Last week in the ‘Wellbeing for Writers’ series I described writing as a sedentary pursuit. The fact is, writing is also such a solitary pursuit. For many it can be hard to define their creative goals, let alone hone a strategy to achieve them. This week, I’m delighted to welcome Soul Reflection’s Marianne Ellis, Life Coach and Creative Arts Counsellor, to the Writing and Moonlighting couch to share her expertise on cultivating enduring strategies for maintaining focus, making friends with our creativity…and how visualisation can keep our dreams at the forefront of our minds.
Marianne, thanks so much for your time and energy, and welcome to Writing and Moonlighting. Firstly, what are your top tips for those who might be struggling to apply some focus to their writing goals.
I’m so excited to share some tips with fellow creatives…thanks so much for the invitation. I really understand the courage and vulnerability it takes to follow your own creative path and pursue your passion. It can often feel like a lonely journey with many twists and turns….it truly takes a special kind of person to fully step into their creativity and own it. It’s a privilege to offer some words of support and assistance.
Get Support: It’s essential to get support which could be in the form of a friend, Facebook group, or joining a writers’ membership. When we have someone cheering us on and also keeping us accountable it helps to stay on track. The simple act of affirming what you’re going to do out loud, and it be witnessed, is powerful.
What is your motivation? Your Why? What is really behind your goal? Leaving a legacy? To share your story with others to inspire people? Perhaps it’s about how you feel? Your work brings you joy, purpose, and fulfilment. Getting clear on your ‘why’ can really help you stay motivated and focused on what’s really important and the reason you do what you do.
Journal on your ‘why’ to get clear on the bigger picture. When you lose focus, come back to your ‘why’….having it in writing is so helpful when motivation is low.
Dream big! Think outside the box and dream…what do you really want? Feeling excited and motivated will pull you closer to it.
What is it that you would do with your creativity if there were no barriers? Nothing was in your way…no fear, financial worries. Even if it seems out of reach, allow yourself to keep that bigger vision close to you.
Remember that no-one ever achieved their dream by playing it safe. We don’t know what is possible until we try, and often we talk ourselves out of things before even attempting them. When you are thinking of reasons not to do something, challenge yourself to come up with reasons why you should.
Embrace your dreams, know that people who have made their vision come true have dedicated time, effort and commitment into achieving it. What may appear like a pathway to easy success could have been many years in the making. We have to start somewhere and just get clear on your dream and take some small steps forward. You are saying ‘yes’ to yourself and in believing you are getting closer to achieving. Stop overthinking and just do it!
Inspiration: Research and spend some time reflecting on people that inspire you and whose work you love. When you think about the most inspiring people you follow, what qualities do they have? What stands out to you as different? How could you implement those qualities into your life? Make a list of the top ten most inspiring people in your life.
Visualisation: As creatives we need to feel inspired, motivated, and excited by our work. Imagine what you want to create…if it’s a published book then close your eyes and imagine you are at your book launch, holding your book and signing copies.
Bring your vision to life in your mind…bring it to life.
If we can see it in our mind as a reality and feel in the body what our goal will look like if we achieve it….we really embody it. Ask yourself these questions: How will you feel when you achieve it? What are the positives if you achieve your goal?
Try practising visualisation every day to keep that image of your dream at the forefront of your mind. As you practice this you will notice that the vision expands and becomes clearer.
Actions: The only way we get results is by taking action and the easiest way to get started is follow the path of least resistance.
What is the one thing you can get started on right now that you’re feeling a ‘pull towards’?
Start with that and you will gain momentum. Taking small steps is less overwhelming. Yet it’s still progress taking you forward. As long as you’re moving slowly towards your goal then you’re in action and you will achieve results.
Structure: Look at your schedule and get clear on where you are spending your time. Often we can lose chunks of time in the day due to not being organised such as food preparation, housework, running errands for other people.
When you review your week and determine if it’s possible to carve out time where you will be uninterrupted you’ll start to work out a new structure that is more productive.
Prioritise: Determine what is really important and create a list each day of smaller tasks you would like to accomplish that are achievable by breaking down larger projects into small actions. This could mean setting aside a block of time that is solely for creativity and that you will not compromise on unless there is an absolute emergency. Being consistent and committed will achieve results even if the amount of free time you have is only an hour a day.
Wow, Marianne, these are great tips! I especially love the practice of coming back to your “why” when lacking motivation, if the going gets tough, or carving out time to write becomes a challenge It’s such a great leveller to return to the bedrock of what drives your passion.
