Wake me when the retrograde is over

Wake me when the retrograde is over

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So Mercury is in retrograde right now. It’s a thing.

And it’s not alone out there. Mars, Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, they’re all in on it too. We’re talking five simultaneous, synchronised planets orbiting backwards around the sun. (Okay so technically they aren’t actually going backwards, but their proximity to the sun makes it look like they are. Or something. Astronomers call this an ‘apparent change’. That’s good enough for me and explains a lot about my life right now).

The whole creative process has gotten a little jammed around here and quite frankly, I’m blaming planets. Mildred the muse has walked out on me in disgust and is now cosied up at the bar with another writer. It’s not her fault. I’m not upholding my end of the bargain. All I want to do is curl up under the doona with a tub of Maggie Beer chocolate and salted caramel ice cream, and watch period costume dramas on repeat.

I think I’m in a state of rebellion.

Admittedly, something had to give. I’ve been absorbing information online fairly intensively for a few years now and somewhere in March I hit critical mass. I began to feel overwhelmed. I was going to bed with my brain on high beam, exhausted yet wired.

In fact for a while there, I wasn’t sure I could actually consume another piece of content (which is ironic as here I am creating more of it but that can’t be helped. I’m a writer. We’re a notoriously conflicted bunch).

Retreating inward is not exactly the answer either. I spend an awful lot of time in my head already. Possibly too much. (Yes okay definitely). I like to imagine that it’s a sanctuary of calm in there, all essential oils and bean bags and Himalayan-inspired music but in truth it’s just as noisy and chaotic in there right now as it is out here. It’s like the worst production office in the world, run by freaked out cats on fax machines and chattering monkeys photocopying their bums. No the less time I spend in there, the better.

We all go through periods like this. The ideas come out clunky. The words don’t come out at all. It just gets hard. It’s tempting to give up. And trust me, there have been many moments on the couch with Maggie Beer where I’ve contemplated doing just that.

But there are ways to smash through a creative block, retro planets or not. Inspiration and emotion are so closely aligned, it’s just a matter of getting back in touch with how you feel. And for me, these are the best ways to get there.

Books for the retrograde

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Read a book.
Forget trying to create anything for the moment. Take a break from yourself and rest that monkey mind. Put yourself in the assured hands of a master at their craft and get lost in a book (or watch a film, listen to music, look at some art). See how it’s really done. Be moved. Be elevated. Feel all the feels. Whatever mood you’re in, there’s a book to match it.

“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” — Franz Kafka. Intense and obsessed with death as ever, but Kafka is bang on.

But if that means watching a Pedro Almodovar movie marathon or revisiting the year of 1979 and listening only to music made in that year, then so be it. Whatever medium floats your boat, allow yourself to be swept away. I promise you will come back changed.

Write anything.
Taking a leaf from Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages in The Artist’s Way, it’s about forcing out whatever mental creative flotsam is jamming up the pipes. Just start writing anything and keep writing anything for 30 minutes. And I mean anything. What you had for breakfast, how crap video rental kiosks are, whether weet-bix is an acceptable dinner option for the kids.

Rest assured it will be crap and petty and banal beyond belief – until suddenly it isn’t and a magical kernel of something not half-bad suddenly appears on the page. As Julie Cameron herself says, “It turns out you can’t really write about nothing for three whole pages. The second page-and-a-half comes harder, but often contains paydirt.”

Move your body.
An early morning walk is saving my sanity at the moment. The mornings are fresh and crisp and at that hour the new day is plump with promise. I catch up on podcasts and drip feed my creatively-challenged brain instant mojo from the masters. Plus you’re exercising AND being productive all at the same time so you start your day off at just the right level of smug self-satisfaction. Even if the rest of the day deteriorates to couch dwelling and gourmet ice cream, just remember – you had that.

Get out.
Amongst the people that is. There is a temptation to become a total hermit and hide yourself away under a bush in times like this but the truth is, even as an introvert, plugging in to collective creative energy can be the best thing you can do. “Other creative people are a resource that needs to be exploited,” declared playwright and director Anthony Neilson. So get exploiting. Meet those lovely bloggers for lunch even if you haven’t posted on your blog lately (ahem). Get along to an event like those run by the School of Life,  General Assembly or Mama Creatives here in Sydney, a brilliant way to come out of your cave and meet like-minded creatives, many of whom will know exactly what kind of pain you’re going through. Soak it up like a sponge.

Feel it.
We all know laughing and crying are practically one and the same sometimes. They’re each a forceful release of energy and emotion, and nothing clears the creative synapses like a good old cathartic emotional purge. Our emotional state and our creative state have such a powerful direct connection to one another – unblock one and you usually unblock the other.

“No one is ever more him or herself than when they really laugh. Their defences are down. It’s very Zen-like, that moment. They are completely open, completely themselves when that message hits the brain and the laugh begins” said funnyman George Carlin and he knew what he was talking about. 

