Amanda Truscott is a Canadian author, blogger, and writing coach who has recently published her first book, Creative Unblocking: Bypass Self-Doubt, Tap Your Genius, and Complete Your Best Work. The message comes alive through Amanda’s vivid personal experiences and gets driven home with insights and anecdotes from creative artists, writers, and thinkers—often people she has interviewed herself. She offers lots of unique and incredibly powerful writing exercises to stir your inner creativity and to stop worrying about how your work will be received by others. Amanda says, “When you focus on what you can give, that’s when the magic happens, and you discover it doesn’t matter if anyone loves you, because the light you sent out lit you up from the inside.”
As creativity coach Anthony Smits writes, “Through over 150 pages of joyous voice, Amanda presents a stream of exercises and starters for self-reflection. There will definitely be one which resonates with you—and I’m sure every reader who wants rid of their blocks now will find a strategy to help them.”
Now 34, Amanda has been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique since she was four years old. Here she talks about TM and her creative journey.
Linda Egenes: In your book you mention your lifelong practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique and place meditation #1 on your list of ways to build strength, endurance, and flexibility. You write, “Stress is the raw material for creative blocks. ‘I can’t do this, I’m not good enough, and there’s never enough time’ are all stressful thoughts. Meditation helps dissolve them.” Can you talk a bit more about this, from your own experience?
Amanda Truscott: I’ve found that those sorts of thoughts crop up a lot more often when I’m undergoing a lot of stress. When I had a day job and was pushing myself too hard, not sleeping enough, and being exposed to angry clients—all of these external stressors did amplify those sorts of thoughts because that’s just how stress expresses itself in my system.
My daily TM sessions continued to clear that stuff away so it wouldn’t build up. Like maybe I’d have a really stressful day at work and I’d finish the day thinking, “I’m the worst person ever, everybody hates me, why am I even alive, etc.” and I would do my meditation and those thoughts would be gone. And once they were gone, I could enjoy my evening, go to sleep, wake up the next morning and do my writing and not be thinking about that stuff.
After attending a three-week TM meditation retreat, you write, “Ever since, I’ve been crackling with creative energy. All I want is to write fiction, and the ideas (to borrow filmmaker David Lynch’s metaphor) are like fat fish swimming in that quiet place inside me. To catch them, I just have to dive in.” Is that creative awakening continuing?
Amanda: Yes, that trend is continuing. The fiction is flowing more easily than it ever has since that retreat. Already I had been feeling better and better after interviewing all these creatives and delving into these subjects, but particularly in the last six months, since that retreat, I feel that I have to listen. I just quiet my mind and think, and then something comes.
I think the ideas are always there. But with practicing TM and amplifying that effect with the retreat, there’s less noise inside when I write. The stress creates those stressful thoughts, but there are fewer of them now and they have less power. I just sit down and listen. If something negative crops up—like “why are you writing this, this is so stupid,” I just say “Sh!” And then the creative thought comes through. I have more power over that noise so I can turn it down and listen to what is there.
How does Transcendental Meditation help fuel the creative process?
Amanda: It does it by creating silence in meditation, which you then bring into the rest of your life. You create that power in yourself to be really silent. That’s what it takes to hear the muse. I choose to think about it in those terms (muse) because it works for me. I hear my muse talking to me, and I need to be silent in order for that to happen. TM gives me practice at accessing that silence. It’s not that I’m meditating while I’m writing. But I know what silence feels like from my meditations, and I carry some of that into the rest of my life.
I loved your premise that as a writer you need to learn the steps of your craft and the steps of the creative process itself (Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification as described by Graham Wallas), rather than relying on inspiration to strike you. You mention TM in the incubation stage, when we drop the project or rest completely so the unconscious mind can solve the problem much more effectively than our conscious minds ever could. How does TM help with this important step?
Amanda: For one thing TM is a restorative activity, which I tend to prefer when I need to incubate something. It’s also what I do when I’m done working. Like I’ll work until 3 or 4 p.m. and then I’ll meditate, and it’s a very nice way to end that work period. It puts kind of a cap on it in a way.
Also I find that very often solutions will come to me in meditation. I don’t count on that, but it has happened many times where I’ve been stuck and then poof the idea comes during meditation.
It’s not like I’m saying that whenever you’re in that incubation stage you should go meditate, because when you practice Transcendental Meditation, you do it twice a day, morning and evening. But I think it’s a very good way to rest and get out of that conscious part of the process so we have the space to be illuminated.
You write that it’s taken you 34 years to accept that writing is your vocation. I get the feeling that you are very disciplined with your writing schedule now, and I also know it takes a certain amount of discipline to find time to practice TM, exercise, and eat good food, etc. You also mentioned that you take your weekends off—that downtime is very important for your incubation process. So how do you balance all of these needs?
Amanda: How I balance these things is by planning. I rely fairly heavily on David Allen’s getting things done method, which he describes in his best-selling productivity book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It talks a lot about task planning and management and doing weekly reviews.
Generally, going into a week I have a fairly good idea of what I want to accomplish and when I want to accomplish it. I try to give myself wiggle room so if things go wrong I’m not stuck. So that’s one part of it: planning.
The other part is routine: sticking to my routine, sticking to my habits. Then I don’t have to think about it. I know once I wake up, I meditate, I have breakfast, write until lunch, have lunch, do less creative things with my tired brain, exercise, meditate again, make dinner, and do everything else. So that’s a fairly typical structure for a weekday.
On the weekends, I usually do a little bit of journaling. I journal before I write too—affirmations and things like that—but I do more extensive journaling on the weekends to sort out any sticky thoughts I might be having. I try to keep the weekends pretty loose.
Amanda: It’s hard to say. Like I was saying to my dad the other day, asking me how TM has affected my life is a bit like asking a fish how water has affected its life. Because I’ve been so immersed in it for most of the time. All I can really talk about is how painful that gap was—when I thought meditation was so uncool and I didn’t do my daily TM and everything became so hard.
What advice do you offer other women who have a creative idea and want to give it flight?
Amanda: The advice that I would give would definitely differ depending on what would be stopping them. The most common thing that I’ve seen that stops women from giving life to their creative projects is an erroneous idea that what they have to produce creatively is not valuable enough to warrant them putting aside the needs of other people.
So they have this thing inside them that’s calling out to be born, but they think, “It doesn’t really matter, it’s not important, and all these other people have their important things that need my attention.”
So women in general could benefit from a) recognizing that their creativity and their creative work is vitally important to their own well-being, and b) really scheduling that in. Finding some way, somewhere to plan a space for their creative work and being really protective of that space, because that will ultimately enable them to give more to the other people in their lives. If they’re giving that gift to themselves, they will have more to give others.
Find out more about unblocking your creativity at Amanda Truscott’s Creative Unblocking website
Photo credits: Kevin Urbanski
Book cover: Ellen Odegaard
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.