We all live such fast-paced and stressful lives, it’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts and lose focus and motivation. Now, with COVID-19 unsettling our lives even further, there seems to be another enemy to steal our focus! Many of my writing friends are reporting ‘brain fog’ is impacting their creativity. Do you have some suggestions to bring back some clarity to creative projects?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is increasing stress and anxiety, and while many people work from home as creatives, their motivation and focus can be compromised. There can be a sense of ‘what’s the point?’ and deep levels of exhaustion are common. It’s particularly important to practice great self care at this time.
Be your own best friend: What advice would you give your best friend? Often we are inclined to be much gentler, softer on our friends and much harsher on ourselves. Right now if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed go gently on yourself. These are unusual circumstances and there is no right or wrong response. Just be kind to yourself and protect your mental health and wellbeing above all else.
Listen to your intuition: Trust yourself and listen to what feedback your body is giving you. If you feel tired, pay attention and rest. Don’t keep pushing if your body and mind are wanting to work…in taking time out you will come back more productive. When we push ourselves, we don’t produce quality work under stress or exhaustion. Ask yourself what is the best thing I can do to honour myself in this moment?
Switch off social media: Set aside time where you are offline so you can be present in the moment and enjoy time at home with no distractions. It may feel like you are always ‘on’ from morning to night if you have your smartphone on. In setting a structure that works for you—such as switching off your phone after 7pm—you can have a clear separation and time out.
Music and movement: Sitting for long periods creates brain fog so remember to move around. Switch on some energising music and move your body. The quickest way to shift your energy is a powerful piece of music. Choose something uplifting that makes you feel amazing.
Environment: If your work space is cluttered and you can’t see your desk anymore this could be causing brain fog. It’s hard to concentrate when things are disorganised so set aside some time to create a beautiful working space.
To create an inspiring environment, perhaps try: Fresh flowers, beautiful essential oil in a burner, placing inspirational quotes in your office, ensuring the temperature is not too hot or cold. Open a window to allow fresh air which we are all lacking at the moment.
Create a vision board: Use old magazines to cut up and create an inspiring vision board. Use a large sheet of paper or card and choose images that represent your dreams for the future. The life that you want to design and create for yourself. Place this in your home office or studio so you can see it while you work to have a visual of something positive that you want for yourself.
Don’t stress: Remember that brain fog is temporary and a normal part of being a creative person. In accepting that it’s part of the creative journey and not resisting or pushing yourself, it will likely pass much faster. The more we struggle and force ourselves to create, the more we push our creativity away.
Make friends with your creativity: Imagine your creativity as part of you that needs nurturing, love and understanding. The more respectful and kinder you are the more you can reconnect to that creative energy again. Remember when we are in flow, we will be really productive, and often make up for time away for being creative.
Nourish your wellbeing: The happier and more relaxed you feel, the more you will create so when you relax, watch Netflix, go for a walk, chat with a friend, etc, you are opening up a space for more peace and joy in your life.
Meditation and gratitude: Mediation and creating a calmer presence will help increase concentration and focus. Often we can find the answers we need in moments of stillness, when our minds are silent.
Try sitting quietly with your eyes closed and tune into your breathing for a really simple starting point. Remember mediation is not an easy process for those with busy minds but stick with it and you will see results. Some great resources on mindfulness can be found here.
Gratitude: Practicing gratitude can give us a positive focus and starting each day with three things you are grateful for can be a fantastic way to begin your day. If you want to go deeper apply the same exercise before bed. Reflecting on your day and the positive moments…they can be small. For example: Nice weather, Beautiful coffee, A chat with a friend.
Follow your own path: The creative path is never a straight line and it’s not for the faint hearted! Celebrate your success…no matter how small. Be your own cheerleader and acknowledge that the work you are doing will always be a roller coaster. That being creative means you set your own rules, you don’t conform, you follow your own path and that alone is something to be proud of.
Thanks, Marianne – so many of your suggestions resonate with me! Particularly taking breaks from social media – I must admit to being a bit of a social media slave at times, and a lot of it is filled with negativity, anger, and delusion. It’s no wonder it’s a creativity-crusher!
Marianne, what about for those whose creativity might have stalled altogether? What are the main killers of creativity, and do you have any exercises to help unlock/unblock creative souls and get writers back to writing?
One of the biggest challenges for creatives can be their own mindset—getting caught up in their own thoughts. This can be in the form of their inner critic affecting their motivation or mindset. This can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety and depression…it can drain the joy out of what we love to do. If you’re caught up in your thoughts it can be impossible to focus and concentrate.
This may present as:
Perfectionism – Trying to reach impossibly high standards and inability to tolerate mistakes which can hold people back from getting started.
Reframe – Allow yourself to make mistakes, remember that mistakes are great learning, give yourself permission to enjoy the process and be kinder to yourself.
