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. 

 

 

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.

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.

3 Levels of Flow You as a Woman Can Create in your Life

Photo courtesy of Krizean Josh Victa

So many women ask me about the concept of FLOW. In fact, I really hadn’t thought much about it personally as a concept until I started hearing it from them.

Once I started pondering the concept, however, I realized it was a key subject of God’s teaching in my life over in three-year journey I’ve been on so far with Him. It is also a central factor in whether or not we as women feel happy, comfortable and joyful in the life that He’s given us.

To me, FLOW is a state of harmony, alignment and ease in which the people, inspiration and resources you need are simply there whenever you need them. If you need something, you ask God, and it shows up.

This seems to bear out in the lives lives of the women I’ve spoken with.

The women who’ve asked me about FLOW are tired. They are tired of struggling to get (and keep) the attention of husbands, friends and family members. They are tired of sparring with writer’s and artist’s block in their creative work, or battling constant insecurities and creative self-doubt. And they are most definitely exhausted from running the rat race or trying to make a shoestring business work.

Can you relate? I can.

Back in July of 2017, God promised me that Everything I wanted would come out of Nothing, and that Everything would “arrive” in August of 2018. For the next year I did indeed have absolutely Nothing other than a suitcase and a small Fiat 500. Many times I didn’t even know where my housing or groceries would come from next. Yet in that season I learned how to trust God for the FLOW of love, creative inspiration and money that I needed each day. And in August of 2018, He did bring me to Dubai, where my FLOW and upshifted into OverFLOW just as He said.

The thing about FLOW is that its not arbitrary. If you are seriously exhausted and feeling the lack of it in your life, take heart. This can change. But you have to be willing for it to change. That’s the first step. Sometimes we become so convinced that life can’t or won’t FLOW for us, that we actually block ourselves from receiving it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at the three stages of FLOW—all of which apply to getting (and keeping) love, making friends with our muse so that she shows up on a regular basis, and attaining the resources we need to live comfortably and share abundantly with others.

FLOW Stage #1) Struggle

Technically this isn’t a kind of flow, but the lack thereof. So why would we talk about it? Well, it’s the form of flow most of us are familiar with. There’s a huge gush of love/money/inspiration, and then nothing. Or, try as we might, we can’t squeeze a drop of regularity out of that faucet.

This is where most of us live, and its the baseline we’ve been taught to accept since childhood. So we have to start there.

Struggle is sort of the “default level of flow” that most of us experience in our daily reality our entire lives, if we don’t make a radical shift. We find that one friend who really loves us for who we are. We get the one great idea—and run with it for dear life. We get a little bit of extra money and cling to it like it’s a life raft on the open sea.

We sometimes think that Struggle happens to us because we’re born into poverty, or that’s all we’ve ever seen amongst other people in our lives. But Struggle isn’t a fixed state. It’s learned and it’s perpetuated. If you grow up thinking Struggle is the norm, you’ll do things that undercut your ability to step into FLOW and cause you to perpetuate Struggle–because that’s what you know.

Stepping past Struggle begins with identifying a Struggle-based mindset in your life.

The trick with Struggle is that we think it’s the natural default pattern of God’s universe. In reality, it’s not what He intended to give us. So many times in Scripture, when God refers to himself, He refers to rivers, abundance and blessing. None of those images or terms have anything to struggle. El Shaddai is sometimes translated “The God Who Is Sufficient.”

There’s nothing sufficient about Struggle!

FLOW Stage #2) Basic FLOW

Basic FLOW, plain and simple by itself, is the next stage of this progression. When you’re operating in FLOW, you’ve stepped beyond the daily struggle for “just enough” and embraced the idea that you can have a steady supply of what you need, not just little bits here and there.

Once you understand the principle of the steady supply, you must embrace it in your thinking and in your heart. God says that we must believe first in order to receive. When you believe not just in your head, but in your heart and in your body (deep down to your toes—yes, you can feel this!), this is when you will really see your outward reality begin to shift to match your inward convictions.

When I first began to shift my thinking and live from a place of FLOW, my outward reality didn’t look all that great. I didn’t have a job or a business. I was living dollar to dollar (literally) and didn’t have a home at all. Yet my needs (and even many of my wants) were supplied on a per-day basis. Whatever I needed at that time came to me naturally. Even though my circumstances wouldn’t have looked so grand to anyone else, I actually found a lot of joy and ease by relaxing into that flow!

At the right time, a new home, financial supply and other things came back to me. But until then, all my physical, emotional and spiritual needs were still met. This is FLOW.

FLOW Stage #3) OverFLOW

OverFLOW is the highest form of flow. It’s the state that happens when you’ve gotten past struggle as your baseline and truly accepted that having enough for every day is God’s will and plan for you. As you see your “enough” show up again and again and again—even when it seems to be coming “out of nowhere”—your faith is strengthened, and God is able to bless you with more than enough.

That is the definition of OverFLOW.

Now, instead of having just enough to get by, you actually havE money left over at the end of the month, love left over in the relationship, and more creative ideas than you can actually tackle at one time. You have choices: do you invest in people/resources/art you’ve always wanted? Or do you “bank” what you have? Or do you outright give it away?

Actually having these decisions to make is a clue you’re coming into a place of OverFLOW. It also means you have to start thinking in a whole new way: toward your legacy and not just for the sufficiency of your daily needs. Where do you believe God wants you to be next year, in five years or ten years? How will you steward your resources not just for yourself but for others?

