Jogging Your Creative Muscle

Creativity is as much a muscle as writing is, which is as much a muscle as that tennis ball that emerges from Mr. T’s left arm is. And similar to the way in which Colin Nissan describes the writing muscle, the creative muscle isn’t much larger than a hamstring or conversely, smaller than a bicep. But it needs to be worked out in order to perform as the alpha-most version of itself.

The thing about working out your creative muscle is that unlike with writing (which requires reading to improve) or the anatomical tissue that you might choose to muster (which requires all sorts of weird movements with your arms and legs), the creative workout isn’t about what you do — it’s about what you don’t do.

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I only came to understand this last Friday, on day 3 of a relatively impromptu vacation to St. Barths, with my per-man-friend, at the hand of Wimco Villas, while I was sitting on a near-deserted beach — the only thing partitioning my ass from what seemed like infinite grains of sand, a paltry sarong — with a glass of white wine by my side and the emphatically clear and brightly blue ocean’s crashing waves whispering like a mother’s lullaby into her child’s ears. But I wasn’t paying attention to the lullaby, drinking that glass of wine (at least not yet), or even cognizant of the slice of chiffon that stood between me and the sand.

I was maniacally typing notes into my iPhone — and doing it jovially at that.

About what? Who cares. Maybe Kim Kardashian’s Vogue cover? The manifold ways to wear a ribbon? The end of trends? Generation Z? Whether a style chameleon is in style? But that’s the thing — it didn’t matter. It still kind of doesn’t, but I was doing it, and the ideas were flowing like root beer at a teen club. And that’s just it.

The ideas.

If I’m going to be really honest with myself, I was starting to worry that I’d plateaued. Like in that episode of Sex and The City when Samantha becomes convinced she’d reached her sexual climax and could no longer orgasm, I was sure I’d reached my literary climax (no matter how diminutive and trivial it may have been) and could no longer produce the stories that, you know, got me off, or at least kept me capable of producing.

I hadn’t felt this creatively charged since the last time I took a vacation — a real, intended break from work. It was refreshing to feel so new again. Like my ideas had married other ideas and procreated to produce new, original progeny which was only now beginning to surface and elicit that intrinsic pit of excitement that typically only comes in the wake of a good (no matter how bad it is) idea.

Now, I’m no master of deductive reasoning but I do believe the top down logic would suggest that vacation = good for creativity, which, of course, isn’t to say that you need to high tail it over to the Caribbean. But maybe you should take staycations more seriously. Marvel in the time you spend with your private consciousness and don’t worry about what you’re thinking — just think.

  • Quinn Halman

    Wow… that was truly a beautiful piece of writing, Leandra! As for myself, I’m a huge day-dreamer and everywhere I go I carry around a little notebook and a pen I stick in the coils (Blue’s Clues style). Every time I have a thought or an idea I write it down. Maybe it never gets anywhere but it’s still somewhere

    • I used to write things down much more often. It never quite worked for me though when I went back and tried to expand. Maybe I should give it a second shot, thanks for reminding me Ms. Quinnnnnn

    • Thamsa

      I’ve been neglecting my little notebook 🙁 Thanks for the reminder!

  • so true! Though I find the stay-cation unyeilding to my ‘no work’ plans. So off the the Caribbean sounds like a fantastic alternative. Not being distracted by the things one could be doing, or should be doing, frees up so much space. Emotional space, thinking space, physical space. Being inspired by your surroundings rather than distracted by them is a gift that sometimes you just have to give yourself. Well done! Cheers to sipping on the beach!

  • lavieenliz

    amazing writing ! you should write for a show

  • Elvira

    reading this kind of things makes me want to start writing again… wish i could write like too when I grow up… (wait.. i`m already a grown up!!)

  • Amelia Diamond

    gooooood music helps

    • Thamsa

      do you have a motivation playlist? I had several while writing my thesis 😛

      • Please share your motivational playlist! 🙂

  • Androbel

    truth. we need a escape even if just an hour drive away from home. disconnect, recharge and go, go, go!



    Androbel Insider

  • I think that creative UMPH is often ignited by music on the radio I hear while driving. Then I say, “siri, create a note for me, bitch” and that is that. Or sometimes I like to assume everyone around me at any given point is there simply for my own personal entertainment, then I create fake situations in my head about their lives, and really tune into their emotions. I apologized to a lady for taking too long at the self check out today because my Lara bars weren’t ringing up on sale, and I just assumed she was annoyed with me because she was there buying lunch for her elderly uncle who only likes her cooking and wears the cutest sweaters. I’m either too in touch with reality or not at all. and girl, you could never plateau.

