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How to Feel How You Want to Feel When You Do Creative Work

This isn’t always fun, folks

I’ll let you in on a little secret: often, when I sit down to write, I feel like a squirmy toddler getting stuffed into a car seat.

Heck, I felt that way while starting to write this very post, before I reviewed the list I’ll show you in a minute. I thought, No one’s going to like this. It’s a dumb idea. I should write about something else. I’m just stealing from other, smarter people. 

But then I looked at the list, and something shifted. I felt lighter. I felt, well … you’ll see.

panorama city blurring lights abstract circular boken blue background with twilight horizon, closeup

“panorama city blurring lights abstract circular boken blue background with twilight horizon, closeup,” photo by Alisa, Adobe Stock.

But it could be

Most evenings lately, reeking of mosquito repellent while cheerfully mangling traditional recipes in our outdoor South Indian kitchen, I’ve been listening to the Courage + Clarity podcast.

While every episode helps me somehow, either by showing me I’m not alone or by offering practical advice about how to make a living doing what I love, episode 014 lit me up like a firefly.

In it, host Steph Crowder engages in a rambling, nakedly honest chat with her colleague at Fizzle, designer and educator Chase Reeves. Here’s what I got from it: when you sit down (or stand up, if that’s your thing) to do creative work, don’t think about how you want the world to respond to it; think about how you want to feel while you’re doing it.

Crowder and Reeves suggest taking a few minutes to freewrite on the subject, making a long, ridiculous list.

My outdoor kitchen in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India.

My outdoor kitchen in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India.

My long, ridiculous list of awesomeness

Here’s mine:

  • Compassionate
  • Authentic
  • Helpful
  • Beautiful
  • Lovable
  • Entranced by the beauty of my own thoughts
  • Eunoia*
  • Inspired
  • Rested
  • Enthusiastic
  • Motivated
  • Excited
  • In love with everyone, and my readers in particular
  • In love with life in general
  • In love with myself and my own words
  • Generous
  • Forgiving
  • Committed
  • Certain
  • Confident
  • Submissive to the Muse
  • Sparkling
  • Dazzled
  • Energetic
  • Flow of an electric current
  • Pleasure
  • Delight
  • Astonished
  • Entertained
  • Focused
  • Grateful
  • Understanding

Once I’d written all that, I made a separate list of actions I could take to make those feelings real:

  1. Writing creatively before emailing in the mornings.
  2. Honouring my days off.
  3. Reading after dinner instead of managing my tasks.
  4. Going to bed by 10:30 at the latest.
  5. Writing with a particular reader in mind, maybe someone like my friend Claire, or Clarissa from Wisdom and Beauty 101.
  6. Daily yoga.
  7. Fearless honesty.
  8. Non-attachment to blog post metrics.

But here’s the magic part: I felt the feelings even before I performed the actions. Just seeing the words made me feel, well, sparkly, and when I resumed work on a short story, I just kept sparkling.

A glowing firefly.

“Firefly”, by illidansef, Adobe Stock photo.

And here’s the not-so-magic part: a few days later, I forgot about the list, and I was back to battling with myself. It probably didn’t help that I entirely neglected to implement items 3, 4, and 8 from the second list, and I only partially implemented items 1, 2, 5 and 6.

I suspect, though, that even more than being disciplined about following the rules I’ve set for myself, I’ll benefit from implementing a ninth item on the second list: every day, before I start writing, I should again remind myself how I want to feel in that moment.

It’s a great way to silence the inner critic, because, while it can easily argue the likelihood of horrible outcomes, the mean voice in your head can’t very well say, “No, you don’t want to be happy when you write.”

Focusing on how you want to feel right now, rather than in the future when you win (or don’t win) a bunch of literary prizes, brings you into the present, and that’s where creativity lives.

So here’s my challenge for you: follow Crowder and Reeves’s advice and make your own uncensored, shameless, embarrassingly extravagant list of words and phrases describing how you want to feel when you work. Then, please, oh, pretty please, with chocolate sprinkles and peanut butter on top, share in the comments the ones you think are silliest.

Featured image: Adobe Stock, © Sergey Nivens

PS: I really enjoyed writing this post for you. It felt like waterskiing.

PPS: I’m writing a book about the creative process. Subscribe to my blog for free, and when it’s done, I’ll send send you the first chapter.  

*PPPS: Although it’s kind of obscure and a bit pretentious, “eunoia” is my favourite word for two reasons: 1. it’s the shortest word in English to contain every vowel, and 2. it means “beautiful thinking”.

6 Comments

  1. Amanda, I found this article extremely useful! You helped me to get better what Chase was saying in the Courage and Clarity episode. Talk about vibrations, law of attraction and Abraham Hicks teachings doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’ve been reminding myself of what’s on my list several times a day since last Friday. I’m getting close to understanding the underlying neurological processes that make it work.

    I think that this technique of priming yourself increases the chances of creating epic shit in all creative fields.

    Thank you.
    You rock!

  2. I WANT TO FEEL (my current full list):

    – BOLD
    – zealous
    – like a crouching tiger
    – or like an eagle
    – or like a unicorn (depends on the context of work)
    – like a surfer riding an awesome big wave
    – like a flying Neo
    – LIKE A DYNAMITE
    – like a self-propelled wheel – autotelic style
    – like my inner muse gives me the green light

  3. “when I sit down to write, I feel like a squirmy toddler getting stuffed into a car seat” – ummm, yes!

    Totally resonated with that and absolutely LOVE the list exercise! Thanks, Amanda!

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