Feeling not good enough – Often comparing themselves to other creatives and feeling inferior. Particularly at the start of a creative journey and comparing themselves to someone else’s end game who’s perhaps spent years in a creative profession. We can get caught up in social media and perceived success…which may not be the reality.
Reframe – Remember this creative journey is about you, and is as individual as you. When you realise you can design your own life, and it’s only your fulfillment that matters, you let go of comparing yourself. You are good enough right now, you are unique and no one else can do what you can do.
Fear of Rejection – Often as creatives we are putting ourselves in a space of vulnerability. We open our hearts and share with courage. The fear of rejection can be a creative block as we never know how our words will be received. Every time we are rejected it can be a setback that can leave you feeling unmotivated to try again.
Reframe – View each rejection a step closer to your goal and celebrate yourself for trying. The more you share of yourself, the easier it will become. Move towards the fear and you will lessen its power.
Fear of Success – It is not uncommon to fear being successful, particularly if you’re an introvert, as many creatives are. We prefer to avoid the spotlight, and whilst we may want to be a successful author, there may be an inner conflict in doing so. There may be fears around being ‘seen and heard’ that create a block as subconsciously we are afraid of the outcome.
Reframe – Affirm to yourself that you are always in control, and go at your own pace. Sometimes you may feel very uncomfortable, yet this can be a great opportunity for growth and expansion. The confidence will come from ‘doing’, so the more you step forward the easier it will become. Keep on challenging yourself to be out of your comfort zone and set challenges each week to share your work or speak up.
Fear of judgement – We can’t control what others think of us no matter how hard we want our work to be accepted. Remember you are only in control of your own thoughts and staying focused on what feels right to you and remaining authentic will help you push through resistance that arises.
Reframe – Ask yourself does it even matter if people don’t like my work? Are the people that criticize people who you respect? Do they put themselves in positions of vulnerability? It often says more about the person judging you and their own mindset than the work you have created.
Identify your thoughts – Bringing awareness to unhelpful thoughts by journaling on how you’re feeling. Once you understand what is sending you off track you can catch the trail of thought before it takes off in a negative direction.
We can get caught up in stories we tell ourselves that are unhelpful and not true. We can re-frame a negative thought pattern into a positive one.
Attachment to the outcome – When you create with an expectation for the end result, often we feel pressure. Sometimes the best work comes from being totally unattached to the outcome. If you are struggling to write then allow yourself to indulge in writing from the heart. Let go of expectations and let the words flow without there being a reason to write or create with any intention. Often the resistance is actually just getting started, and once we do, things proceed and you regain the flow of creativity.
Get curious – Unlock your creative block by getting curious…sit quietly with a notebook and pen. Close your eyes and ask yourself without judgement what is blocking your creativity? The answer is always within you. Often acknowledging what is going on will shift the block…perhaps it’s an external distraction or stresses that you need to address. What do you need to do so you can move through this block? Ask yourself the questions as you would ask a friend. This will help bring a fresh perspective to your thinking.
Consider collaboration – Working alongside another creative on a project can be a fantastic way to incorporate new ideas and inspire new creative pathways. It also provides fantastic support from someone who will understand what you are feeling.
Do Different….Try something new.
Experimenting with an unfamiliar creative medium can stimulate your creativity. Sometimes we can get stuck in a routine that has become unchallenging and we just need to break it with something new to find a new spark.
These reframing tools are brilliant, Marianne! Mindset truly does help or hinder a creative’s life force. I know many writers reading this will be nodding their heads at your observations of how our mindset presents itself.
As a Life Coach, you’re trained to help people bring out the best in themselves, facilitate change, and support people in making meaningful decisions in their lives. Do you have any advice for writers who might be struggling to strike the right balance between the responsibilities and obligations of their daily life and nurturing their creative souls/finding time to write?
Boundaries: Right now many people are feeling pulled in many directions especially if you have children at home. There has never been a more important time to set clear boundaries with people at home.
Don’t be afraid to say no. We can get sidetracked by tasks that could be done by someone other than yourself. In saying ‘no’ you are both honouring yourself and the other person if you say ‘no’ to something that is not in alignment with what you want to do . Often saying no can inspire the person to find their own solution.
Communicate: Get clear on what you need from people around you, often we can be afraid to ask for help and support. This creates resentment and frustration leading to strained relationships.
Find a compromise. If you are able to get your writing task completed then you can be fully present and able to assist with family roles. People in your family learn from your behaviour. If they see you are much happier when you have had alone time to work on projects they will begin to think twice before disturbing you. Let people know what you’re working on and why it’s important. We can sometimes assume people are not interested when in fact by openly talking to them about your goals they will feel included and part of your support team.
Passion and purpose: There is nothing more inspiring for children to see their parents working towards their dreams and with a passion for life. In putting yourself first you are being a fantastic role model and one that will inspire your children to grow up as passionate creatives.
