You’re not gonna like this answer, I guarantee it. And I might be wrong. But, speaking as a person who has been creating since I could hold stuff with my dainty digits, I think my opinion is worth considering. It has taken me many years to accept this fact, and even now, as I feel my creative juices drying up for the first time in weeks, I still resist this truth. But trust me, when you have a creative block, the best thing to do is nothing.
See, I told you you would hate this.
Ok, let me clarify a little and provide some context to this idea. Also, I know this goes against a lot of advice from prolific creatives. Twyla Tharp, professional dancer, writes in her book, The Creative Habit, all kinds of ways to just keep going, keep doing, keep producing, keep activated. She’s a daily creative and never drops that ball. Ever. For her, this actually keeps her creativity stimulated. I don’t knock this idea, and this is a fascinating book. It’s just, this style of push, push, push, simply doesn’t work very well for me.
So, you’ve been in a creative upswing and it’s been glorious. Life is good and you are a bonafide creative genius! The words flow from your fingers like room-temperature butter. The paint touches your canvas with ease and you and your art are making love to each other, like constantly and repeatedly. You are legitimately brilliant and nothing can stop you.
And then, something happens. The inspiration that was once there just doesn’t have the umph it had before. Maybe you create something and it’s okay, but not great. Or maybe you actually struggle to complete a creation, and you just kinda don’t even care anymore. Sometimes, your brain goes completely blank. Staring off into space starts to feel REALLY GOOD. Like really good, and you find yourself doing that for like, a longer than natural period of time. You might feel exhausted in your body and just can’t even imagine mustering up the energy to make something pretty. All you want to do is relax, but you feel like a failure for even considering taking a break.
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be approaching creative burnout.
When you start to feel your body go a bit off track, it’s time to reassess. Your body and your health come first, and your creativity will not be able to thrive if your body shuts down. So, when you start to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and miserable, you need to consider taking a break.
I know this is hard, because I know how shitty it feels when my creativity has dried up. But, forcing it when it’s not there just doesn’t work, and instead makes me feel powerless and helpless. When I force my creativity when it’s not flowing, I actually start producing utter shit. It’s like forcing something on the toilet when it’s just not ready to come. Creative hemorrhoids come from pushing too hard when the flow is just not there. And when I produce utter shit, I start to doubt myself as a creative person.
I also understand that sometimes the ideas and inspiration are still coming, but our bodies just can’t keep up. When the juices are flowing, we feel such an urge to keep going, despite our body cries. Because we worry deep down that if we don’t capitalize on the inspiration, we might never get it back. If we ignore our creative instincts and don’t act on them, maybe the Goddesses of Creativity will punish us for our laziness.
No. That’s just not the case. The Goddesses of Creativity know that balance is required to maintain the flow. And if you feel like shit in any way, shape, or form, your balance needs to be restored before you can proceed.
Our culture is LACED with pressures to produce. And honestly, it feels almost impossible to put a project down, for fear of everyone else passing us by. It’s so ridiculous, but at the same time, we all get swept up in it. I know in the blogging world, there is a pressure to produce a blog post twice a week for bullshit SEO purposes. You know what? Fuck SEO. The world will have to wait for my next scintillating blog post because Mama is pooped! And if Google search engines don’t like it, they can go fuck themselves. Ahem, sorry.
If you start to feel like you have nothing to offer the world for next week’s deadline, it’s okay. If you have identified yourself as a sculptor, and the LAST thing you want to do right now is sculpt, don’t panic. Panic will just make you feel more insecure and more desperate to please. This anxiety can zap any inkling of creative flow left in your system, and send you into even deeper blocks.
No, you don’t want to go there. Instead, it’s best to just chill, ’til the next episode.
SLOW IT DOWN
So, if stopping all activity at once freaks you out, I totally understand. But at the very least, consider slowing down. This is going to feel SUPER uncomfortable, I know.
I had no idea how exhausted I was until I took a recent mini-vacay to a lake-front dream house in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Here I look exactly how I felt in that moment: A super tired woman, just starting to relax, but still a bit frazzled, wired, and wound up.
I am lucky enough to have a partner who’s family shares this vacation home, and with a little advanced notice, we can get away at any time. I’m also lucky enough that said partner did ALL of the cooking for the entire 5 days we were there. At first it was actually really hard for me to let go. I’m so used to doing and making and moving. But I kind of forced myself and just allowed life to be chill for a few days. I was SO relaxed, and this relaxation made me realize how stressed I had been for so many weeks.
DOING NOTHING DOESN’T EXACTLY MEAN DOING NOTHING
So, what does doing nothing look like? As fun as staring blankly at our walls for hours on end can be, it’s not all that realistic to start perfecting the art of checking out completely.
Doing nothing means that if you feel tired, don’t plop yourself down in front of your computer, after-hours and keep working. Instead, plop yourself down on your bed with no devices, and just be. Try doing this for fifteen minutes and see how long you last. It’s HARD when you haven’t been doing this for long stints of time.
I was all ready to bang out a few blog posts this weekend in advance of the weeks to come, as I had been doing for the last few months. But when I started thinking about ideas, I either came up with total shit ones, or none at all. I sort of panicked for like a sec, but soon admitted that I just needed to relax. The flow will return. It will always return.
Read all about my art animal and my creative process in THE RETURN OF FLAVIA.
