What to Do When Your Creative Muse Goes AWOL

I wish my muse was better behaved. I really do. But like me, she’s a free spirit—and sometimes she takes the day off without letting me know. 

In the past, if I’m honest, she’s taken more than a day or two. Once, she even took off a whole decade. (That’s another story for another day…) But even when my Muse IS on the job, the “fits of genius” come sporadically at best. So much of the time, showing up for my art or my passion project feels like plain old work.  

What’s a creative woman to do when her deepest creative self seems to run on fumes … and she really just wants to get back in the FLOW?

First, don’t panic. 

Everyone experiences dry spells. It could even be that you are coming back to your creativity after a long dry season, or a busy season serving others, and you wonder if it’s even possible to muster up that mojo again. 

I’ve been in both scenarios, and I can say for sure that it IS indeed possible to get that mojo back. But not by trying so so so hard to make it all happen. 

I like to think about creativity like a small child, or a small animal. She only comes out when she truly feels safe. 

Rush your Muse, pressure her, or make demands—and she’ll likely run the other direction. But if you can create a relaxed, fun environment that invites her to come close without forcing it, you might be surprised how fast the ideas spring up again. 

So perhaps the best advice I can give you is to …

Relax. 

Yes, I know, woman of action: that might not come easily to you. It seems more valuable to just keep piling on the action, trying to get more done, putting yourself under and even bigger load. But the more you sweat and strive, the less far you’ll actually get. 

So put on some music that makes you feel happy. 

Take that overdue bubble bath. 

Have a glass of wine or herbal tea.

Take a hike or do some serious yoga. 

Indulge in the nap you’re craving. 

Have dinner with a friend who makes you laugh. 

Finger paint with your kids for awhile. 

Or maybe … just maybe … pull the covers over your head and try again tomorrow. 

Doing this once or twice isn’t going to change everything, either. You’re going to have to make a new habit of just … having fun. 

Because the more you allow yourself to feel pleasure and joy, the more the ideas will flow.

By releasing the “pressure valve” on your inner need to perform, you will actually create space for your muse to whisper in your ear—and actually be heard. 

All of this, though, points to something much deeper than finding the last lyric for that song or the right color for the last stroke of that painting. 

It’s about learning how to fully and deeply open up to what is happening in the present moment. 

Perhaps what your Muse needs more than anything else is simply for you to accept that feeling “blocked” is where you are right now. 

This iS what is. And it is okay. 

You don’t have to have the idea right now. It can take a little more time to make itself clear. 

Sometimes the best way to get the answer is simply to release the pressure of needing to have it. 

Because after all, your Muse has a mind of her own. Let her be who she is, and you might be surprised what she gives you in return. 

Your creativity may feel AWOL right now. But maybe it’s just around the corner, waiting for you to breathe deeply, loosen your shoulders and dance. 

In the middle of the dance, you’ll know what to do. 

 

 

A Short Tour of Reykjavik Street Art

There were a lot of things no one told me about visiting Reykjavik in December, which I did in 2017. Although in fairness to the everyone implied in “no one,” I never really asked them. I just went

Take the city’s muted tones, for example. The whole urbanscape deserves to be picked up and dropped inside some sort of Art Museum to European Modernity—or at least, that’s how I felt of the washed-out greys, blues and browns that seem to make up the winter Icelandic palette. When you can see it, of course. Many days you’re lucky to get an hour of daylight out of the four or so that are possible at that time of the year.  

Sunwashed Tuscany in September, it most definitely was not. However, the city did offer some charms I had not foreseen. Like its amazing plethora of street art. Worthy of a museum on its own, to be sure. Though wouldn’t putting street art in a museum sort of undercut the definition of “street art?”

But I digress

One might be tempted to assume that Reykjavik street art follows the typical patterns as its counterparts in the U.S.—words hastily scrawled on the sides of buildings. Stencils scattered across concrete pavement, and the like. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Take this gorgeous Van Gogh-esque home facade, for example. Who could possibly mind coming home every day to this cheerful exterior? Even if it means living in a city where the average December temperature is 3 degrees Celsius, and 10 AM is liable to be as pitch-black this time of year as 10 PM?  

Every where I looked, there was something whimsical to see.  

Dragons, for example. There be dragons in Reykjavik. Lots of ‘em. Of course serpents and dragons figure prominently into Norse mythology, so I’m sure there’s some connection. But I’m not sure what these dragons represent, specifically. 

They could be something like Níðhöggr, the serpent that nibbles at the base of the world-tree, apparently causing parts of it to rot. Or, they could refer to the dragon that Sigurd slayed in the popular Nordic epic. Or one of how many others. 

The artist wasn’t really around to ask.  

Sometimes, though, Reykjavik dragons like to catch you off guard. … Like, when you come around the corner, least expecting to see them ….

