What Creative Recovery Looks Like

You know the scenario. A writing project you care about gets derailed by family drama, work woes, a relapse of depression, a rough election, or some other configuration of challenges that life throws at you.

And suddenly you lose your connection with your project. You’re not working, and you feel shame for not working, and the shame of not working makes it harder to work. How do you get back in?

As you might have guessed, I am speaking from experience. Each creative recovery looks different, and it often will involve some recovery/care in other areas of life (mental health, relationships, y’all know…). But you will also need to find concrete ways to restart the creative work. Here’s what that has looked like for me this time: Visual tracker of writing goals.

What is this, you ask? It is a visual tracker of my effort (beginning 11/16) to overcome creative paralysis. My strategy has been to set a very small, easily achievable daily goal. My specific goal came from a writer friend (thank you, Alisa Alering!): write 100 words in scene for the new novel each day. This is a goal so modest that it could be completed in fifteen minutes, and that’s the beauty of it. Even in my mad and maddening life configuration, I can find fifteen minutes to keep this promise to myself.

When I succeeded for two months, I bumped the goal up to (gasp) 125 words. You might wonder, why not shoot for a higher word count now that I’ve been doing so well?

Creative recovery is a delicate thing. It can collapse under the pressure of overly weighty expectations. The goal is faithfulness. The goal is gentleness. The goal is to keep the promise and build momentum at a time when it’s easy to feel paralyzed, ineffective, exhausted.

Small gains are better than no gains. Staying connected with a project even during times of difficulty lays the groundwork for periods of more intense and focused work. If you need more ideas for getting back on track, I recommend the gentle and inspiring The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve been rescued by this book many times.

Wishing you all peace and productivity.


1 Comment

  1. Ashley, meeting you (and your madre) in the airport on your way to The Library of Congress was one of the best events of 2016 for me. How you transitioned from shock to taking action on your passion with resilience and hope during these challenging times is so powerful. I, too, believe our American values have been jolted from a state of benign neglect to revolutionary fervor.

    Love. Love. Love how you expressed your recovery from writer’s block/depression.

    I would be honored to have you suggest some dates & times for the conversation and interview we’d discussed.
    Truly, this has been worth the wait.

    With gratitude,

    René Delane
    Women Who Dare


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