  • Montserrat Sobral

    Love (sometimes the lack of it…), a walk, music, a film, a building…Usually travelling helps (me) a lot. But I only can “see” what is around me when my mind is quiet, perceptive. It´s not spiritual…is logical…though I don´t write (for obvious reasons), I am into photography. But I would like to tell you that you, as a writer, hooked me on this fashion blog without previous interest in fashion at all. And it´s really fun!

  • elise maiberger

    I am a fashion writer so I look at my favorite mags and/or check out my fave sites–such as this one right here. The key for me is not to spin out. Sometimes stepping away from the keyboard and taking my pooch for a walk helps, knocking out a couple downward dogs or a headstand. An ice cream cone eaten in quiet contemplation can relax the creative muscle to the point that it starts to work again.

  • I love this essay! It’s so personal and so not particularly about fashion (though I love fashion). I agree that time to just live can be the most helpful way to nurture creativity. It doesn’t need to be on the beach (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). Personally, I love to exercise or take a long, hot shower to get my creativity flowing. Even getting a change of scenery helps (though it could be a coffee shop, not necessarily a vacation). Congratulations on your break– and the concomitant resurgence!

  • Leandra,
    This was probably one of the more honest and beautiful essays I have seen by you on here. This is not to say that your other essays are not honest (believe me, they are very honest, which I greatly appreciate), but this one just really struck a chord with me in terms of voicing your fear and humility in regards to writing and creativity.

    Now, I think the main component for me in terms of sparking creativity is to go out into nature, which is kind of what you did (sand and islands instead of skyscrapers.) There is a clarity I get when I am away from the stresses that we have fabricated for ourselves. I was hiking last month among the redwoods like I used to do so frequently, and it felt so refreshing to just look up and see these trees that were so much older, wiser, and taller than I. That goes for the running stream and the *climax* when the trail opened up into a dirt path that overlooks the great, vast Pacific Ocean. No matter how many times I do that hike or a similar hike, the clarity and persistence of my thoughts will always be bore.

    And what’s more? I feel like nature periodically puts me in my place. We all need that. We all need to realize that we are just little specks in the wind, and that our perceived problems are only amplified by the intensity we also create. This isn’t to say not of it matters and that there are not problems, I am just saying that we need to realize and be cognizant of our greater surroundings and our greater role.

    I think nature’s ability to ease us of these stresses can be compared to dusting an old, ornate piece of furniture (metaphor for brain.) It’s only when we can really brush furniture of its layer of dust, that we open the mind back up for careful, more fluid thought. Sometimes when we are in our quotidian environments we suppress our ideas for being “stupid,” but when that blanket is cleared and we are put in our place, it almost provides for unsolicited and welcomed “stupidities.” Validity in a new way.

    • Ciccolini Ricearoni

      Beautifully put Emma.

  • Anne-Dorthe Andersen

    Wow I would love to travel to where you are on that picture! Looks lovely. Such a nice post you really got me thinking there. I personally get a lot of inspiration when I’m just going to sleep which is not always the nicest because then you are too tired to get up and write the idea down and then it’s forgotten the next day.. So typical me 😉

  • LilyP

    i really appreciate this post as i have such a hard time with this. in all honesty i think not having TV, Wifi, and an iphone really help me. for creativity to happen, i can’t have anything that is too easily distracting. i’m not disciplined enough. when i moved and was waiting for cable & wifi to be set up, I actually started writing a novel out of extreme boredom. now, I spend a lot of time wasting time. i think those writers’ retreats might be great, somewhere you can go to specifically free yourself from the distractions of your weekly work life.

  • Seda POP

    Great piece! Rest and change in the routine can do wonders!
    I would add that, as with working muscles, pushing a little bit more than before to reach an uncomfortable but tolerant zone should do too.. Although going all out into the uncomfortable might yield great creative undertones.

  • CG

    I’m with Amelia.

  • Sarah

    LOVED this. So true.

    xx Sarah

  • I usually wait patiently for my inspiration to return! Beautiful post of yours, and picture too!

