Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 15, 2019

Guest Post: Elizabeth McBride – Find Your Writing Flow Again


by Elizabeth McBride

The prospect of a fresh start in the New Year can be invigorating, but quickly overtaken by resolutions and expectations that may become more detrimental than inspiring. One way to facilitate writing habits that work for you, is to re-define what you may perceive to be your limitations.

Looking at both habits and circumstances can help a writer make the best use of their time and efforts. Sub-headings in the article are: Using Re-definition to Suppress Your Inner-Critic, and Re-defining for Desired Effects: When You Can’t Change Your Circumstances, Change the Way You Think About Them.

This is a personal essay including my ‘take-away’ from Kim Stafford’s presentation at the 2015 New Orleans Writing Marathon. 

Are you feeling like you have lost your writing momentum? After formulating all your plans and resolutions for the New Year, do you feel you just can’t access your own creative well? Pause and take a look at what is going on in your life. Are there changes in your schedule, relationships, priorities, workload, or availability? How you define these areas of your thinking and experience makes a difference in how you approach them and yourself. How creative can you be when you are critiquing your every move? How freely can you access your ideas when they are first and foremost bound to expectations for outcomes? If the results of your creative efforts have become more of a focus than the act of creating itself, your attention will be drawn to comparison and assessment of your efforts to create. If your schedule and involvements have changed so that you cannot find the uninterrupted time you desire for exploration and creating, you may feel it is simply out of reach for you.

We all know there is power in the personal habits we maintain, both the intentional behaviors and those that seem to develop without our awareness. By choosing to take control of your interpretation of your circumstances and your habits, you give yourself the ability to turn what could have appeared to be limitations into sources for inspiration and motivation.

Using Re-definition to Suppress Your Inner Critic

Our minds are as trainable as our bodies. We can prepare ourselves to access our creativity by using “readiness sequences” to help ourselves prepare to write. In 2015 I attended the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project’s New Orleans Writing Marathon, where Guest Writer, Kim Stafford participated in the teaching. I had often (somewhat) silently chided myself for my seeming fixation on the weather and the quality of light in the morning as I attempted to begin my morning writing sessions. I’d heard so many times that writing needed to be “fresh” and varied and inventive, that my ‘routine’ of beginning my sessions this way seemed ‘wrong.’ Therefore the writing stopped right about there, as I tried to alter my address to the page by thinking of something else, i.e. something I wasn’t really thinking about…and…you see the problem.

Then, on the first day of the Marathon, I heard Oregon Poet Laureate, Dr. Kim Stafford, comfortably comment that he starts each entry in his journal in the same way: with the date and where he is…because by doing so, he feels that he is ‘already writing’ by the time he has finished that entry into his writing time. I took that as permission to do what had previously worked for me: note the weather and the morning light as I started my writing sessions! Dr. Stafford wasn’t recommending a lengthy 46-step process to accomplish before ‘beginning,’ but by defining his repeated actions as necessary, rather than ‘wrong,’ he was using his access TO beginning to cross the threshold of the blank page painlessly. By re-defining my propensity for commenting on the weather and/or the light as I began my writing sessions, I decided that I was establishing a sequence of practices to help myself get into my writing frame of mind! Are your judgments of your writing habits out of line with what those habits can do for you?

Re-defining for Desired Effects: When you can’t change your circumstances, change the way you think about them

My father died in June of this past year. My life had been organized to include weekly trips to visit my parents and in the end, my father, for eleven years. Those were full-day trips that were a part of every weekend and therefore had an impact on my time for my family, job, and home, my personal time, and my writing time. Each Saturday I hurried through the hour and ½ that it took to get to my destination and accomplish my goal of being there during their/his best hours of the day. In my mind, my travel time was only a means to an end; a waste of hours I could have used to accomplish other things. This only added to my fatigue and sense of ineffectiveness in meeting my own needs.

Then, in an effort to provide myself with the reprieves I knew I needed, I decided to re-define my actual travel time as my ‘away time;’ the rest I longed to give to myself, and the well-filling time I needed.  I decided to intentionally appreciate the sights around me, and the quiet of the traveling itself. I chose a route through the countryside for its scenery and isolation, picked up a hot mocha to ‘give’ to myself along the way – and my travel time quickly transformed itself into newfound Creative Time. Having chosen to enjoy the miles, rather than struggle against them, I soon came to realize that as soon as I made it out of town, my mind easily slipped into its creative mode as if I were opening the door to a flow of ideas. Later, I would collect the sticky notes and dictations from the trip and first drafts would assemble themselves before me.