Communicate clearly and lovingly that you would appreciate their support. This might mean giving you space for uninterrupted time.
Wise words indeed. One of the biggest things I’ve had to work on—both in my personal and professional life, is saying “No.” I still struggle with it, but I’m happy to say I’ve come a long way!
Marianne, as well as being a Life Coach, you’re also a Creative Arts Counsellor… How important is creative writing when used as a therapy for emotional wellbeing, rehabilitation, or self-expression?
Using writing to explore your inner world and express yourself will require you to be in a stream of consciousness which allows you to be in total flow and let your logical brain rest. There is no right or wrong. There is no concern over grammar or punctuation, which may feel counter-intuitive, but writing for therapeutic benefits is about the process and not the outcome.
Unravel your thoughts and feelings: Writing is a powerful tool to better understand yourself, unravel your thoughts, and gain some clarity on what is really going on in your head. Journaling is a daily activity that is a wonderful form of therapy.
Express how you feel: There are so many ways you can explore writing to express how you feel. If you’re angry with someone, write them a letter with the intention that they will never see it. Let the words you really want to say to the person fall out onto the page…don’t hold back. Once you have written the letter, destroy it. It’s the unprocessed emotions we don’t express that impact us negatively.
Reflective Writing: Reflective writing is also very helpful. If there is a situation that has caused you stress or upset you, write about it from a fresh perspective. The harder the situation, the more opportunity for growth and understanding of yourself. Express in writing what the situation taught you and how you can use that knowledge to move forward in a positive way.
Narrative Therapy: If you have a negative experience that is replaying in your head, try writing about it as a story, but change the perspective of how it is written. Write about yourself as if you were the character in the story to lessen the emotional charge. How can you rewrite your story in a positive, powerful way that leaves you feeling inspired by the challenges you have overcome?
Every challenge you have faced in life has taught you valuable lessons and often the hardest times will teach us the most. Try rewriting your story and seeing yourself as the hero not the victim. How has your story allowed you to grow and gain strength from being tested? This can allow you to externalise the original problem and shift your thinking into a more positive thought process.
Share your Writing: There is such power in sharing your words with others, particularly if you read them out loud. Although this may be challenging, it can be a wonderful form of therapy, with the added benefit of your story helping someone. When we are vulnerable and share with others, we give people permission to do the same. In sharing your words you never know the impact you may have on someone else. If you can focus on being of service by sharing with others you can get out of your own way and anxiety around sharing.
And, finally, just for fun! What has been your favourite read (so far) for 2020, or what is your next book on your “to be read” pile?
I have a passion for self-development books, so I am always reading something new.
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown—I wholeheartedly believe that being vulnerable is courageous and it’s where we experience transformation.
Sarah Wilson ‘First We make the Beast Beautiful – I can’t wait to read this one as I have heard it’s an incredibly honest account of living with anxiety.
Marianne, you really have gone above and beyond with your insights and advice today. Thank you for your wisdom, your time, your nurturing energy, and your expertise. I’ve gained so much from our conversation, and I know other creatives will as well.
About Marianne Ellis – Soul Reflection Coaching
Marianne Ellis is a Photographer and Creative Arts Coach. Marianne developed a passion for photography after emigrating from England to Australia in 2004. This led to further studies in art therapy, counselling, life coaching, photography, and other healing modalities. Combining her love of therapeutic photography, creativity and psychology, Marianne promotes self-discovery and healing through creative expression.
Life and Creativity Coaching: As a Life and Creativity Coach through creative-centred life coaching, Marianne supports her clients to find and express their unique voice and truth so they can design and live a life they love. Marianne understands the struggles of the creative pathway and utilises creative tools to help her clients better understand their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Creative Arts Counselling: Marianne uses art therapy techniques to help clients better understand their inner world. Combining other modalities such as holistic counselling, reiki, mindfulness and meditation to support clients through times of transition and self-discovery.
Therapeutic Photography: Marianne is also devoted to sharing the power of photography as a form of self-expression. Utilising this accessible medium through the lens, she empowers others to promote wellbeing and healing in the world. Mindful photography is a wonderful way to explore your environment, be fully present, ease anxiety, and shift your perspective.
Creativity coaching is currently provided via Zoom.
Project 55: Project 55 is a closed Facebook group that has been running for eight years. It’s a wonderful space for people to connect through images and share their lives. We have seen many friendships form in the group, and it provides a safe supportive space where everyone is welcome. It can be particularly helpful for those that are isolated from people, homebound, or lacking interaction. Feel free to join the group here
Find Soul Reflection Coaching on Facebook and Instagram
Publications. Read more about my journey with Therapeutic photography here, and here.