On Being Creatively Constipated

On Being Creatively Constipated

A friend of mine commented the other day, “I noticed you haven’t been posting as much as you used to.”

It’s true, and it bothers me. Writing infrequently in recent months has morphed into some combination of guilt, frustration, and shame. Maybe you can relate regarding some creative endeavor of your own?

I feel like a poser in my writer’s guild, haven’t pitched to publications, and have scarcely touched my blog. I hold no illusions that anyone who’s ever read my writing is sitting there with bated breath for the next piece, so my angst isn’t so much for the reader as it is myself.

For any of us with creative ambition but little opportunity or regularity in pursuing it, we’re can be left in a state of emotional and spiritual despair. When I’m not creating regularly, my soul feels bloated, stopped up, and sludgy.

It’s a great delight to bring redemptive beauty to the world. Most creative types need to be creating to feel wholly who they’re called to be, and many Christian creatives sense sense God at work in them as they work. It’s not only the most successful artists that experience this, it’s any soul that possesses a seed of God-given artistry. Regardless if the seed is supposed to grow into a grand Oak, a majestic Aspen grove, a rose bush, or a single blade of grass, whatever is destined to blossom desires growth into the beauty it’s supposed to add—far-reaching and significant or less-so.

My day job is working as a nurse practitioner, I’ve been a nurse for 17 years, and I love it. I currently teach nursing clinicals to junior students for a local university, so communicating effectively about health is constantly on my mind.  Unexpectedly, it was a metaphor from healthcare that recently struck me as the best way to convey the angst of irregular creating.

As I nurse, I value the importance of regularity in our physical bodies. A regular heartbeat pumps nutrient-filled blood throughout the body, a regular breathing pattern ensures the body gets the oxygen it needs, regular exercise keeps muscles and cardiovascular systems strong, and regular sleep patterns promote rest. For the most part, regularity is a good thing, and what our body strives for. We even have a fancy word for it, homeostasis, as defined below:

the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes

But each of our body’s systems can be interrupted by our lifestyle patterns, invaders like bacteria, viruses, and cancer, medications, or trauma. The resulting lack of homeostasis sends the body into fight mode, pouring its energy into bringing the regularity back.

Essentially all the patients I see are struggling with an irregularity of some system, but the one that seems to most parallel my creative irregularity is the gastrointestinal system…the bowels, the gut.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve been creatively constipated, if you will.

(If you won’t, I get it).

I’ve already outlined some of the effects of this unpleasant state, now to the causes: how do we get creatively all stopped up? Consider a few of the reasons for physical constipation.

Constipation is created by intake and output problems that prevent proper flow. A low-fiber diet, medications that slow down gastric movement, and not drinking enough water are intake problems that can negatively affect gastrointestinal movement. Output problems include intestinal blockages, motility issues from sedentary lifestyle, and disease processes.

How does this all apply to the creative soul? When we are creatively constipated, we have to ask ourselves about our intake and output. What are we letting into our souls? And what is stopping the outpouring of creativity?

My life has presented so many opportunities and responsibilities (all of which I have said yes to) that I rarely find time unclaimed moments to write and the intake I need to properly create is at an all time low. I’m not taking walks that give me inspiration, spending time in stillness, sitting before my Creator, or reading enough.

Madeline L’Engle observed, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.” We have to slow down to listen to the Spirit in us. If we can’t hear the Spirit, I’m sure we have very little creative power to offer our work. I been watching writer, musician, and speaker friends from the sidelines wistfully, but haven’t prioritized the inspirational input or pace that leads to creative output.

My output issues are also clear. Any woman that’s birthed a baby knows that the first bowel movement she has after labor is usually unpleasant. In the wake of stitches, surgery, or birth, everything “down there” is pretty much on fire. No one wants to add insult to injury. Literally. So it’s scary to “go.”

I can relate to my new-mother self as a creative. I’m afraid of letting it out. Fearful that if I try it’s going to hurt. What if I put my words out into the world and they get rejected? Or even worse, no one notices?

So how do we get unstuck?

There is the work of ingesting great art in order to imitate it, and making time to do so. Creating in community helps us focus on truth instead of fear.

But perhaps the greatest need of a Christian creative is reframing the importance of their work. I know when I’m creatively constipated, most of the issue is due to a false belief: I make my creations more important than they are, as if I’m the originator of the wisdom or beauty of my work.

In the words of Dorothy Sayers: “We are well aware that man cannot create in the absolute sense… We use the word “create” to convey an extension and amplification of something we do know, and we limit the application of the metaphor precisely as we limit the metaphor of fatherhood. We know a father and picture to ourselves an ideal Father; similarly, we know a human “maker” and picture to ourselves an ideal “Maker.'”

I’m an imitator of the great Creator, one who gets to dance in the Beauty-finding, not struggle towards Beauty-making. The lovely, the good, the hopeful ending is already there, I get to find and observe it.

My fellow co-creators—gardeners, musicians, artists, writers, mothers, fathers, idea-sharers, painters, and nature lovers, let’s relax in our roles. Let’s slow down. Let’s fill our lives with good things: trees, songs, poems, flowers, relationships, food. And the we’ll tell the Story of what we see, taste, and hear. Let’s do so regularly because our souls long for this.

Excuse me a minute while I find the loo.