A New Cycle & Writing a Book in 5-Days
Embracing Creative Dysregulation
February 8, 2024: Greetings from the quirky coastal town of Mazunte, Oaxaca where I’m spending the next 15 days on a solo trip. I’ll be attending my second 10-day silent meditation retreat at Hridaya Yoga led by the semi-enlightened founder, Sahajananda (but not doing a dark room or getting engaged this time around), and enjoying some quality me-time and ocean time. This trip comes at the perfect time, as I just wrote and published my first book in under one week.
Riding the Waves
Whoa. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve tended to my Substack. I almost let this newsletter go completely after struggling with a ‘creative collapse’ in Fall 2023. Right around the same time that an article I wrote for Emma Gannon’s Substack, The Hyphen, on cyclical creativity was published, and my subscribers doubled (👋 hello Emma’s people!) I apologize for not welcoming new subscribers sooner and for ghosting those who have been with me for a while. Hello to everyone!
This creative collapse happened when I allowed myself to feel the fear, overwhelm, and insecurity that had come with creating online. Despite having a newsletter and podcast, it turns out I didn’t feel fully committed to these mediums, nor did they feel like essential components of my life. They felt negotiable and questionable.
During my creative collapse, I gave myself as much time as I needed away from creating online to decide if this was a game I wanted to play and, if so, what rules I wanted to play by.
As someone who doesn’t consume much content (I barely read other newsletters and have been on a multi-month podcast cleanse), it felt hypocritical to be filling up the internet with my own thoughts and stories. I also wasn’t sure what the point was— was this for my personal pleasure? For developing thought leadership? For income generation? My motives were murky, and as a byproduct, my creations were inconsistent.
But beyond unclear motivations, I felt self-conscious about my writing and was afraid to share vulnerably. Whenever I write and speak, I like venturing into deep, emotional, and raw places. I don’t know why; it’s just part of my nature. Yet the stories that I’ve shared in the past have caused people in my life (especially my biological family and former close friends) to judge, criticize, and use shaming language.
As a sensitive person, I took this feedback personally and developed a complex: I want to share, and “I’m bad” when I do.
Despite the positive feedback from many others, I let the negative shut me down. I internalized the criticism and directed it back to myself and then eventually to the game of online creation in general. Instead of taking ownership of my pain and growing from it, I played the victim of the big bad internet and all its noise. What originally started as an exciting outlet for me to express myself became a mirror for my unhealed stuff— my inner critic, insecurity, and doubt.
So, I took a break and let myself off the hook. I knew nobody was checking their email, wondering where Kelly was. I entered a ‘creative winter’ (ironically mentioned in The Hyphen article) marked by rest, a lack of clarity, and simmering in the ‘creative void’— you know, that place where nothing makes sense.
During this break, I explored other, simpler outlets of creativity. I started weaving, embroidering, and baking sourdough. I briefly became a ‘domestic goddess’ with no bigger ambitions than to have an organized pantry and a hot loaf of bread every few days. These times were delicious, wholesome, and, ultimately, too boring for me.
By the 2023/2024 transition, I started desiring creative excitement again. I wanted back in “the game,” even though I wasn’t sure what that meant yet. I could feel the all-too-familiar stir of aliveness in my body— you know that feeling when inspirational ideas are coming in hot? My desire to speak, write, and share re-emerged, but I was nervous…
Would I end up doing the same thing again? Coming back with a few articles/podcasts/posts/ideas only to disappear again when my “stuff” came up. After all, I have been behaving like this for years now. There was no definitive way to know, but I was willing to accept this possibility and follow the creative inspiration anyway.
In fact, it turns out that I was willing to take it 10x further— I would write a book about this very experience. An experience that I’ve dubbed ‘creative dysregulation.’
This phrase has been with me for about three years, and it aptly describes my inconsistency and inner turmoil around creativity. The working definition that I’ve come up with is:
Creative dysregulation encompasses the inner imbalances that disrupt an individual’s ability to consistently engage with and execute their creative work. These disruptions hinder the fluidity, productivity, and fulfillment of the creative process, as well as one’s ability to see themselves as a successful creator.
