.
3) Consult the academic phrasebank: If you’re ever stuck and absolutely don’t know what to say, I recommend consulting the Academic Phrasebank. This phrasebank provides academic writers with examples of thousands of phrases organized according to the main sections of a journal article or dissertation. It’s an excellent resource to guide writers.
4) Read, read, read: A few of my favorite books to help with idea generation include: Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs by Bryan W. Mattimore, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger von Oech, and Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko.
TAA: What are your favorite TAA benefits?
DC: “I love the newsletter, blog, the conference, the webinars and workshops, and perhaps, most importantly the people I get to interact with as a result of being a part of TAA. It’s one of my favorite professional organizations. So I will answer this question by telling you that one of my favorite benefits of TAA is an intangible benefit. It’s the benefit of encouragement. I think what TAA has done for so many of us is to provide us with continuous encouragement. And encouragement goes an incredibly long way in allowing us to self-actualize into the writers and human beings we are meant to be.”
Dominque Chlup offers TAA sponsored writing productivity workshops for institutions nationwide. For information on her workshops visit TAAonline.net/workshops.
Contact Dominique at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website, Inspiring the Creative Within, to download her free meditation, “Inspiring Creativity: A Guided Meditation to Prepare You for Your Writing Practice.”