Creativity: Is Writing Safe?


Depression shuts down creativity so completely that I think of these two as polar opposites. When I’m free of depression, my mind is working, my feelings are alive, and I can generate ideas, I can write, I’m effective at whatever I’m doing. But in the midst of depression, everything is shut down, and I can’t think straight about anything. In my case, though, something else seems to be happening when I experience a block in writing or any creative activity. Following is an almost stream of consciousness piece that I sat down to write in the midst of frustration.

I try to write, I get pretty far into something that feels good, feels like it’s coming from an amazing source of – what? a kind of power, a creativity that swirls things into life, a well of discovery – and then… I stop. What’s wrong? My mind is blanking out, I can’t seem to concentrate, I’m distracted, or I start to get sleepy, actually dive into unconsciousness for a while.

What’s happening? What was that I was trying to write? Trying to imagine – no, it’s gone! Why can’t I do this? Why does it happen over and over again? Perhaps I’ll get back to that piece of writing, but it will be with a more mechanical mind. I’ll rearrange parts, revise the life out of them, make everything more rational. And then, it’s dead – it doesn’t work anymore! It will be safely dull.

Safe? Is it safe? I was forgetting that. It’s the latest signal, the latest shorthand warning sign coming out of a therapy session yesterday.

There I was in that room with JB. At his suggestion I was trying to imagine this thing that was getting in my way when I tried to write, see it as a person, another guy – I call him Jack – and talk to him:

You keep pulling me back from that creative flow I’m going after, as if I were going to drown there. You’re trying to keep me safe, but safe from what? What’s so dangerous about this thing I’m calling creativity?

I need it all the time, not just for writing. It’s life – it’s there in everything I do. Writing goes more deeply because that’s where I discover things as I move with the words. Something new appears out of nowhere, as if out of a fascinating deep well. I try to look into it – but then you’re there pulling me back, reaching right inside my head and shutting something off. I see only blankness then. Why are you doing that? What are you afraid of?

Of course, it’s what I’m fearing deep down, that this alluring creative force will lead me across every boundary there is, that it will draw a harder being out of me that could go too far, that could explode in rage, in violence, in destructive killing energy. But why do I think that? What’s the connection? There’s nothing to be afraid of! I can imagine anything I need to imagine as a writer and as a forceful man, but there is no harm, no danger.

I have to be trusted, have to be set free, on my own, responsible, accountable. This guy is on my back like I’m a kid out of control. So I try to try looking right at him again, and I tell him: Let me go, for God’s sake, just let me go. You, that shape that comes out of my darkness to stop me, seize my arms, my mind, whatever creative force I have, stifle, smother, steal it away and hide it somewhere until I think it isn’t mine anymore and never belonged to me, until I think I’m a fool and stupid.

You have to stop! You’ve got me feeling like a prisoner out on parole, every step under surveillance, afraid I’ll be caught and thrown back in a lightless cell as soon as I think the wrong thing, write too much, sound too aggressive.

What am I imagining, that I’m two people, a Jekyll, a Hyde? Here is one sedate and controlled, then another full of force others do not suspect. Is that what Jack and I are afraid of, that my Mr. Hyde will come out and kill, rape, break just for the sheer joy of that twisted freedom? Or is the fear that perhaps I will turn on myself, kill everything good in me by crossing all the boundaries there are in life, then wind up a suicide in a sudden impulsive act?

If I think that now, it’s no wonder that this Jack fellow, whatever he is, doesn’t trust me to sit and write my imagined stories. He thinks these are mere rehearsals for my own destruction, that I’m tantalizing myself with that possibility. But I have never yet given into such impulses, and I know in my core being that I won’t. So that core needs to wake up and say: It’s safe!

JB gives me that question to ask as I get to the point of fear. Is it safe? And then I can reassure myself that what I’m after is something good, something true that can roll out into the world and get me in touch with someone else. So I have to keep asking, Is it safe?

Photo Credit: Kumar – MorgueFile

One Response to “Creativity: Is Writing Safe?”

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  1. Zathyn Priest says:

    Well said in every way – Oh, how I can relate to each word!

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