Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive woman channels her creativity through painting

7 Tips for HSPs to Channel Their Creativity

Empathy, not technical skill, is the key to doing groundbreaking creative work. HSPs, your natural talents are needed.

With the heightened stress of our modern world and superfluity of internet distractions all competing for our attention, it’s no wonder that so many of us have trouble getting into a creative flow.

As highly sensitive people (HSPs), we are often naturally creative, but the channeling and execution part can be difficult for us. Even when we do tap into our creative sides, organizing the energy into a presentable product is a whole other task entirely. We may become overwhelmed to the point that we end up not finishing, or the project remains a potentiality with multiple disparate bits that just couldn’t find their way into a cohesive whole.

Here’s some of what has helped me, both for tapping into creativity and then finding ways to channel and organize it once I have.

7 Tips for HSPs to Channel Their Creativity

1. Keep a scrap bin to make editing easier. 

One challenging aspect of the creative process is that it involves letting go of things we may not be ready to renounce. Editing and paring down, though necessary, for me has always meant parting ways with something. Just as there’s a sentimental value attached to some of my messes; so, too, is there a sentimental value attached to every blog draft. Often I will say: Better to leave it as it is (my flawed, at times headache-inducing untouchable mess).

Similar to organizing my room, finalizing a written piece feels difficult — yet I find I can edit someone else’s essay or clean a friend’s room without any problem, because there’s less personal investment in it. I don’t overthink every shirt I put into storage, recalling how it got me through a tough time or wondering if I might need it again on some undetermined day in the future. Likewise, when editing another writer’s sentence, I hold no concept of that sentence’s original intended purpose, therefore truncating it brings me no sadness.

To help with this, I suggest keeping “scrap bins” — backup copies — of anything you feel isn’t adding much to the piece, but are still not sure you want to get rid of just yet. Musicians can do this with sound clips and artists can do this with their artwork. This way, you’ll know they’re still there if you ever should need them — but they also won’t continue to encumber you by dragging the rest of the piece down. You’re now freed up to focus on what your creation needs next to move it along.

2. Empathize with your piece.

A work of art is like a person or a friend: Before it can evolve, first you must give it your whole heart and complete attention, fully taking it in, imperfect structure and all. Otherwise, your editing will be nothing more than shallow and piecemeal: take out a word here, add one there. Good writing, to me, has as much to do with overall energy, emotional pulse, and flow as it does with structure and technical craft. Though technical in certain respects, as a practice, writing is also a deeply spiritual and emotional one, especially for sensitive souls, as we notice everything. And since we tend to have a deep sense of empathy, it’s good for us to empathize with our creative works, as well, which usually comes naturally.

But, that said, I find that sometimes my lack of progress on a piece is attributable to my not really connecting with it. I’m not surrendering to it or submerging myself in its messiness — so its essence eludes me. And I realize that maybe it’s only once I’m soaked in that very (elusive) essence that I can help it to grow.

The more we stare at a page and insist “I need you to turn out a certain way,” the less we appreciate, and work with, what’s already there in front of us. Fixated as we are on this illusory and hypothetical finished product, we, in turn, neglect the messy, scattered, yet extremely real (and therefore workable) content before us.

3. Keep a notebook for spontaneous thoughts and ideas.

Not everything can be planned, especially when it comes to creativity. What I call the elusive jungle cats (bursts of insight or unforeseen breakthroughs) saunter in when I least expect them — such as when I’m out with friends at a bar. I set down my jalapeño margarita and excuse myself from the group because a thought needs attending to, which I record in the bathroom. Or when on a bike ride, sometimes I’ll veer off to the side of the road and pull out my phone.

It’s at these admittedly inopportune times that I’m sporadically rewarded, as I witness clear sentences marching through my mind in all their coherent glory. When thoughts come in quick bursts like this, if you can, write them down. Highly sensitive people are deep thinkers and we don’t want to risk losing these ideas. And, once again, this can apply to many creative endeavors aside from writing.

4. Use music to channel your drive, energy, and motivation.

I have several music playlists on my iPhone: one for working out that always pumps me up, one for writing that puts me in the sentimental mood necessary for connecting emotionally with my characters, and one for staying focused on a more cognitively challenging task (which consists of Piano Guys and other soothing, wordless instrumental backdrops).

Consider what music or white noise might work best for you, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Research has found that listening to happy music promotes divergent thinking.

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5. Consider a social media cleanse for creativity.

What I refer to as mind-drowning is when your mind loses control of your constructive thoughts and becomes submerged in useless sludgy ones. Too much time looking at screens and scrolling social media submerges us deeper into these counterproductive thoughts,  whereas time spent outside, connecting with our bodies, and looking into human faces, pulls us out.

For instance, a chocolate peanut butter scone is a nice treat every now and then, but you don’t rely on it for sustenance. The same should apply for social media, or any diversion that’s inherently designed to divide your attention and appeal immediately to your limbic system. Channeling creativity becomes much easier when we use technology and social media judiciously, especially for those of us with highly sensitive brains. We get more emotionally affected by social media and news than others, so it benefits us to take a social media break and put that brain power toward our creative pursuits instead. 

6. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and step away from the computer — take breaks from screen time to reconnect with paper.

The times I actually write the things I’m most proud of, the  writing comes out in one burst, usually when it’s only me, a pen, and paper. (Ironically, my computer, the vehicle of efficiency, is almost never present when I get my most authentic and coherent writing done — perhaps because I’ve learned to associate it with distractibility and overstimulation). Separate from the computer, sometimes I feel I’m most likely to generate my own thoughts. I’m also less likely to be influenced by reminders of social comparisons (even when I’m not actively on social media, the associations still lurk in the background).

I remind myself that people once wrote coherent, even phenomenal, books before any of us owned computers. A lucid thought will find its way to the page in its entirety with or without the accelerating assistance of a computer. If you feel you have something important to say, the absence of a keyboard won’t prevent you from saying it. And, again, this can apply to any artistic endeavor you’re pursuing.

I think of it as similar to cooking a meal from scratch — as opposed to popping a freezer meal in the microwave. If you struggle with tapping into your creative side, consider closing the computer. Our sensitive minds are so full of thoughts anyway, they’ll probably come out endlessly when you give them the white space to do so.

7. Understand that you will not use all your material — and that’s okay.

My writing process used to play out as follows: A topic would intrigue me and I’d just know that I wanted to write about it. I wasn’t clear what exact point I wanted to make. So I’d start writing. It wasn’t until hours later, though, that I was finally able to start actually writing something that shifted or advanced the conversation a bit. The sentences began adding just a little bit of novelty to the pre-existing canon. Words appeared that might encourage people to think (rather than simply absorb a sales pitch).

I think about how nice it would’ve been if, rather than waste those preceding 10 hours, I had instead just skipped to that step straight from the beginning. The thing is, though, tedious as they might feel, often you just have to go through those initial steps to arrive at the eventual product — or a different product entirely. Remember that the “wasted time” and supposed missteps were in the service of teaching us the lessons we needed to learn. Without them, we wouldn’t be the creators that we are right now. That one point we made on page one would not have come to the realization we uncovered on page 11 (or what have you).

And, as HSPs, we tend to overthink, so I know it may be hard not to keep everything we write (or paint or produce). But remember, even if a project (or parts of one) doesn’t see its way to fruition, remind yourself that it’s still helping you grow. And, eventually, it will take you where you need to go.

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