Could creative promiscuity be the key to combating stuckness?
“It’s critical for me to have at least two projects going on at once so I can flip between them when I get bored or need a break. Inevitably, the one that I’m not supposed to be working on will be more appealing to me. For years, I wrote a novel that didn’t move me because I’d had a tiny bit of interest from an editor. It actually turned out to be a good thing because it was this big, dumb project I could run around on. It was there being boring in the background and it made sneaking away with short stories or other novel ideas very exciting. I know some people follow one thing through at a time, but I definitely think promiscuity is an important part of my process. My different projects ‘talk’ to each other and inform my perspective.”~ Kimberly King Parson, “Promiscuity,” via Advice to Writers
I couldn’t see where to start.
I held the printout of my editor’s notes in my hand and read them over for the fourth time. I could feel the edges of my brain begin to close together like a neural trash compactor, squashing and tumbling my ideas into a little cube comprised of possible ways into the rewrites.
None of my compressed notions were viable.
My typical bouncy approach to solving writing riddles had collapsed in the corner, looking catatonic without an idea stream at its feet. I reached for my fountain pen, my go-to life raft, and started laying down ink on a blank piece of paper.
I asked myself questions, pretending to interview a stuck writer. I asked the manuscript what it wanted to be. I asked the way forward to peek out from behind the cavern walls and reveal itself to me, if only faintly.
Instead of receiving a jumpstart into the restructuring work my manuscript needed, the beginning of a poem sidled up and squatted next to me like a curious toddler. I looked down at it and showed my irritation with its timing. Unfazed, the poem snuggled up, made itself at home, and performed a skillful, presumptive close, asking: “Will you write me now or later?”
I admired its moxie.
“OK, then,” I said. “Let’s see what you are meant to be.” The minute I said the words aloud, relief coursed through me, and I knew I had a juicy opportunity for productive procrastination. Perhaps taking this side road would uncork idea flow.
I dropped into the page like I was sinking into a bed at the height of exhaustion. I didn’t need to reach or strain for the words. They were willing to jump out of the kitchen cupboards and into the cooking pot without much coaxing. In less than 45 minutes, I had a poem.
Crouched in a corner, hugging our knees tightly like our fears;
Rocking ourselves back and forth,
the infant of us in an ad hoc cradle.
With each sway, we wonder when exactly it was
we stepped onto the briary trail of other people’s promises,
and slipped beneath hideous cloaks of expectations.
The room changes to night exposure,
candles and prayers and our old songs won’t be enough
to surface the dawn horizon from the place where the soil of us
is knotted with rooted beliefs, ancient and false and rotten.
We can notice, though, the putrid decay can serve.
It’s the compost of the burning plane we left on our knees,
belly crawling through rolling smoke
that forced our progress to mere inches per hour.
Leaving it all behind now
is fresh ink on the dotted line of the new agreement
we choose to sign.
A contract with the gods, inner and outer.
We seek reborn conductorship of the symphony of our intuition,
snapping open silver latches on instrument cases,
sticky from cold storage.
We wash our smudged faces in the rains of starting over, and
straighten our spines as our shoulders lift
without the load of carrying
what was never ours.
The Power of Creative Promiscuity
I finished the poem and read it aloud, feeling its cathartic powers as the words warmed my throat. The poem toddler was now more than satisfied. It had grown into a full-sized adult, and it shook my hand, pumping with a solid grip of congratulations. I watched it amble down the cavern path which now was visible. When it disappeared, I knew I was ready to switch gears and work on my manuscript.
By engaging in creative promiscuity, I gave my jumpy and nervous brain the equivalent of a snack and a nap. I let it off the hook without indicating I didn’t believe it was up to the task. I tacitly telegraphed that I knew it needed a change of creative scenery, and that the work I was requesting from it would come when rejuvenated and refreshed.
Consoling Your Creative Circuitry
Are you working on something right now that has you anxious and avoidant? Try consoling your creative circuitry with kind and reassuring words and acknowledge that remaining calm will help you remember you are more than up to the task.
Then, cheat on your project with a parallel passion project. Work the musculature of your brain hemispheres and favor leaning into the less used part of your noggin.
If the place where you are stuck needs linear and logical thinking, try creating images with words, paint, or graphite by moving your hands. Conversely, if you are trying to birth a three-dimensional work, try engaging your higher-level, language centers with a “side flame” project. Work a crossword puzzle, write a short how-to piece, or craft an outline for a longer nonfiction essay.
The creative work we are so eager to bring to the fore is, in fact, within us. Know that we are capable of doing the work. Stuckness does not represent a lack of talent or ability. Nor does it forecast a shadow of doom over our project’s future health. It is merely a temporary weigh station, a place to gather ourselves, take stock, and refuel before proceeding.
Have a fling while at the weigh station. Sneak off and hold hands with a different project lover. Your projects have messages for one another and for you. Let them whisper.