You know how good it feels. And there are people in your life who you know will help you get there. Use them (or if all else fails watch anything by Rhys Darby). Alternatively a good weeping session may be in order, again films are excellent for this. Trust me, whatever you need, it’s all about the release. Let it go.

The beautiful single certainty of life though is that nothing stays the same. And on the plus side, there’s technically only a handful of days left of this backward planetary action anyway. I’m feeling better already. Good luck comrades, see you on the other side.
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What are your tried and true methods for getting your creativity back on track? Are you feeling the Mercury in retrograde right now? I’d love to hear from you as always, so please leave a comment below.
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28 Comments

  • Reply Janet Stanton May 21, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    I have no doubt you will come out the other side brimming with creativity Emma. Maybe if you swapped the Maggi Beer for some crappy Home Brand ice cream you might find it easier to let that spoon go…. and get back in to it.
    Love your work. xx

    • Reply Emma May 23, 2016 at 10:38 am

      Ha you’re so right, I’m just setting myself up for failure with Maggie Beer in the house. Thanks Janet, here’s to breaking through xx

  • Reply Julie May 22, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Another fabulous post, Emma! It’s so important to talk about our challenges! We all have them (I’m exhausted this week myself!). In those phases, I try to get enough sleep and time to read.

    • Reply Emma May 23, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Thanks Julie, yes we all hit these bumpy bits don’t we? Sleep is crucial, if I’m not getting enough then all ideas seem to get stoppered up. Maybe it’s about getting in enough dream time too and letting the subconscious rule.

  • Reply Collette May 22, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    I really love your posts – even though you don’t post all that often, I always look forward to reading your stuff when it pings in my inbox. I do Morning Pages, I’ve added a little exercise to it which helps me. I write down three things that I am thankful for in the first or second paragraph and when life is a bit shit, it can make it less so. Sometimes it’s as simple as being thankful that my three year old slept all night, or that my older two are older so less demanding than the 3 year old. I agree, reading is the salve. You’ve posted so your on your way out of the hump. Can’t wait to see more of you – on the other side. : )

    • Reply Emma May 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Thank you so much Collette! I know, I am a terrible sporadic poster. Life and work gets in the way more than I like but I do love writing for this space. That’s a great idea writing down three things you’re grateful for, can really shift your mindset in an instant. I feel better just having posted, now to woo Mildred away from that other damn writer..

  • Reply Sandra May 24, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Em, I’ve been feeling the creative burnout, too. As a remedy, I tried taking time off. Only a day or weekend here and there, but I learned that it’s truly impossible to take time off because that would mean I was taking time off from being me … and I am always me, right? I might be able to momentarily distract myself with a long ladies lunch or taking Alex on a picnic, but the constant brewing and information churn is just that – constant. When I feel low on answers but full of questions, I’m trying a new thing where I ask the universe for some answers. And by golly she has some good ones. So happy to see you posting again. You have shown more than a spark of creativity. Mildred’s just sulking. She hasn’t deserted you at all x

    • Reply Emma May 25, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Haha oh San, we are so alike! I try to ‘take time off’ too and it just doesn’t work. My brain (well I gave a scarily accurate representation of that in the post!) just doesn’t understand the meaning of that phrase. So I’ve worked out I’m better off redirecting it down other paths even if just momentarily. The best advice I’ve had recently, is to simply ask yourself (or the Universe) in a quiet moment: What is the next best move? I’m putting that one to good use at the moment. Em x P.S. “Mildred’s just sulking” – love it!

  • Reply Elle Lynn May 25, 2016 at 8:31 am

    I love this Emma! For me, it’s more the ‘technology’ and ‘communications’ that fall to the way-side when Mercury Retrograde hits! I actually decided that this last one was going to be the last I suffer from this – and am going to set out on a creative retreat next time Mercury Retrograde comes around. With you posting this, I might have to re-think that plan, but am still keen to see how it goes taking a break from the ‘business of business’ and spending some time just enjoying creative flow (or not!). Elle x

    • Reply Emma May 25, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Oh Elle, I so hear you. ‘The business of business’ can be such a creative killer! And at other times, the two streams work so beautifully together. What a brilliant idea, to organise a creative retreat for the next retrograde. I am SO stealing this! Em x

  • Reply Liz May 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

    I knew there was something afoot with the universe…this week has been cray cray big time! Fab post Hun xx

    • Reply Emma May 25, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Luckily, the Universe is now righting itself so now I have no excuses 😉

  • Reply Soraya May 25, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Fantastic post! I think reading is a great way to calm the mind and help boost the creativity. I know too that reading is another way that has also helped improve my writing further. It’s given me that spark back!

    • Reply Emma May 25, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Thank you Soraya! Yes reading is my go-to as well, absolutely. I can get lost in a book like nothing else and reading someone else’s beautifully crafted words is the best way to kickstart my own compulsion to write. Em x

  • Reply Amanda May 25, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I’m dying at “It’s like the worst production office in the world, run by freaked out cats on fax machines and chattering monkeys photocopying their bum”

    ^^that is my head right now.

