• Karly Michelle

Creativity in turmoil


Our lowered capacity for creativity during turmoil


Today in a uni session a guest speaker mentioned that it was a relatively known fact that during turmoil we are not at our most creative, something that the researchers and academics who were the participants in the session, greatly need to be able to be.

I’m not going to go into the statistics to try and prove this. I’m just going to take it as fact (very un-researcher of me I know). Instead, what I want to do is to reflect on my own experience of creativity in the midst of personal turmoil. My ongoing experience of turmoil is chronic illness. I’ve had fibro for at least 15 years now. Its prevalence varies but because I know it’s always bubbling just below the surface threatening to spill over, so I’ve developed some structures and patterns that I just do when things begin to get difficult and making decisions becomes hard. These are my fall back strategies and include everything from what to pack in my handbag, what to shop for at the supermarket, and how to structure the week.

Also, how to keep creatively engaged.

It can be very difficult to stay creatively involved or to maintain creativity when we are stressed or in turmoil and yet it can be very beneficial for us. The first thing is to acknowledge that it’s hard but also that you want to engage creatively. Or maybe all it can be is that you want to want to engage creatively. Either is fine. Even want to want to want to creatively engage is enough.

Secondly, commit to looking after yourself in a way in which you can. Just choose one thing – maybe try to get to sleep at a good time. Or at least be in bed. That’s it. Do more as and when you can. But don’t rush. Each step is small. Small steps are still steps.

Thirdly, find a space. Or make a space. Nest a little. It might be as basic as a single-seat, it might be a couch or a room, it might be a space within a time limit – e.g. 1/2hr after the kids go to bed. It might be a bag or basket of the things you want with you so you can set up your ‘space’ wherever you wish, wherever you are. (This step could be done before or after the next step. But if you can’t make decisions right at the moment, then do this first.)


Sit in your space for a bit. Rest. Possibly even sleep (or wait a week!).

Then, think about what creativity you find easiest or most appealing.

If you already have experience in artist creative engagement (visual arts – writing – performance – music etc.), what do you always return to? Where did you start? What do you love the most? What is non-confronting? What do you already know how to do? What skills do you already have? What comes to mind first? That is often a good indicator.

(It does not matter how long ago you participated in this type of creativity – start again.)

So, whatever it is, start there. What is this act at its simplest, most basic? What are the basic gestures, the most basic motions, the simplest actions? Pull whatever it is right back to its bare roots. Consider how can you do this at home in whatever limited space and with whatever (maybe limited) materials you have. Be ok with the limits – limits limit the options and the decisions to make. This is good.

Whatever you choose, my suggestion then is to take that simple gesture, motion, line, action and repeat it. Write out a sentence. Copy out a poem, a line of a poem. Write the first word you think of. Draw a circle. Make a line. Move your arm.

Then do it again. And again. Fill the whole page.

Then stop after a short while.

If you truly don’t know where to begin, or don't feel you have any artistic creative background, then scroll down to the bottom for some suggestions of where to begin.

Sit and ‘do’ and ‘be’ within the space for however long you can; 5mins, 20mins, 30mins??? 2 minutes is fine.

Next, consider how you feel about what you just did. If you can, write about how you feel. Or speak it and record it. It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful, it can be as simple as ‘this felt weird’, or nice, or just ok, or ….

Ignore what it looks like or sounds like (the actual thing that you did and the writing about it) or what it would look like to others. This does not matter. Don’t even read it again or listen to it. Put it away. If you want, keep it next to your space as an encouragement to give it another go.

Then try this process again the next day. Or in a week if that’s the next time you can manage. Or whenever. Just do it again.

Do the exact same thing. Don’t change the action. Don't rush. Take your time. Hold the pen lightly. Stop if you want. Take a break. Loosen your grip.....

Then do the same thing again.

Next time, if you feel it’s a bit boring, but still don’t know what else to do, do something similar but slightly different. For example, if you started drawing circles, now draw lines. If you moved your arms, move your leg. If you wrote out a poem, write out a different one.

Otherwise, if you are happy to, do the same thing again, and again, until you feel like there is something else you want to do. Rest within the repetition until it occurs to you to do something different. Until you feel like doing something different.

Then do whatever you feel like you want to do. And realise, no matter how small, you have broken into something. Whatever it is, don’t feel you have to make it a ‘thing’ that you would ever show to someone else. Don’t ever show anyone if you don’t want to. But do something anyway. Do it again until you begin to flow. If you get stuck, pull back and begin this process again. Try repetition until you think of something else to repeat, then repeat that, then…

It’s both simple and complex because when we are in turmoil/are stressed/tired/unwell it is hard to think. It’s hard to know where to start. It’s hard to initiate anything. So this is for those times. Other times I imagine that you have your own processes and practices. That’s great – do that. But when you can’t, try this.


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Suggestions if you truly don't know where to begin.

Pick quickly - don't think about it too much. There's no wrong answer.

Start at the top if you really don't know what to do.

Whatever you choose - keep it simple and repeat it.

Fill 1/2 a page, or a page.


- Draw circles, or lines, or squares.

- Write out a favourite line of poetry. Or short poem.

- Write out a word, a single word. A word you might like to encompass or a word you think is fun

- Make small stitches approx.1cm in a line (it truly doesn't matter what size, pick one and repeat it)

- Cut up old drawings, the kids drawings, anything, into a basic circle shape or long stips.

- Find a gesture with your arm - a wave, a flourish

- Play the easiest or most enjoyable piece of music, line of music, page of music that you know.


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