Creativity and Feeling Squeezed Empty

Squeezed

Sometimes it happens. No new ideas. You just feel flattened…. squeezed empty. No excitement around sitting down at your desk and seeing what’s waiting to pour out of your fingertips.

We’ve all felt that way. And will feel that way again. It’s hard to know when to try to create the space that will let the ideas flow. When to do the writer’s work that requires a different part of the brain. The rewriting. The PR. The Everything Else.

There is a fascinating new book out, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Johan Lehrer. He covers a lot of territory, including what conditions may help increase creativity. One aspect of the book that really fascinated me was the link between depression and creativity. “People who are successful creators — especially writers — ” said Lehrer in an interview on NPR, “are anywhere between 8 and 40 times more likely to suffer from bipolar depression than the general public.”

Wow. I’ve always known that creative people had brains wired differently — after all, I grew up in a family of photographers who mixed with painters, furniture makers, musicians, and an array of San Francisco bohemians. They were different. More exciting. More likely to be enthusiastic one day, down in the dumps another. But us writers… 8 to 40 times?

Could it be that when we feel flattened out, we just need to wait for our brains to cycle back to some mysterious sort of manic state? That it mostly depends on catching the rhythm of creativity that we are hard-wired for?

Here’s the NPR interview with Jonathan Lehrer.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Creativity and Feeling Squeezed Empty

  1. sharrywright

    Thanks for this post; I’ve been wondering the same thing about having those empty, flattened times in our writing lives. Lehrer’s talks have also been a big topic of conversation in my critique group, especially his findings on brainstorming and how the traditional method actually doenst work, how the most effectively creative method is the “shredding” method, or at least that’s what has proven most useful in creative pursuits at Pixar and Apple. But then why have we all had that experience of total shut down after a particularly brutal critique? The question we’ve been asking but not answering is how do we effectively apply these findings to our critique group methods? I’d love to hear other thoughts on this!

  2. maryquattlebaum

    Thanks, Betsy! Sometimes when I’m feeling like that flattened tube of toothpaste, it helps to know that others (many others!) go through those same fallow-fertile cycles of creativity. My big issue right now is fitting the writing around other professional and family responsibilities. Squeezing that five or ten minutes out of the day….

    Wishing you a tube full of cool ideas and the time to bring them into being!

  3. Tom Birdseye

    Hey, Betsy, where did you get that picture of my brain? I thought I had installed a phalanx of firewalls in my skull, and encrypted fourteen passwords that have to be entered in exact sequence in order to gain entrance. And yet here you are standing in my inner sanctum, taking very personal pics and spreading them all over the internet. It’s so depressing.

    Wait, no, that’s not depression, it’s a surge of creativity. Yay! My toothpaste tube overfloweth!

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