Are you struggling with a creative project that’s lost its verve and fire? I was recently, too.
Allow me share with you a little story about how I shifted a treasured project from uninspired to magical. Then, read on for the 3 simple strategies I used, so you can start reviving your own bone-dry creative project today!
We begin with pie.
For the past few years, I’ve been trying hard to replicate a traditional Eastern Kentucky family recipe for dried apple pie. My aunt would line the kitchen counters with these pies and others whenever my family gathered at my grandfather’s farm in Ohio, and evidently my aunt made these desserts reflexively, for when I asked her for the recipe several years ago, which happened to be several months before she died, it was difficult for Aunt Magdalene to articulate each step.
I have a few notes from our chat, but my authentic family recipe is rather spotty. Last year and the year before, I tried baking an authentic dried apple pie. My dad brought me a bag of authentic (East Coast) dried apples. We used the notes I took when I talked to my aunt. We were optimistic, as we smelled the apples cooking down in a pot.
Full of hope, I remember watching my dad plunge a fork into the crust and dark-apple center of his slice one of these pies a few years ago. He took a bite. He thought for a moment. Then he said, diplomatically, “It’s not like home, Marla,” he said honestly. “It’s alright, though…”
I tried again a few years later, and although I got the crust a bit closer, the dried apple pie I’d baked was nowhere near his childhood memory. Perhaps this family “taste” was lost to us forever. How sad.
This year, I decided to surprise my dad with another dried apple pie. I did something completely different, though. I decided not to try so hard. I quit pursuing “authenticity.” I managed to let go of my attachment to the way I thought this creative effort should turn out.
- I used an “inauthentic” (but complete) recipe I found online.
- I reframed “success.” I decided that if this pie were simply a respectful nod to the original, I’d have succeeded.
- I used “inauthentic” dried apples, ones I found near me at the neighborhood Trader Joe’s.
Easy as pie! The pressure was off, and I enjoyed my baking.
Here’s what this year’s dried apple pie looked like when I pulled it out of the oven:
Out of respect for my father, I won’t articulate his response at the Thanksgiving table this year. Let me just say that this year’s dried apple pie turned out to be so more than a “respectful nod.” It was a close facsimile to the original, so much so that a tender moment transpired at the table that night. My family enjoyed the dessert, and my dad was so appreciative.
Here’s how to revive your own bone-dry creative project: 3 simple strategies.
It’s so easy to get attached to a project’s outcome, isn’t it?
When we loosen up, something magical – inspiration? luck? both? – has a chance to shine through. Think of my pie baking for a second. When I let go, trusted the creative process and refocused not on how my work would turn out — but on how much fun I was having in the making, I got better results. I revived my bone-dry creative project.
Next time you find yourself strangling the fun out of a project (as I’d done the years prior, trying so hard to emulate my family’s recipe), take a few tips from my experience, and try these 3 simple strategies:
Strategy #1 – Relax.
Experiment with loosening your grip and allowing your drive and focus to widen a bit. Does your project absolutely have to turn out a certain way? Just as I became open to a new recipe, you’ll begin to see new possibilities for crafting your piece, too.
Strategy #2 – Refocus.
It’s almost addictive to get attached to how “right” our projects will turn out as we’re making them. What if you choose to free yourself, instead? Refocus your attention on the creative process itself, and watch new solutions and energy shine through your piece. (I can’t tell you how many times I teach this each week.) Keep yourself in the creating.
Strategy #3 – Redefine.
Will your project be a “success” only if it turns out the way you intend? Challenge yourself to articulate another clear marker for success, one that has nothing to do with how your piece turns out. For me, I chose this: “my piece is successful if it is a respectful nod to the original.” The possibilities are numerous. What will you choose?
It’s easy to grip our projects too hard, and to strangle the spark right out of them with our trying.
I hope you’ll think of me, struggling to be perfect, next time you’re wrestling with your writing or creative project. We always have a choice about how we use our attention, focus and time. I suggest you experiment! Loosen up, have some fun and adopt an attitude of curiosity. Then look for the sparks that begin to shine through.
If you write or create long enough, creative magic will happen. We just have to show up consistently, and practice loosening up to allow the mystery in.