My writing practice stopped this summer, when I stopped following that routine that had become associated with my creative flow. At first I attributed the change to my response to the loss of my father, the changes in responsibilities that I had in managing his affairs, and the needs that I was seeing at home. Then a month or so later, I needed to head west again and I decided to revisit those backcountry roads and give myself a small break in my efforts to complete the many tasks awaiting me. The impulse to see the landscape with creative eyes and frame my thoughts into an artistry of sound returned almost immediately. I quickly realized that over time, I had trained myself to begin my writing this way, and that when I had stopped following that routine that had become associated with relaxing into my creative flow, I had closed the door on my usual means of entry. The jottings began, the ideas arrived with the miles, and the doorway to creativity opened again. Recognizing that a new practice needs to be established now that I am not traveling as much, I’m working on finding my new ‘avenue’ – perhaps walking! 

Out of Your Routine – a Gift

Yes, a simple walk outside, preparing a cup of steaming coffee or tea, watering the plants before sitting down to write – why not give yourself the GIFT of forming an avenue into your writing process? Even if you don’t have extra time to dedicate to your creative thinking, how can you re-define the way you think about and utilize the time you already have? Do you have chores or responsibilities that require more motion than thought, or sequences of activities that you can perform without full concentration; routine travel that allows you to notice the details of your surroundings and their changes through the seasons? Can you incorporate these times and activities that are already a part of your days into a time you define and claim as your creativity time? Become mindful of the routines in your life; the things that you thought were standing in the way of your creativity, and re-define them. Their repetition and routine may be the gift you have been looking for! Let them become the lead-in to your creative time, and be assured that giving yourself a habitual way of entering into your own flow will take possession of the handle on the door to your own creativity.

For more information on the practice of creative writing, see Kim Stafford’s book, The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2003. Dr. Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon.

Also recommended:

Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, London: Penguin Publishing Group, 2017. Edited by Joe Fassler.

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, London: Penguin Publishing Group, 2002, and the practice of writing “Morning Pages.”

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, by William Kenower, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2017.


Elizabeth’s writing has been published in Children’s Writer, Louisiana Literature, Scintilla, Third Wednesday, Red River Review, Dunes Review,  Seeding the Snow, Poetry Breakfast, ThinkKidThink March Madness 2014, Spider Magazine for Children, and SCBWI-MI. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and a Master’s Degree in Child and Family Studies (Marriage and Family Therapy) from Michigan State University. I am certified as a Level One Clinician in Trauma and Loss in Children through the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, and manage a large elementary school library for the Grand Ledge School District. 


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Beth: It’s great to see you here. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Finding creative time is so important. I use my time on the exercise bike to work out the problems in my novel.


    • Thank you, Ann! It is an honor to be here on a site I so admire. Separating the rules and expectations from our creativity is always the wise thing to do in order to allow creativity to emerge. Sometimes it is difficult to see where we have allowed what we have heard is recommended to become a ‘rule’ or an ‘expectation’ in our quest to find the magic way IN to sharing our writing through publication. You are smart to be adding endorphins to the problem-solving process on the bike!


  2. I enjoyed this post immensely. Thank you so much for your insights!


    • Doris, I appreciate your feedback. If anyone finds a little bit more encouragement and hope for impacting their own creative processes through this, my mission will be accomplished! Waiting on the mythical muse is not an option. Creating our own pathways toward creativity is definitely the way to go!


  3. Elizabeth, yours is the perfect example of “it’s all in how you look at things” 🙂 LOVE this. And I think one of the most important things to take away from your wise words is we are always mistaken if we analyze or compare our process to what we believe or have been told is a “right” or “wrong” way. Whatever works for us is the right way 🙂


  4. You are soooo right! Revision takes care of the rest, and we all know it is easier to get back in to the moving stream of thought when there is something already on the page. Give yourself the gift of something on the page to which you can respond and upon which you can improve. Just think of it this way: Every time you make an improvement/edit/revision you are making the outcome better. And every time you do so, you are reinforcing your interaction with the creative process in those little increments of satisfaction.


  5. Wonderful post–Thanks for sharing!


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