Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Unblocking Creativity

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 15:43 min

Writing a poem of witness is an event in and of itself aside from the event that is being written about. In reading several types of poems, Joy shares how she views poetry of witness as essential to her political activism, the transformative power of telling the truth, and how releasing the bad can lead to a deeper understanding.

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Topics include: Unblocking Creativity * Dreaming to Leave the Thinking Mind * Case Study: Ekphrastic Writing * Undo Beliefs and Allow Yourself to Play * Ideas for Unblocking


[MUSIC PLAYING] - One of the most persistent questions that I get from writers, whether they're young, beginning, even more advanced, is what do you do if you get blocked? They say, I can't write. Or, I've always wanted to write, but I can't write. Or, I'm writing on something and I'm so blocked, I don't know what to do. What I've learned is that, usually, it's several things. I don't know that anybody is really blocked. It just means there's a point in the process that you're missing. Either, one, is that I'm going in the wrong direction, that I start to push. And I'm trying to push into a direction, and the piece is resisting me. I spent a whole summer once writing one poem, called "Gravity." And I had a whole notebook about this thick. I realized at the end of that summer that the poem had no gravity. And that's why it didn't work. And then I let it go. I mean, I let it go. It wasn't working but I didn't feel like it was a loss. I felt that everything I did in it was helpful to what I went on to from there. Sometimes there's something you need that you don't have, to be able to write the poem. Sometimes you need to do a little research. Sometimes you need to stand back from it and get a perspective. Sometimes we don't have the right perspective. So how do you get that? You put it away for a few days, sometimes for a week. Or sometimes you realize you're not ready. Maybe someone you loved has passed. Or you've just broken up with somebody. And it's so raw, you can't touch it. You're too close to it. Sometimes you need to get away from it. So the way you get unblocked is you give it time. Don't judge yourself. Don't judge the work. Sometimes you just have to let it go. And then it will come to you. And not try to. If you try to force it, it's just going to-- it'll resist. You might get something from it, but you won't get the fullness of what's possible. [SLOW, RESONANT MUSIC] Or I dream on it. I will dream on it. This is something that not only poets do, but if you read, scientists do the same thing. They take a problem to dreams and say OK, I give it over. And then they'll often wake up with what they need. They've done their work though. It's not just given for free. You've done your work. And there it is. So I do that often too, if I'm getting to a place like this. I think, OK, it's time to lay it down for a while and let it go. And it will find its way. If it's meant to, it will find its way to me. And then I start on something-- I might start on something else. And then, often, I'll pick it up later. And I might start writing my dream, or dreams, or something. I just start writing it. I don't always know what's there. But if I do that, and even do it for a half hour without thinking, I can come back to it. I find out all kinds of things. I don't have a certain notebook that I always write in. But I always have one with me, sometimes in my back pocket, in my bag. And I write notes. This...

About the Instructor

As the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo has written poetry that explores her personal experiences, the history of her ancestors, and social change. Now she’s teaching you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper motivation. Explore rhythm in art, navigate the world of revisions, and unlock your innate creativity to help you express your unique stories.

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Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, teaches you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper meaning.

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