    I’ve had a bad week health wise and am going through a creative slump for sure – but I’ll try pick something off the list and ease back into it. Thanks for an entertaining & informative post x

    • Reply Emma May 25, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Damn monkeys.. For me, distraction is key. If I try and force something, I just get more jammed. Easing back in is the best way, especially if your health has taken a hit. Hope it helps, Em x

  • Reply Trinity May 25, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Emma! I’ve already told you how much I liked your post! I love the way you write! And I’m reading it in this particular time where I’ve been constantly asking myself “why can’t I have more time or free space in my mind to read more stuff on the internet or open all of the newsletters in my inbox (which by the way seem so interesting!). As you say, I take a deep breath and read a few pages of a novel or watch my favorite TV series to block the overwhelming flow of thoughts! Happy creativity hunting 🙂

    • Reply Emma May 26, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Thanks Trinity, yes I know that overwhelming flow of thoughts only too well! Being able to recognise it and have a quiet moment is so key isn’t it? It takes you out of your own head even if just for a little while, which for me is defintely a good thing 😉 Em x

  • Reply sammy May 25, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    I often find myself just looking at my computer in the hope it will just find what I’m looking for or wanting to say – I personally find listening to music and scrolling through instagram have become my past time to relax or getting my creative juices flowing.
    Great post xoxo

    • Reply Emma May 26, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Ha yes I’ve had more than a few staring competitions with my computer (it always wins dammit). Em x

  • Reply Jennifer Fletcher May 26, 2016 at 1:26 am

    Oh Em, that fickle Mildred is just trying to make you jealous so that you’ll sit up and take notice and do something to woo her back! This is another wonderful post from you. Honest and clear sighted about jammed creativity and the feelings of frustration and longing for it to release and flow free. Lots of good advice in there. I too like the ‘morning papers’ and the stream of conscious writing that always surprises. Meditating is good, suspending the chattering monkeys for a while (even if they happen to be photocopying extremely interesting bums) and for me, lately, has been the deliberate reaching out to and development of my contacts among other artists on line – seeing their amazingly diverse work, processes and unique viewpoints, many of them working in various parts of the world – is helping to remove my sense of isolation and stir the recalcitrant well of my own creativity. Some of the best advice I receive is to “just do”. Just turn up, show up and put in. Love your work Em!

    • Reply Emma May 28, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      I wish I could meditate, I am thoroughly hopeless at it – the monkey chatter just seem to go up a notch! A good long walk is the closest I can come to meditation; when my body is engaged and happy it seems to have an immediate calming effect on my mind. Great to hear you’re connecting with other artists and plugging into the collective creative energy that way, can be such a great pick me up, like a wonderfully restorative cup of tea. Em x

  • Reply Tamsin Young May 27, 2016 at 1:16 am

    You had me at read a book – what better way to get lost in another world!

    • Reply Emma May 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      I agree Tamsin! It’s my favourite way to get lost 😉

  • Reply Genevieve May 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Oh man, I’ve been going through a similar period over the last month (and getting into the Maggie Beer icecream too – for me, it’s burnt fig, honeycomb, and salted caramel, I love this one!). At first I thought I had social media fatigue, but then I realised that I’d just gone through some big changes (leaving my record label, finishing two diplomas, finishing my full-time day job, and launching my blog), and I’d been excited about all the creative work I was going to dive into once I began to get more free time. Once I had it though, it was like my brain just went “nope, sorry, I’m resting now”, and I tried to push through it and create, but nothing seemed to be working. Eventually I found that the best thing for it was to just stop and rest up for a couple of weeks. The weirdest thing was that it resulted in my getting back into reading more often, doing more yoga than usual, developing healthier habits, and emerging with much more clarity and creativity 🙂 ♡

    • Reply Emma May 28, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      Oh my goodness Genevieve, don’t get me started on the burnt fig ice cream!! Let’s face it, anything with salted caramel is a winner in my eyes but that one is particularly divine… ahem, where was I? Ah yes, I hit burn out on social media too and I’ve never wanted to just fill the blog or my instagram just for the sake of posting. I figure if it’s not resonating for me when I’m writing it, it’s sure as hell not going to resonate for anyone reading it. Sounds like you intuitively knew you needed to recharge after such a busy, creative time. Here’s to greater clarity and creativity! Em x By the way I love your blog (and the name too) 🙂

  • Reply Jessica Lorraine July 14, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Yes yes and yes! This was me a few weeks ago. Things in my head were getting out of control and even though the ideas were there, my creativity seemed to go out the window. It wasn’t until we had 2 weeks away in a country town where I could fully relax that it all seemed to fall into place and I have my ‘mojo’ back. All that time outside, no tv & limited internet access does wonders! Great post xx

  • Reply Katie M Little July 15, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Oooh I haven’t heard of either mama Crwatives or General Assembly, I’ll definitely check them out! Your internal brain workings sound very similar to mine! Busy!!!

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