Oh wow, it’s a big one! 

Some places have a yellow brick road. And some of them … have a multicolored serpent brick road. 

It might feel like Oz here in Reykjavik, but it sure doesn’t look like it.  

Somehow, monochromatic winter wonderland of Reykjavik was a match for the “blah” I felt in my soul at that time. I was off on a “big” European adventure with no money to my name. I could barely afford to eat in the city, let alone take in any of the interiors of the museums or other places a tourist might normally visit.

Yet here I was, wandering the streets counting my krona for every cup of hot chocolate, and still I was treated to so much amazing art that it was like having a whole museum at my disposal.

There’s something poetic about that, to be sure.

All in all, I found the street art of Reykjavik a welcome and refreshing break from the winter landscape that offered little in the way of visual pleasure. For brave folks who have survived in this amazing country for so many thousands of winters, this artistic expression must offer a chance for laughter, joy, and beauty.

No matter where we live, do we not seek to make it beautiful? Reykjavik reminded me that no matter what the landscape of our lives, it is possible to create beautiful from what we have on hand. 

No excuses. No questions. No hesitation. Even in the “winter” seasons of our lives, even in our own Decembers, we can paint the walls with brilliant color. And all sorts of pictures, straight out of our imaginations. 

If the artists of Reykjavik can do it, I can too. So can you.  

Creative Flow #4

“Stained Glass Life: Always Leave One Panel Open” — Watercolor by Lisa England Feb 2019

I consider myself a stained-glass window. And this is how I live my life. Closing no doors and covering no windows; I am the multi-colored glass with light filtering through me, in many different shades. Allowing light to shed and fall into many many hues. My job is not to direct anything, but only to filter into many colors. My answer is destiny and my guide is joy. And there you have me.”  C. JoyBell C.

God Is My ATM, No Matter How Offensive That Sounds

Double blessings over Tuscany, Sept 2017

I believe God wants us to have the things we are longing for—relationally, creatively and materially.

Let me say that again.

I believe God wants us to have the things we are longing for—relationally, creatively and materially.

If that sounds like I believe God is my ATM, ready to dole out relationships, artistic projects and cash when I need them …. no, you’re not crazy. And yes I do believe that.

I say “God is my ATM” frequently, and people have a visceral reaction to it. Many have told me they’re offended when I say that, because it implies God is some kind of genie ready to fulfill my desires.

I would have had that same reaction once upon a time … and today, I believe that response indicates more about the state of our hearts than the soundness of our theology.

So I’m gonna say it again:

God wants us to have the things we are longing for …. and He’s ready to send them, just like cash out of an ATM.

Before you click away, convinced I must have either lost my marbles, or decided to fashion God in my own image, hear me out. If the above statement is true, then the way we’re going about asking for what we want is not just wrong. It’s pushing us in the opposite direction of what we truly want.

Think about it. As a Christian woman, I used to approach my desires with a considerable amount of fear and suspicion. God might want me to have what I was asking for. He might not. I couched every prayer carefully to ensure I would demonstrate an openness both to receiving and not receiving, according to His will. I did my best to wrestle down my feelings of longing for the outcome I was seeking. In a sense, I tried my best to deny the desire.

Is it any wonder I rarely got what I was seeking … or wanting?

Because I wasn’t entirely convinced God wanted me to have what I desired, deep down, I would reluctantly enter into situations that didn’t reflect my desire or even drew me in the opposite direction. Surrender, I thought, demanded I be willing to do this.

If truth be told, I often ran straight into those situations as some kind of punishment, to keep me from desiring what I desired too much. Especially because it never seemed to come to fruition, no matter how hard I prayed. So God couldn’t possibly want it. Right?

I can’t count the number of times I heard preaching on Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (KJV) This teaching reinforced my doubt of the desires deep in my heart and made praying for them an experience that was one part blind hope, one part wishful thinking and one part pure anxiety.

Rarely did I hear anyone preach on Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Honestly, most of the theology I grew up with was far more focused on loss than receiving.

All that changed one day in July of 2016, when God spoke to me audibly for the first time in my life, launching my journey as a prophet. The first message He spoke to me was:

“You do not know how to receive love.”

I’ll write the details of that day some other day, but the general gist of the story is this. For the next three years, God began to show me how much He did want to give me. And that the desires of my heart—the deepest ones—weren’t purely selfish. He had put them there from the time I was a small girl. And He intended to fulfill them, if (and only if) I would come to a place where I truly opened myself to receiving them and allowed Him to give.

This was progress. Real progress. I saw new window of Heaven open and pour out things I’d desired for years (emotional healing, weight loss, more loving/connected friendships, my dream apartment, world travel, courage to speak my truth).

