What the body reveals about our creative process

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Before I began to treat writing as a practice, I didn’t pay attention to the way my writing process felt in my body.

At best, I noticed a dull pressure in the center of my forehead whenever I would start picking at word choice or sentence structure before the work would benefit from such editing. I would lose myself in an online thesaurus, repeatedly delete and replace a comma or dash, reread and rework a single sentence because something just wasn’t flowing — and I’d never make it beyond the page (or paragraph) I was mired in. After an hour, the pressure would be a full-blown headache and I’d have to step away, disoriented to my original generative impulse and unsure how to return to that state of spontaneous creation.

I’ve also had projects pull me in so many directions that I could feel their drain on my creative energy — a subtle tug on either side of my vertebrae, as if the energy itself were being siphoned from their tissues. As quickly as inspiration came in, it was cycling back out before I could do anything with it.

I would ignore this sensation too until, after a few hours of scattering that creative energy across multiple projects — rather than channeling it more effectively into one — I’d realize I was hypersensitive to sound, light, and even smell. Overstimulation left me physically tense, emotionally stressed, and unable to reengage with my family when my work needed to be set aside for the remainder of the day.

Both of these sets of physical symptoms have shown up in the last month, more the latter than the former, and they are a clear reminder for me to slow down instead of driving forward. I hate being here. But I know I’m only setting myself up for further setbacks if I choose to plunge on without honoring the insights my body is calling my attention to in this moment: leaving the finer points of sentence structure for later, bringing more energetic focus to my creative investments.

So, to steady the direction in my creative process, I’ve been spending intentional time with my process journal, where all the ideas on next steps for my current projects can land. As soon as I wake up, I allow myself the brief, uninterrupted luxury of jotting any proposals-to-self into my digital notebook, along with any dreams. (I love real paper, but I can use a search function on the virtual document, which saves me time when I need to find something!) When I have a lot to capture, I do still feel a mild pulling sensation in my back. But in twenty minutes, I won’t overclock myself out of the rest of my day. Then I have my afternoon — T.’s nap time is the start of my office hours — to focus on one of my next steps, without fear of losing track of all the other ideas I’ve saved. And if something for another project strikes me in the midst of that work, I can add it to the journal without diverting my creative energy from my intended efforts.

How does your body tell you that your creative process is working or not working? How can you check in intentionally with these signals during your work so that they support how you direct your creative energy rather than draw down your creative reserves? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below.