The Cowpatch

Rumen-ations from the Southwest

Unblocking Your Potential


What paralyzes you instantly? Freezes your ability to act? Spiders? Snakes? Public speaking? Writing?

Writing is scary, no bones about it. The ghosts of everyone who every criticized your efforts in the past come crowding into your creative space. Endless echoes of “Who do you think you are?!” carom off the walls. The grammar police are waiting in the wings to haul you off to heaven-knows-what dismal dungeon. Too young, too old, too late ricochet off every surface. You find it impossible to write the first three words. Or you’ve written the first sentence, but now you find yourself rehashing it, unable to move forward.

Like an athlete you have to push past limitations. An athlete doesn’t jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, and dash out the door to run a four-minute mile without loosening up first. She needs to warm up those muscles. Your brain is a muscle too, and here are some activities that can help get those synapses firing in new and unusual ways.


Get yourself a copy of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. The book is packed with things you can do to unblock your creativity, including “morning pages.” Morning pages are not a journal. They are only for you. Since you write them longhand in a cheap notebook, others may not be able to read them in twenty years anyway. When you’re writing for yourself, legibility is not a concern. If you’re worried, you can always leave a note in your will to burn them after you cross the bridge to the Great Beyond.

Sometimes, my morning pages consist of the phrase, “I don’t know what to write this morning” over and over again, perhaps for half a page, and then suddenly, everything breaks loose, and I’m writing stream-of-consciousness as fast as I can. Sometimes I just whine and whine and whine. But after twenty to thirty minutes, I’m loosened up and primed.

Do not write morning pages on your computer. How often has your computer not behaved as expected? How often have you had to stop to change the battery in a wireless mouse? Years ago, when my other half and I were doing animated computer games for the New York State Department of Community Health, I turned up several studies showing when the computer hesitates, the student doesn’t learn as well. There’s a trust issue with the machine and it can disrupt your natural flow. You don’t need a spellchecker for your morning pages.


Take a walk with plastic bag in hand and look for found items. I recently found a bright and shiny fishing lure in the shape of a little metal minnow on a trail in the Sonoran Desert. The nearest water was a sewage treatment pond several miles away. (And the quality of the fishing experience there is doubtful at best.) On other random walks, I have found a child’s miniature plastic toy, a bottle cap from a brand of soft drink I had never heard of and couldn’t find on the Internet, a shopping list, a javelina skull, a tiny rubbery plastic lobster, a glove, a cat’s collar, a beautiful piece of turquoise, and some ultra-creepy packaging from a child’s game. I’m not talking about the fast-food flotsam and jetsam that litters the verges of our roads, keeping company with beer bottles and soda cans. I’m talking about real treasures. Bring your items home, spread them out, make yourself a cup of coffee, sit down and write a story that brings your items together. It can be silly, it can be scary, it can involve supernatural events and UFO’s. Maybe the cat belonged to the kid that owned that creepy game, and it slipped its collar to get away. Maybe the glove belonged to a college guy who had finally worked up the courage to ask the girl of his dreams on a date. Perhaps he took his glove off to dial his cell phone and was so excited that she accepted that he didn’t notice he’d dropped his glove.

Just write.


Take yourself outside with a cup of tea and listen. Write down everything you hear. The more you write, the more you’re able to hear. An airplane. Distant thunder. A mourning dove. A robin. Don’t just write “a bird.” Write what kind of bird. If you don’t know what kind, then try to describe its song. Where was it? What color was it? Maybe you hear people talking. Do you smell anything? Exhaust fumes. Bacon cooking? A mysterious perfume in the air? A writer friend of mine was walking down Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, when a voice floating through an open window said, “Every time the doorbell rings, the bed falls down.” Bob found himself instantly writing the back story to that statement in his head.

EXPAND YOUR VOCABULARY  An interesting site about words. The New York Times calls this free newsletter, “The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace.”


“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman

Watch Neil Gaiman’s University of the Arts, Philadelphia, 2012 Commencement Speech to chase away any discouraging thoughts.


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