By LaVonne James
I was in a creative rut. I was dull. I had lost my creative edge which had always been one of my superpowers as a writer and entrepreneura. To overcome this rut, I had to find out what was robbing me of my creativity. Then, I had to crush it. The process was not easy because I had to do that hard thing, which is self-reflection. I had to spend time in the dark.
Within a couple of years, I was the founder of a new business, and I breathed new life into a film festival I had run for a number of years. Like a Greek tragic hero, my fall into a creative abyss had little to do with external forces. The only way out was to look deep within. That’s what I did and so can you. The next time you’re in a creative rut, you might need to rid yourself of an often-overlooked creativity killer that robs victims of inspiration and innovation.
Nyctophobia is an extreme fear of darkness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being in the dark. Just don’t stay there. That time of uncertainty — where you can’t see your way through — is the first phase of the creative process, but it’s just one phase. It won’t last forever. I’ve never liked being in the dark. But, creating actually starts in the dark. We birth things: businesses, babies, ideas and designs all from the shadows of uncertainty. Even the universe was a big, dark mess before it became magnificent. What I failed to fully grasp is that while I was in the dark, that’s exactly where I was supposed to be. The reason I felt so uncomfortable was that I hadn’t thought of creating as a process. I wanted to immediately know how, if and when it would all work out. I was trying to circumvent the universal creative process, and when I couldn’t, I got so frustrated, I couldn’t create anything. There is no getting around it. Just like we are birthed from our mother’s dark womb into the light of the world, our creative breakthrough begins in a dark place and will be birthed into illumination. Maybe, you can’t see clearly yet, but if you let the process take its course, you surely will.
Psychologists Anna Steidel and Lioba Werth report in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that the darker a room, the more creative we are. The researchers assert that dim lighting creates a visual message that nudges our minds into a more exploratory mode. We want to “sleep on it” for a reason. Sara Mednick, a sleep researcher, conducted a study that reveals deep sleep directly enhances creative processing.
Trust the darkness
Have faith in the darkness. It won’t let you down. The darkness is actually there for you to grow. Picture a seed that gets planted into the dark Earth. It stays underground for a while until it breaks through the ground. But it has to be in the ground, under cover of darkness, to begin the maturation process.
Perhaps the seed struggles to germinate, or is harassed by underground critters, or is in danger of drowning by a recent flood. Whatever the case, the seed has to endure while it is formed into its purpose. Similarly, for your ideas to grow into creations, first they need a covering under which to become. During this time, you’ll be attacked by self-doubt, anxiousness, and even other people who don’t understand your developing vision, but forge ahead. You’re worth it.
Darkness is not your enemy
You’ve got to think of this dark time as the friend you call when you get that bright idea that’s going to change the world. You call this person first because you trust him or her with your vision. Trust your new shadowy pal too because without her there is nothing from your vision to emerge. See the dark as your best friend who pops up at your house and says, “let’s go,” without telling you where you’re going. If you trust your friend, you hop into the car without hesitation and expect an exciting road trip. You might not know where you’re going or how you’ll get there, but you know in the end, you’re going to have a great story to tell. If you can get through the dark phase and let the creative process take its course, it too will take you on a fantastic adventure with a jaw-dropping end.
Don’t dwell on the past
I’m naturally introspective. When I was in my self-imposed creative doghouse, I contemplated past failures so much that I needed an introspection intervention. I kept remembering all of the times I came up just short in my creative endeavors. I suffered from creative paralysis bought on by my constant thoughts of past failures. We are most susceptible to this kind of unhealthy brooding during the dark phase of the creative process because our ideas are germinating and we are in a very contemplative state. We must be in order for our ideas to formulate. Be careful during this time to use your mental energy to construct your future, to focus on what will be and not what was. I am not suggesting that you don’t take inventory of your mistakes, but don’t let your past failures have power over you in the present. Just because you’re in the dark doesn’t mean that you have to be dismal. It’s important to train yourself to be especially positive in the dark because this builds the character it takes to sustain your vision once it’s been propelled into the light.
So, don’t be afraid of the dark. It is within blinding shadow that your bestseller emerges, your successful business is founded, your designs are generated, that innovative widget is created, the notes dancing around in your head become a song and your creative genius is birthed.
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