OverFLOW is the beautiful, amazing, harmonious state where you not only believe for what will meet your needs now, but for that which will meet your needs later and take care of everyone else’s. It’s where you don’t have to think twice about luxuries (like ordering in your groceries, eating out at a really nice restaurant or going on vacation) because doing so won’t “rob” from your baseline needs or affect your ability to give to others.

The trick is, you don’t get to OverFLOW by wishing or hoping. You must cultivate a conviction–right now, wherever you’re at–that everything you have is supplied at the right time. You have to learn how to cultivate that faith while you’re in a place of Struggle, which brings you to FLOW, which then allows you to believe for more and more and more in OverFLOW.

Faith is a muscle. So is FLOW. It must be exercised in order to see it really grow stronger.

I would imagine there’s a 4th stage of Over-OverFLOW, and when I get there I can tell you all about it!

– – –

What about you? Which stage defines your life right now?

What are you willing to do to upshift to the next level?

The Water Is Within: Why Everything You’re Looking for, You Already Have

“If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The high-rises of Dubai Marina (my neighborhood), as reflected in the Arabian Gulf

Have you ever looked really hard for something you were sure must be available, only to give up your search? Perhaps it was a last-minute Christmas gift when all the racks are picked over. Or the perfect dress you needed—but couldn’t find—for an upcoming gala. Nothing’s worse than a search undertaken under pressure. The clock is ticking. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, it will soon be too late.

Life can feel like that sometimes. I don’t know about you, but I am often in a frantic search for purpose, significance, creative inspiration and (yes, let’s be honest) more money. I’m keeping my eyes peeled everywhere I go for that one “magic thing” I want. My search for a marriage partner was like this for many years. Can you relate?

It’s like keeping your eyes peeled for an oasis on a torturous trek through the desert.

If only we can find that thing “out there,” we’ll survive the heat.

Or so we think.

Lately I’ve come to realize more than ever that the search for all of this is never outside of ourselves. It’s always within. The next book, the next course, the next man, even the next gathering at church—all these are good things that can become our own personal definition of a mirage because they won’t slake the thirst we feel.

What if you’re wasting your time wandering around like that, looking for something you’re never going to find outside yourself? If you are a believer, God has already provided everything you need to feel significant, purposeful, loved, creative and financially free. And what if, as a believer in Jesus, you already have all that inside you through the Holy Spirit?

It would be a shame to keep searching for the mirage, growing fainter by the moment, when you’ve got a freely-flowing fountain deep within (Psalm 36:8-9).

And yet, that’s what we do with God. We forget the Holy Spirit is always with us, ready to guide us into all truth, if we’ll just ask (John 16:13). It’s so much easier, after all, to focus on what’s in front of our faces. And if we’re being honest, searching for the answer is addictive in itself.

You can be so hooked on searching that deep down, you’ll do anything to keep yourself from really, truly finding. So what if you bought one less course, went on one less date and cancelled, yes, even that church bowling event—just so you could spend time drinking at the well that is already within you?

In my own search to assuage the pain inside and make sense of the chaos of my life, the running only stopped when I decided to stand still.

The less I did to solve my problems, the more God presented the solutions I needed.

The less I chased people or opportunities, the more God put the right ones in front of me.

The more time I spent with God, the better my experiences became in the outside world, and the more creative I began to feel.

When my inside “woke up” to the reality of the authority, power and provision God had already planted deep within me by His Spirit, my outer world began to take care of itself.

This was most evident in my search for love following my divorce, which was really a three-year journey to heal my own love wounds from childhood through adulthood, and become a clean channel, able to receive the full flow of God’s love to me and give it back to others. (Still a work in progress, but I’m happy to say I’ve come a very long way!)

In this journey, I was convinced once I had successfully created another union with healthier patterns than the last one, I would arrive at the oasis. As a girlfriend, fiancée or wife again, I would have a chance to rewrite my story and change the future for myself, my new husband and my eventual children.

But you know what?

None of those efforts worked out.

No matter how much I changed myself, refined my thoughts and behaviors or stepped outside my comfort zone to embrace healing … all of which was amazing and helpful, by the way … I still didn’t get the results I was looking for.

Then one day, I realized: there was nothing to fix. Jesus took the penalty for all my mistakes on the cross. And He would carry the wounds from my childhood if I asked, so I didn’t have to anymore. I was already loved unconditionally, accepted fully in the beloved; I just wasn’t living my life as a loved, accepted woman (Ephesians 1:6).

And the real reason none of those relationships (including my marriage, I believe) lasted?

Because God loved me so much, He did whatever it took to bring me to the point where I was dependent on Him for love, and not on another human being. Even if it meant allowing the dissolution of relationships I had cherished—even ones that are supposed to last a lifetime.

What felt like pain was really the most amazing form of “tough love” designed to bring me into greater levels of life. The day I recognized my true worth, and the level of love and acceptance God already has for me, was the day I found my freedom from the past and finally stepped beyond the limits of my own need for companionship. My three-year journey to learn how to love culminated in the reality that I was loved already. There was nothing to find, improve or create (Psalm 136:26).

Would I still love to be in an amazing partnership? Absolutely. I still pray and believe for this outcome in my future. But I don’t “need” to be in a relationship to slake the thirst inside, or to heal my past love wounds.

I am God’s amazing daughter, and I walk right now in more radical love, acceptance and provision than any human could deliver me. And I always will, from now until the end of time.

I’m not waiting for the oasis to show up on the horizon.

The fountain lies within.