  • JSchiff

    This reminds me of our chat a week or so ago–and since then I’ve discovered Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno [ you can click through some of them here: ] which are creative de-blocking “ways of thinking” that he fashioned for music, but which apparently a lot of general creatives use to help shake up their stale brainage. #yalearnsomethingnewerrday

  • Dre

    I feel like is very much true. This time last year I was in school, working on this project for the fifth time, because my teachers thought my collection was not interesting enough. I kept doing it over and over again, which drained my creative juices and after 5 weeks of forcing it out, I kind of broke down. Luckily that’s when spring break came around, and I went to visit my grandfather in New York for the first time. Leaving all my worries in paris and forgetting about this project, I went ahead and walked all over new york, discovering it’s amazing energy, the beautiful trees blossoming, the museums, .. Falling in love with this city. I would sit down before dinner to put my pictures on my computer, tons of ideas would come up seeing what I felt the need to photograph while running around. I used it for the project and when presenting it to my teachers they were really surprised and relieved to see how inspired it was.
    Creation is supposed to be something new, different, original ideas. As artists of any kind you are sensitive to what’s around you, the beauty or vibe coming off of your surroundings and if you don’t feel “it” then the process feels more like a struggle. Being able to live and breath something new, puts you yourself in a different place and brings up new ideas. It makes me think of the einstein saying about insanity (insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results) You can’t stay in the same bubble and always expect new ideas to come, you have to find an other bubble of things that inspire you to get new ideas and move forward..

  • Staycations just make it okay for me to stay in bed and scroll, pin and like with more time. There has to be a way, though. I’d like to have that faucet-flowing moment of ideas. Happy you had yours, and in the Caribbean at that! Go you (and I say that with slight envy, but good intent)!

  • Ciccolini Ricearoni

    Thank you Leandra, for your injection of Vitamin C (creativity) delivered with your always deft hand and sensitive touch.

    Inasmuch as being actually able to pick up and sally forth to a different clime and locale, the concept of taking a mental break and ‘just doing it’ is inspirational enough.
    Writing, and other arts, is indeed a muscle, and the claxon of prescient knowledge that flab equals plateaus and clogged artistic arteries is cause enough to get up and wave those arms and shake that head and move those feet NOW.

  • Thamsa

    I got so excited about going on vacation my cousin recently and saw it as an opportunity to get my creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, the trip got cancelled and for the last couple of weeks, I’ve not felt the motivation to do anything creative. I’ve tried sketching, but it’s like my fingers wont move properly (I did hem some pants recently, but I couldn’t even keep a straight stitch!!). I think Ill just take a vacation by myself 😛

  • nay

    After reading your book and meeting you at The Grove Barney’s book signing where you inspirationally wrote in my book that you couldn’t wait to come to MY book signing one day, I realized that girls our age – mid 20’s nearing the end of our 20’s – often find ourselves in this overwhelming pressure that we put on ourselves, or maybe that society puts on us, that we need to be constantly creative. We always need to top ourselves, or top that girl who just posted the witty caption on their ultra cliche Insta with her lo-fi filter, in order to validate our creativity when we feel that we have plateaued in our trade of choice. I absolutely love that you are so honest with us, admitting that you too plateau in your creativity which hinders the ability to produce literary gold. It makes me feel normal and reminds me that I need to get my ass over to Palm Springs this weekend. XO

  • pinkschmink

    I’m about to apply for a creative retreat on a private island just off Stockholm. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hope my application is successful because I desperately need it right now. I’ve come to realise that, much like my iPhone and my MacBook, my mind can’t constantly recharge – sometimes it needs to be allowed to run down before it starts up again, fresh as the day it was made. Maybe.

  • FlippantJournalistsSuck

    I’ve been staring at this space for a few minutes trying to think of a way to put this diplomatically, but I’ll just come right out and say it: This may be the worst article I have ever read.

    Does anyone other than a high school sophomore write sentences like:

    “But it needs to be worked out in order to perform as the alpha-most version of itself”‘ and

    “Like my ideas had married other ideas and procreated to produce new, original progeny which was only now beginning to surface and elicit that intrinsic pit of excitement that typically only comes in the wake of a good (no matter how bad it is) idea.”

    Ooofah, my “intrinsic pit of excitement” is glowing fire-red, I’m tellin’ ya!

    I guess the only real question I have is, how much did you have to pay your friends to log in and write things like “Wow… that was truly a beautiful piece of writing, Leandra!”?