But the biggest things—a healthy, Kingdom-focused marriage; children; a wide audience of women in need of ministry; a large and gracious home to show hospitality and use as a base for ministry; financial overflow at the highest levels—still remained elusive.

I still prayed for them, and did so with a little more faith and a little less anxiety than before. But they persisted in remaining absent from my life. Which caused me to waver in my belief that these thins were God’s will.

Maybe it was His will to send me friends, apartments and trips to Europe … but God-fearing husbands and a passel of children belonged to a much higher category?

In reality, I realize now that what I had done was expand the limits of my allowed happiness and blessing enough that I could receive some of what I want. But receiving all of what I wanted would require me to expand those limits even further. And, I realize now, it would require me to actually believe God wanted to bless me with exactly wha I was asking for.

Does that statement strike fear in your heart the way it used to mine? Or at least make you uncomfortable enough that you’re tempted to squirm in your seat, or immediately register a comeback about how “God is not a genie in a bottle” or “He’s more interested in our happiness than our holiness”?

There’s something about the possibility of getting what we want that terrifies us.

The thought that God the good, good father who is excited to bless us with our sincerest, deep-down desires (which are not simply rooted in selfishness) is one of the most fear-inducing thoughts I know.

That little tickle of fear in your gut is the ceiling I’m talking about.

That’s doubt.

Today, I believe that we have not because we ask not—not really—because we’re asking in doubt. And a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Such a person cannot expect anything from God. (Matthew 6, James 1:5-8)

I was getting warmer at this point. I began praying with more faith. But I still wasn’t sure I could trust that God actually wanted to give me Everything I was asking for. My prayers still sounded more like cajoling, begging or passionate requests undercut with, “but if it’s not Your Will, then don’t give it to me.”

Thank God He’s merciful enough not to send fire from heaven down on such faithlessness.

He’s also merciful to send us the answers we seek.

Recently, I was enjoying a post on prayer that dropped into my inbox via the Elijah List newsletter, which shares prophetic words on a daily basis. This day was like any other, and I expected the newsletter to be like any other. But what I read actually stopped me in my tracks.

The prophet of the day, John Burton, shared how he had been asking God for many of his deepest desires—like a larger space for his church to meet and the ability to quit his job to focus on ministry. Yet those prayers went unanswered, until one day God interrupted the middle of his prayer session …. to tell him he was praying completely wrong, and ought to stop now!

According to Burton, God said to him, “You are praying as if I’m resisting you. Don’t you realize I put those desires in your heart? Why are you begging Me for a desire that I initiated? I gave you the desire in the first place!”

Wow.

Just … wow.

Burton was as shocked when he heard that, as I as reading it. Because it described my prayer life for years: I was praying to God as if He were inherently resistant to my requests …. which, deep down, revealed that ceiling or limit I mentioned earlier. On the one hand, I was willing to pray for what I wanted. But on the other hand, I truly didn’t believe He could possibly want to give me those things.

In Burton’s experience, God went on to tell him that the real person resisting his desires was Satan. And that if Burton wanted to experience breakthrough, He needed to break the demonic bonds holding back his blessings.

By praying in this way, Burton crossed the line from facing God as an adversary, to joining hands with him as team members in bringing these God-given desires to pass.

Within a month, his fledgling church of 35 people received $75,000 in checks in the offering. Burton quit his day job to focus on ministry—and the church moved into a 27,000 square-foot meeting space.

This story completely overhauled how I think about praying for my biggest desires. Because for years, I prayed as if God were my “enemy” (in a loose sense, though I wouldn’t have seen it that way) keeping me from having what I wanted.

Now I understand that Satan is the enemy. As long as I am begging God for what He already wants to give—instead of standing in authority against Satan and warring for the release of my blessing—nothing will change.

So does God want to give us our deepest heart’s desires? I 100% believe He does—and the parts of our lives that bring us the most grief are a direct reflection of moments when we chose what we thought we could get rather than warring for the blessing we really wanted.

I often say “God is my ATM,” and people get mad, or accuse me of treating God like He’s at my beck and call.

He’s certainly not my slave. Not at all. But I HAVE chosen to partner with Him in this walk of faith—and as He changes me into His image and deepens certain desires in my heart—even physical and material ones—I can only choose to believe that He intends to fulfill those.

Desire, my friends. Desire hard, and war for your blessing. Desire is not the problem; our lack of faith and Satan’s crafty schemes are the issue.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. But you’ve got to clear out the unbelief inside of you, make space to receive those blessings and war for them.

When you take God at His Word, He really is like an ATM. Not perhaps for your every whim, but for everything you desire deep down, everything holy thing your spirit craves and everything you need.

And yes, many times He really does want to send the things you desire. Things that really don’t exist other than just to delight you.

He’s good like. Really good. Take Him at His word–and confront your adversary the devil.

The contents of your spiritual bank account are far greater than you could ever draw upon in 100 lifetimes.

