“Scratching is real and tangible. It bloodies your fingernails. The key is not to block yourself; you have to leave yourself open to everything.” ~ Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life
I printed out the pages of my book manuscript recently—something I had not done since I began writing. I watched, amazed, as the pages piled up in the printer tray. When the machine stopped, I stacked the papers and said, “Damn, that looks like a book!”
83,000 words and counting.
It was a thrilling moment, filled with pride and a profound sense of accomplishment. And yet, making progress, this daily dance I have with the Muse, my Will, and my Focus is not getting easier. The hurdles change and morph into taller, more complex, never-before-seen creatures with each milestone I reach.
Some are friendly. Some are foes.
Runners say the hardest stretch of a marathon is between miles 18 and 23. I’d say I’m approaching the turn on mile 17 and can feel the challenges that lie ahead rise in my chest, creeping into my brain, searching for lights to switch to off.
When Creativity Stops Flowing
If I let the Mind Crack win, my Inner Critic fills her lungs with oxygen and goes all in, streaming endless, crawling, fear blurts across the screen of my consciousness. Light dims. Sound muffles. I’ve lost connection to my generative self—to my river of ideas. My map dissolves into floating fibers. I’m sinking far beneath the surface in a clumsy, heavy suit.
I’m locked in. Claustrophobic in my own body.
When I’m here, I now know this frightening place of isolation and creative disconnect can be leveraged into kindling to sputter and spark a new fire to life. Fire that sports flames that reach into brand new, interesting territory. Creative richness that I would have not found without my sinking into imprisonment.
If I choose not to panic, and instead return my focus right to my heart, I can steady my breathing and call myself home, back to the well-lit surface.
Scratching for Ideas
I can heave away the heavy helmet and return to the world of my senses. I can look up. I can listen. I can reach for my pencil and start “scratching” for ideas, making progress.
Twyla Tharp shares in her work, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, that “scratching” is a quest to reveal little ideas that invoke momentum. We put aside the search for finding the one, breakthrough idea; instead, we seek and scratch for smaller ideas that can be rearranged, combined, and stair stepped into workable ideas, making progress.
Scratching is our bread crumb trail to coaxing open the doors of insight within us.
It is mostly a slow, unsexy process as we move cautiously forward. Lifting our face to the wind. Testing for threats. Finding ground again. Pushing for another inch. Making progress.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Scratching is about connecting the dots. It is about having faith when the dot patterns do not quickly or readily reveal themselves. It is about taking to your desk when the first, second, and third tries render no progress.
It is a willingness to be the first to tramp down the grass on the trail, leaving the prints from your shoes for others to follow. Some days, all you can do is walk in the tracks you made the day before.
And that’s okay. Keep scratching.