My (Terribly Broken) Creativity Tap

This morning I sat down at my computer, endeavoring to finish Advent planning and not go week-by-week YET AGAIN this year. I opened the document for the Advent Candle Readings I’m writing and…

The cursor on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
The curser on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
All morning long!

Okay, fine. Worship Materials. We can do that. We do that all the time and have for over a decade, and I have already done most of the planning and the prayers just get adapted from the previous week for advent. We can do this!

Second verse, same as the first!

The cursor on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
The curser on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
All morning long!

Okay, fine. Maybe the coffee has not hit yet. I will not beat myself up about not getting anything done in the timeframe I would have liked and instead open a lengthy blog post draft to work on to prime the tap. I quickly wrote 1000 good words the other night and felt really passionate about the post. Not sure if it will ever publicly see the light of day, but it helps me work through some things I have mulled over and maybe by just writing the tap will open and I can get real work done after.

Fun fact: leaving half a sentence that starts “I do not want to make…” for the beginning of a new paragraph sitting at the bottom of the document with no notes about what the sentence should say and no clues from the previous paragraphs where you intended go with your next thought does not make it easy to resume a piece of writing.

Third verse, same as the first…

The cursor on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
The curser on the screen goes
*BLINK* *BLINK* *BLINK*
All morning long!

At that moment I started writing what you see before you. I had a strong emotion and a thought about something; combining those makes the fingers start pressing the buttons on the stupid RGB keyboard. This event, this place where I cannot, for the life of me, do anything useful but I can write this probably useless piece that I will post to the blog* because I have not posted in months despite paying for my piece of the internet with a real URL but that I actually kind of like and have done some live editing of, I realized somewhere my creativity tap broke. Broke terribly.

When my creativity tap pours, it pours hard. I can crank out a thousand words in an hour or two, I can plan a good and creative worship service in thirty minutes, I can work through questions and thoughts and philosophies I have wrestled with for days or weeks or even years and put the conclusions on paper in record speed.

When the tap pours, it pours with the greatest of pressures and fills many mugs. Thankfully I can usually edit the foamy beer filling those mugs into something drinkable and usable after the fact, no creativity tap needed.

In non-metaphorical terms, I usually just need to copyedit and maybe rearrange to match a “normal” thought process and not my crazy thought process. I get to a point where I do not need the creativity tap and can just work like a happy little worker bee to finish whatever I have started.

When the tap opens, it flows from me.

When the tap opens.

I have resided in this body for nearly thirty-six years. I have considered myself a writer for twenty. I have written sermons weekly for eleven and planned most of the worship services that went along with those sermons. I still, someday, hope to professionally write in some capacity.

But the creativity tap does not open for me without one of three motivators:

One, stress. My Stress/Productivity Curve rises very slowly and then quickly peaks late in the curve. When the stress cranks up, I can crank it out; when the stress does not, I slog through and usually do not finish until the stress cranks up. Terrible for editing, terrible for quality control, terrible for my mental health (and the mental health of my church admins, I have been told).

Two, place. This one could actually work in my favor expect for one thing: that place is outside. November in Iowa does not encourage outdoor office work. Worked great writing my paper in September, not so much now. Unfortunately, too, I have not found an outdoor place for doing work at church and offices without a ton of sunlight and without a big table for a desk I can move whenever I want discourage my creativity.

Three, emotion. This one wins almost universally. If I get a topic that triggers an emotional response in me, especially a strong emotional response but sometimes simple like “I just want productivity this morning!”, it opens the creativity tap and it just flows out of me.

I get inconsistent results with motivators one and two. I have looked at an empty page at 1 AM Sunday morning for a sermon I will preach at 10:30 that same morning. I sat at the table outside writing my paper and wrote 200 words in 4 hours on multiple occasions. Often, I need both stress and place to hit that point of creative flow to actually get work written.

But emotional motivation just opens the tap. In a weird way, emotion actually clears my thinking instead of clouding and biasing it. It opens me to make connections and see relationships I could not previously. It takes away the doubt and fears of imperfection and just lets me get something on the page — and again, that something usually ends up good.

If that emotional trigger gets tripped, the creativity tap opens.

John Green mentioned something in a video recently that just came to mind. He started talking about his current writing projects and said that he writes to think. In writing this thing that ended flowing out of me like an over-pressurized stout tap, I began to realize I do the same thing.

Actually, I realized it when I saw the video, but it came into focus writing this.

More than once I have found myself in an emotional state, every emotional trigger flipped and every nerve raw, while trying to go to sleep. This happened a lot on Saturday nights before Sunday mornings my last year in Fort Wayne, wanting so badly to just get a good night’s sleep and have the physical energy and “rested-ness” to do good enough a job that next morning that maybe some of the things that eventually lead to my resignation would start to undo themselves and I could find success there again.

That anxiety, stress, and emotion needed a place to go, and at 2 AM I have no physical way to relief an “emotional shitstorm.” More than once I opened Word Mobile, an absolute miserable experience for writing, and just started putting words on paper. More than once I would get a few hundred words of useable writing out of it, and almost always it would taper off the “emotional shitstorm” enough for me to go to sleep.

I write to think, I write to process, and somehow that has broken my creativity tap. For some reason I can now only write and crank out the words when I need to process or think through something.

Unless, again, I have the exact level of stress and/or the exact place needed to open the creativity tap without triggering intense emotion.

I started this out just wanting to vent and prime the tap for the productive work I need to do today, but now I find myself wondering if writing became my therapy, my place to deal with everything in a way that I could also share with the world if the opportunity to do so safely and well ever arose.

We all had and have no place to frankly share what so much of what clergy (and I assume healthcare workers, educators, and other helping professionals) experienced with the pandemic. So many of the spaces we thought we could share ended up unsafe or unwelcoming to “divisive topics” like the politics of an apolitical virus killing people. Writing with the hope of someday have a space to share what I experienced through those writings gave me the ability to write when I could not write anything else.

Writing is thinking to me, more than anything else. So, unless I have something to work out, the writing just does not come to me anymore (if it ever did in the first place).

My creative tap broke in terrible ways. Anyone else?

Peace,
– Robby

P.S.: “Emotional Shitstorm” is the technical term for when you are so emotionally overwhelmed that you cannot function in any meaningful way, the emotions are having an acute affect your physical being in that moment, and the only relief can come from something that acts as a trip or reset for it. Usually, people recommend physical exercise or patterned games without stories (Tetris comes to mind). And no, I did not come up with that; someone wise gave me that language.

* It always feels weird writing future tense when, by the time you read it, I will have already posted it by the nature of you reading it on said blog. Why this feels weird to me, and why I need to tell you it feels weird, I have no idea, but alas I needed to share my thoughts on the matter because of course I did.

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