Life After Creative Perfectionism: Making Friends Again with Your Old Art

Me in 2012, in my Scrappy Storyteller steampunk costume


Recently, I made the decision to move my blogging back to WordPress.

This is the first platform I ever used to share my words with the world–and despite having hopped around to other platforms, I’ve come back here because it’s simple and built so well for SEO and for organic connections. In doing so, I bumped into my old art again.

Let’s rewind three and a half years. I was living in a 120ish-year-old Victorian frame house on Milwaukee’s blustery east side, just ten blocks from Lake Michigan. My husband (now ex-husband) and I had bought the house in 2012 and restored it from utter ruin to a beautiful gem on the block, and part of that restoration was turning two useless, broken-down rooms into a beautiful creative studio.

My first studio was a second-floor bedroom, which became a cozy nest for many creative endeavors, including my blogging, a 24-part serialized online fantasy novel, collaborative web series and Steampunk comic book.

In Spring 2016, I moved from that now-overflowing space into the attic, which my ex-husband had turned into a “rec room” for the buyer who would eventually allow us to flip the property. In the meantime, I made it my new, larger studio with dedicated spaces for sewing and appliqué, painting, reading, writing and running my small branding agency for women-owned businesses.

Interestingly, I have no photos of that second space. But it was about three times the size of the space above, if not more.

Our 120ish-yr-old Victorian home after fresh painting. (The third-floor window was my studio.)

At that time, I was running a blog about the improvisational creative process, called “Scrappy Storyteller.” The blog is no longer live. When I found out I was getting a divorce, I was so devastated that my creative process shut down almost instantly, and I eventually shut down the blog.

I thought I had deleted that blog. Until this month, that is.

While poking around in WordPress to get this blog up and running, I found the old Scrappy Storyteller, and with it, literally hundreds of posts that represented my creative hopes, fears, dreams, challenges and successes.

It truly felt like a “blast from the past.” Since I last wrote on Scrappy Storyteller, I have gotten divorced, built a business, destroyed it, lost everything in the process, traveled the world, renewed my relationship with God and wound up settling in the United Arab Emirates–where God has blessed me with a brand-new, overflowing life I could never have imagined in the old one.

Reading those old posts, I wanted to reach out and embrace the struggling, hard-working, sort-of-successful-sort-of-not woman that I was, and let her know that everything would be okay.

Yes, her worst fears were about to come true in the biggest possible way.

And yes, she would survive it all to rise from the ashes brand-new.

In other words … everything I was hoping and dreaming for in those long-ago days in my creative nest on the shores of the Great Lakes, have or are beginning to come true. I just didn’t know it would take the biggest losses of my life to unlock those good gifts.

I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude reading those old posts, as if finding them were a huge God-gift I hadn’t even expected.

You see, back when I got divorced, I went into a creative hole. Perfectionism had been my biggest enemy as a young creative–and my divorce was like the crowning proof that I was a failure, at least in my mind at that time. How could anyone want to read what I had to say when I had failed at my marriage? Partially because I was more married to my craft than my husband?

It seemed prudent to let all that writing go. So I shut down the blog and all my creative projects that were on the docket for that year, and for the three years since.

This pattern of creative rejection–and ejection–would continue over the next three years.

Trying to find my mojo again, I started other blogs and other projects, only to get halfway through and eject them, just like before. For some reason, I thought that getting rid of what I had done in the past was the only way to embrace the new.

And in those weary years of wandering, I desperately just wanted the new to come.

Now, looking back from a vantage point of time, healing and a greater understanding of God’s never-ending flow, I realize it wasn’t necessary to eject everything I had done.

Cutting off a diseased limb isn’t the way to heal the whole body (usually). For most maladies, a holistic treatment is available that preserves the limb. But amputation was the only method I knew. And in some ways, it was probably a reflection of my self-rejection, sadness and sense of failure at the time.

But now … but now … God has unexpectedly given me a new opportunity: to embrace that hurting young woman, recognize that nascent prophetic voice within her and retroactively extend healing to who she was.

After all, God lives outside of space and time. Sometimes I wonder if that Younger Me still exists concurrently with the Current Me in His vision of time. I don’t know–but I know that my own healing is tied to forgiving, deeply accepting and loving who I was in the past.

I’m excited to do that today.

Going forward, I’ll be sharing select posts from Scrappy Storyteller. I’ll denote them clearly so you know they aren’t my latest thoughts and ideas. But in making space for the Old Me in this creative space of mine, I think it will be a more fertile ground for the New Me to grow–especially as an artist.

Welcome, Old Lisa, Scrappy Storyteller. I celebrate who you were, the challenges you faced and the journey you went on.

You paved the way for Who I am today, and I bless you.

Your story is part of my story, always.

Let’s tell them together.