I was riding a powerful creativity wave in 2022. Mid-year, I started journalling and writing songs. I had so many ideas I started this blog to share what I was learning. As a first time blogger, I was concerned I’d abandon the blog after a few posts. However, I stayed on track from August to November, publishing about once a week. However, when November came along, my momentum went in the toilet. I stopped blogging, tweeting, writing songs, and even writing Morning Pages. I wondered if I had ridden my creativity wave all the way into shore. I didn’t get dashed on the rocks in a spectacular wipe out, I just quietly stepped off my board and sat on the beach.
As creatives, we all experience times of creative quiet. Call it writer’s block, or just “not feeling it”. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you probably worry that it might happen someday. As of today, I’m paddling back out into the creative sea to catch more waves. Here are my thoughts on how I’m rebuilding my creative energy.
Have you experienced times of creative lull? Let me know how you rekindled your creativity in the comments. I want to learn from you!
Identify why you went quiet
Before you try to turn the creativity back on, spend some time thinking about why you stopped creating. The cause may be obvious: sickness, new job, a breakup, or other significant life event. You may have so many things going on, that busy-ness or overwhelm has exhausted your creative energies. Perhaps your creativity used to spark joy in your heart, but now just thinking about it exhausts you. You may have pushed too hard and are approaching burnout.
I was derailed by several things. Thanksgiving knocked me off balance with planning, houseguests, shopping, cooking, etc. Flu also made an appearance as an unwanted guest over the holiday. Also, I was to play two of my original songs in a coffeehouse just after Thanksgiving. That was the first time playing my songs in public so I was way outside my comfort zone. The result was zero writing in the second half of November.
After Thanksgiving, I didn’t return to writing as I’d planned. Instead, I decided to refinish the dining room table as it looked exceedingly shabby at Thanksgiving. I happily listened to hours of audiobooks while I scraped and sanded. It was restorative to be working at something productive, but not mentally or emotionally taxing. Once I completed that project, the hullabaloo of the Christmas and New Year holidays began. So yeah, zero writing in December too.
I imagine that many people who fall off the creative wagon have a similar story of a routine disrupted. What started as a temporary pause stretches out until you wonder if you will ever resume your creative life.
Remind yourself of your goals
When you’re standing on the shore of your creative sea, you’ll wonder if you really want to get back out there. Sure, riding the creative wave was exhilarating. But, the water was sometimes cold, paddling to catch the wave was exhausting, and there was the constant fear of falling. It is a natural time to examine your motives and reconnect with your Why.
I happily spent December cooking (from someone else’s recipes), refinishing the table (built by someone else), strumming Christmas songs (composed by someone else), and knitting a sweater (from someone else’s pattern). But, I reminded myself that I want to live a creative life. I want to innovate. I want to make things, try things, and share what I’ve learned. I want to inspire and support others in their creativity.
Sometimes creating is ridiculously easy. Lyrics pop into my head as if written by someone else. But sometimes it’s hours of thinking, problem solving, and frustration, with no guarantee that anything will result from the effort. In reminding myself of my goals, I’ve recommitted to the struggle of creating original work.
Remind yourself Why you want to be creative. Let those reasons inspire you.
So, you took time off, didn’t do anything for a while, and now you’re way behind on your goals. That’s ok. Forgive yourself – or better yet, realize that there is nothing to forgive. You’re allowed to take a break. Think of your creativity as a shy dog. Nothing will scare it away faster than being scolded. Accept the current state, and restart from where you are.
It’s ok if you’ve taken such a long break from your creative pursuit that you need to start again. Go ahead, start again like it is Day 1. As Jeff Bezos says, every day is Day 1. If you took the break because your creativity had become a “chore”, restart and create with the optimism, hope, and joy of the first day.
Re-Create your playground
Think of the reasons why you went quiet. Which of those factors can you control? Which can you work around?
If you were derailed from your goals because of a change in routine or workspace, figure out how to create an environment that is amenable to your art. I’ve adjusted to accept that for now, sometimes my Morning Pages don’t get written until the afternoon, and my creative space is set up in my bedroom instead of the guest room.
When I had young kids, I switched to portable creative activities. I swapped machine quilting for knitting so I could take works in progress along with me to kid activities. I drew in sketchbooks while waiting at doctor’s offices, and practiced photography at soccer practice. See what new crafts, techniques or mediums can fit the time and energy you have available. Remember, freedom is great for creativity, but constraints can supercharge it.
I’m lucky that this time, my routine is returning close to the pre-holiday normal. However, if your situation has irrevocably changed, re-establish your routines and workspace to carve out your creative time.
Prime the pump
Before you can start a water pump that has run dry, you need to pour a bucket of water into it to expel the air so the pump can start pumping water. This is called “priming the pump.” To restart your creative practice that has run dry, you may need to ease back into it to get the creativity flowing again in a low-stress way. For me, re-starting three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing in my Morning Pages was the first step to priming the pump. Then, I asked myself to write another blog post, but I gave myself permission for it to be short and lame. Reducing the expectations lowered the bar and made writing feel easy. If I had insisted that I needed to make up for the 7 weeks of missed posts, I would probably be binge watching Breaking Bad instead of writing.
Priming the pump for visual artists could be quick sketches or experimenting with a new medium. Musicians could improvise for 30 minutes. Just pick up the pen, brush, saxophone, blowtorch, etc and make something, anything, without any expectations. You’ll know your pump is starting again when you start thinking, “what would happen if…”.
Recommit and Set Goals
Keep dabbling until you feel your creative energy building back up. When you’re starting to stockpile creative ideas again, reset your goals. Perhaps last time your goals were too easy to keep you motivated. Or, perhaps they were so challenging you gave up in hopelessness. When you’re ready, think of your long term goal, and then establish a six month goal and a three month goal that will get you there. Work backwards to what you need to do this week, and what you need to do today. Does it still seem achievable but with a bit of stretch? That’s a good goal! Get after it.
Happy New Year!
With the new year, it’s a great time to evaluate your creative practice and reboot if necessary. Put your environment and routines in place to set you up for success. Give your creativity a place to play and reduce the pressure for it to perform and you’ll be on your way to your goals again.
Creativity sparks more creativity. If you’ve fallen off your creativity surfboard, don’t recriminate. Instead, reduce expectations, recommit, restart.
Once you’ve paddled out into the creativity sea again, there’s no guarantee that there will be any swells of grand inspiration. But, you’ll be out there where the ideas begin, and ready to catch the next wave when it appears.
What caused your creative break? What ideas do you have for preserving, fostering or jump-starting your creativity? Let me know in the comments.
3 responses to “Scared You’ll Never Be Creative Again? Here’s How to Paddle Back Out Into The Waves”
Yes we need to forgive ourselves. People like me will spend an entire day getting angry at myself. Thank you for sharing such a great post! And your website is really beautiful. I like the design.
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Thanks for the support Bachir. I too have a hard time moving on without giving myself a beating.
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My pleasure! Keep up the good work. With time and dedication we can all get better.
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