In short, creative dysregulation is everything inside of us that gets in the way of creating what we desire— whether because of low self-esteem, doubt, conditioning from family or culture, negative past experiences, challenging emotions, or a nihilistic view of life. As complex beings, our interior worlds are rich with paradoxes and opposing parts. And for some of us, this complexity hinders our authentic expression.
As I’ve been dissecting the meaning of this phrase and peeling back the layers of my experiences, I’ve come to see its deleterious impacts. When unchecked and unconscious, creative dysregulation has led me to abandon countless creative projects and multiple businesses. I can even connect it to my 2020 bankruptcy and a myriad of health crises, especially the mental and emotional ones.
Yet, I paradoxically see it as a beautiful gift.
Without my creative dysregulation, I wouldn’t have learned so much about myself. Wrestling with it has made me so intrinsically self-empowered that I could claim and own my creativity regardless of external influences, especially dem haters. As I heal and transform dysregulation into ‘creative regulation,’ I gather a wealth of knowledge about life, myself, and the great mystery of Creativity.
Once a source of shame, this experience is also now becoming a beautiful point of connection between myself and others.
Ever since sharing this phrase on X (Twitter) last August, I’ve heard from numerous people about their creative dysregulation journeys. On the surface, they look different— from manic bursts of creative energy that overrides sleep and self-care to viewing oneself as the least creative person on the planet and so much in between. Yet, the undercurrent is the same: We struggle to express what’s inside of us sustainably.
The resonance this phrase has had with others was strong enough to compel me to write more about it.
In fact, I wrote a book! A micro-book that came together in about 5-ish days…
The 5-Day Book Challenge
Last Sunday, my husband (Jonny) and I hosted two friends at our house— Paul and Adam. All creative types, we casually discussed the path of writing books and sharing things with the world.
You might remember Paul Millerd, author of The Pathless Path, and my 4th interview on the Wild on Purpose Podcast (below). He mentioned a creativity framework he lives by of ‘ship, quit, and learn’ — essentially getting ideas out of the head and into the world as quickly as possible to learn what to do next. Epitomized by the 🚀 emoji.
Casually, I mentioned the experience of ‘creative dysregulation’, and he immediately lit up. This phrase described countless people he’s met along his own creator journey and encouraged me to write more about it ASAP. In fact, he encouraged me to write a book of just 30-40 pages, a #microbook if you will.
Since my creative excitement had returned and I was looking for a project to channel that energy into, I went along with it. Why not? I’m a verbose writer once I get started so 30-40 pages seemed doable.
But then it got spicy 🌶️
The principle behind ‘ship, quit, and learn’ was to move fast to encourage early feedback. What was the smallest increment of time that I could get this micro-book out?
I decided on the arbitrary number of five days so that it could be published before Adam left our house. The guys were stoked, and the challenge was set! I would write my first book on creative dysregulation in five days.
A challenge that I more-or-less accomplished with the publishing of ‘Creative Dysregulation: Why Your Creativity is Chaotic & What to Do About It.’
I’m very proud of what I put together in a short period of time. It’s coming in at 18,000 words (about 100 Kindle pages) and is part memoir, part self-help. You’ll find many things we love in personal development books: a framework, a downloadable diagram, a self-assessment, and five actionable challenges for you to experiment with. Plus, loads of that deep, vulnerability stuff I love so much.
What I share with you today is V1 (version 1), which is only available on Kindle. By getting it to this stage, I have ‘shipped and quit,’ and now I will ‘learn’ through the feedback and reflections of readers.
I already have a lengthy list of improvements and additions, which will eventually create the paperback version. But for now, the book is good enough.
So, now that I’ve written a book, what’s next?
Well, if my creative dysregulation journey has taught me one thing, it’s to be careful about making large declarations about what I will do, especially to a wider audience. Doing so seems to decrease the likelihood that I will do them. Instead, I commit to the tending of my creative spirit, my soul, and my authenticity. What will emerge from this will surprise and delight me just as much as it may you.
Thanks for being here! As always, if you’d like to start a conversation, just hit reply (but know that I’ll be offline for the next two weeks to 🧘🏻♀️).
~ Kelly 🦋
PS ~ Since I’ve been digitally hibernating for a while, here are some of my favorite photos from the past six months.