Pink and Blue Diaries: 5 Tips for Staying Calm in the Eye of the Creative Storm

Deborah Siegel, author/blogger and mama of toddler twins, shares notes and strategies on writing/life fit as she works toward her next thing.

Standing under the clock in Grand Central Station waiting for my friend to arrive, I breathed deeply.  All around me people were scurrying to their meetings and lunches (with their editor? their agent? their boss?).  In that frenetic energy, I craved stillness.  And that’s my particular challenge right now: sustaining creative motion without feeling frantic, learning to move with calm steadiness, like the second hand on that old big clock.


If February was about giving myself a rare opportunity to exhale, March has been about revving back up.  I’m bursting with ideas—workshops to teach, talks to revamp, and, of course, things to write as I work toward my longer project.  I’m antsy.  I’m trying to decide where to throw my energies in order to both sustain myself creatively and make ends meet.  I need to bring some of my February into my March. 


Here’s what I’m going to attempt during rest of this month of explosion and exploration to stay, well, more still:


1.  Start where you are.  Sounds obvious, but it isn’t always so.  Yesterday I met with my speaking agent about the prospect of putting together a new talk.  “Why not just update the one you’ve got?”  Right.  Doh.  Exhale.


2.  Collaborate.  I’ve been working on an idea for a new workshop to teach.  Today, I brainstormed about it with She Writer Extraordinaire Christina Baker Kline (who many of you know from her fantastic webinars and Virtual Lunches) and we decided to explore teaching collaboratively instead.  I love collaborations.  I find collaborations far more grounding than going it alone.  Exhale again.


3.  Resist that craving for closure.  I am not—repeat not—writing a book proposal at this early stage in my thinking about my next thing!  With the publishing industry itself in as much flux as my thinking about my project, I’m meeting casually with editor friends, and I’m playing with both concept and words, but I’m not pitching anyone anything.  (Yet!)


4.  Bathe with lavender bath oil.  Relaxing.  Self-explanatory.  Bring it ON.


5. Practice non-doing.  This one sounds paradoxical, but stay with me.  According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way.  Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a ‘doerless doing,’ cultivated over a lifetime.”  To cultivate this skill (it’s hard) I’m trying to sit or heck, stand, in meditation a little bit every day, whenever and wherever I find a tiny pocket of time.  Today, I found myself meditating right under that Grand Central Station clock!


So tell me She Writers: What do YOU do to stay calm in the midst of a creative storm?  What are YOUR strategies for maintaining equilibrium when you’re in a period of creative explosion/exploration?  Please share in comments so I can learn from you, and so that you can learn from each other too.

Top Image: Annie Mole/flickr

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Comment by Robyn on March 13, 2011 at 2:34pm
Great post.  I read an exercise where you do everything in your day at 3/4 normal speed....walk, write, eat...slow everything down for the day.  You can actually accomplish more because you focus on what it is you're doing rather than constantly projecting yourself into the next moment.
Comment by RYCJ on March 11, 2011 at 10:10pm

oops... I see Joyce has already mentioned my magic potion:-), which yes, yes...worked ten-twenty years ago for me, and still don't leave home without it ;-))


Comment by RYCJ on March 11, 2011 at 10:04pm

yes! Great Post! I'm right with you on #1 and #5. Got to try #4... at least with the lavender oil.

I really don't mean to curl anyone's nerve, but must honestly say I have one thing that takes the edge off (and I think you know what I mean) that works magic untold in allowing my creative bursts room to navigate.

The other thing that helped was deciding to write after my house was clear (of children), which during the child-rearing, wife-ing/working, and homemaking activities I kept busy taking my father's advice, which was to experience life so that I could write about it.

Comment by Dawn Espelage on March 11, 2011 at 7:05pm

Great post & love Jon Kabat-Zinn; I use a lot of his approach with my work with moms finding quality time with their children.

I get restless during these times & know I have to step back and look at what I can release ~ especially control.

Comment by Joyce Evans-Campbell on March 11, 2011 at 6:40pm
I learned sense memory and memory work in acting class and in talk therapy. We took ourselves to our favorite place. We'd lie down or sit quietly until the memory transformed. Mine is the beach or on a boat, preferably a yacht. In minutes, I'm there. Sheer bliss. I might do it once a week or more -- if needed. And the mood takes me through the day and night. I also count backwards from 100 or whatever number it takes to get me there. Getting a message works wonders, though that doesn't happen often. Last but not complete, I soak my feet. Ten years ago, I would've said sex.
Comment by Deborah Batterman on March 11, 2011 at 1:37pm
I love the clarity and simplicity Jon Kabat-Zinn brings to meditation, and that sense of being 'in the present moment' at any given time is what I long for. Am I there yet? Not by a long shot, but, like you, Deborah, I get those glimpses, which I think of as moments of light. So when the wheels are spinning, sometimes the best way out of the storm for me is to turn my attention elsewhere. Music always works, as does taking a walk.
Comment by Caroline Bock on March 11, 2011 at 12:22pm

I start the week out with list too -- and post it right next to my computer workspace.  Every week gets a new list and I try very hard to make it focused and do-able so I have a chance of getting it all done!  This week's it's reach 30,000 words in new novel... I'm up to 27,062 and am doing all I can to reach that number before Saturday...though I am looking forward to a break when my kids get home.... so while they are distracting they are also a reason to think of something else!  to revel in their day vs. staying mired in the frustration of writing.......thank you for sending out this query... I feel like maybe I can get there...

Comment by Emily Lackey on March 11, 2011 at 12:13pm

Lists, lists, and more lists! I guess it depends on your temperament, but I can get obsessive about ideas and plans in my head. Having it spelled out on a piece of paper I can take with me (not to mention the satisfaction of crossing things off), is immensely helpful. In fact, I just made a list a few minutes ago after a good thirty minutes of fixating what I wanted to accomplish creatively today and not doing any of it.

Comment by Yali Szulanski on March 11, 2011 at 10:21am
I love this! Especially the hint to collaborate - so much can come of sharing your mind with another and having them share theirs with you. It's magical...

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