OTHER WAYS YOU CAN DO NOTHING WITHOUT DOING NOTHING
- Go for a drive and listen to music that soothes you or makes you happy
- Play a board game with your loved one
- Drink a cup of tea and casually page through your favorite magazine, not investing too much concentration, but just enjoying
- Treat yourself to a delicious snack and sit eating quietly without devices or company
- Sit outside and just watch the trees and the animals and the sky
CHOP WOOD, CARRY WATER
If you feel yourself zoning out in front of the computer, get up and make a sandwich! Do the dishes. Walk around. Be in your body and let your mind just breathe for a sec. Or maybe even just a little bit more than a sec. Get present in the mundane tasks of the day and perform them with peace and calm.
Burnout and blocks can come from too much energy being expended up top. You’ve overdone it in the cranial area and you got nothin’ left! Bring that energy back down into your body so you can really balance things out. Otherwise, your brain might explode.
ALLOW YOUR CREATIVITY TO EXPRESS ITSELF IN WHATEVER WAY IT WANTS
Maybe you have created a career based on your graphic design skills. Or maybe you are a professional blogger and that’s how you make your living. It’s scary to put this down when this is your livelihood, I know. But it’s just temporary.
I often do lots of my visual creative expression through my collage work. However, in the fall and winter months, I am DRIED UP. But I keep my creative juices flowing through holiday baking and home making. I know that for someone who makes a living based on their creativity, it’s not feasible to put down your projects for months at a time. But consider re-working your creative schedule so you have things to offer to the world and can keep your business going, even when the flow part of your creative cycle is on hold.
Let the energy come out how it wants to come out, even if it’s unconventional or profitless. I know when you feel “blocked,” you think that the flow is gone. But the flow might still be there. Instead of your chosen medium, maybe it’s coming out in the way you put your outfit together in the morning, or the way you ice a cake for your dad’s birthday. Sometimes, your body and brain need a break from a particular medium, especially if it’s been working overtime, but that doesn’t mean the flow is gone.
Indulge in those other creative outlets for a time, just to realign the flow and give the other creative parts of you a break.
YOU GOTTA LIVE LIFE SO YOU HAVE THINGS TO EXPRESS
Making art is simply our way of processing all of the life that is moving through us. That’s all it is, and it’s an amazing energy force. But you can’t just stay in output mode without recharging. You can’t. Life doesn’t work that way. Just like the stock market can’t keep climbing like a bull forever. The bear always returns. It’s just the cycle of life. And although it’s scary to put your creative endeavors down, you really need to.
When we are in a flow, it’s kind of great, because we can do both. We can be “living life” and creating at the same time. But when we reach a point of burnout, our scales have become out of whack. We are doing more giving and less taking. We need to give ourselves the chance to RECEIVE life and enjoy her gifts. Otherwise, what are we here for? We’re giving plenty, trust me. We give constantly, all of the time. Learning to receive is the real challenge.
BE OKAY WITH YOURSELF REGARDLESS OF “LIKES,” AND “VIEWS,” AND “STATS”
It comes down to our sick need for validation from the outside social media world. If social media didn’t exist, who would we have to please in terms of creative output? Maybe our boss if we are a creative at work. Maybe a gallery, or record company, or publisher, if we have signed a contract to produce a certain amount of work in a certain amount of time. But otherwise, who are we doing this for?
I talk more about not giving a shit what others think about our art in 4 WAYS TO CREATE MEANINGFUL ART.
We do it for YOU. The person reading this right now. We do it so we get a “like” and so we feel appreciated. And there is nothing wrong with that. But it can be really destructive if we become obsessed. And it’s really easy to become obsessed.
We also have to remember the deeper reason why we create. We create to be seen, and to be heard, and to be understood by the world. And when things align, and we finally feel like the world “gets” us, it feels beautiful, it really does. And if others are gaining positive benefits from the art we are producing, even better!
But it’s not worth putting out inauthentic art so we get a like or a stat boost. If we can’t create something authentic, then we shouldn’t exert the energy to try. We must give ourselves a break and we must put ourselves first. If we are burned out and the flow is transitioning to a dying simmer, we have to honor that. Fuck likes. I don’t need a like to know I kick ass, and neither do you!
DON’T QUESTION THE GODDESSES
I personally believe that creativity is a gift from the goddesses. Really, I have nothing to do with it. I am a chosen vessel perhaps, and I have a brand of expression that is unique to me. The world might need me in my specific way, and that’s super cool. But The Goddesses give me life, and The Goddesses also tell me when it’s time to slow down. It’s an offense to question them and to push past their warnings.
There are higher forces at work with regards to your creativity, trust me. You don’t know all that goes on behind the scenes of being. They know better than we, and we must accept this fact. If your body and mind are telling you that you are spent, that is The Goddesses way of beckoning you to them.
When is the last time you took a break and really enjoyed life? And I don’t mean a half hour break to enjoy a slice of pizza before getting back to work, although that sounds fab. I mean, you put ALL of your obligations down for a full day and just spent quality time with your loved ones, fully present and at peace. When is the last time you went more than a few hours without turning on ANY electronic devices (if that’s even possible)?
We must get back to ourselves by way of life. Life is calling! And yes, there is so much merit in creating. But our souls pay the price if we aren’t enjoying ourselves along the way.
I will admit, I am not doing the best job of this myself, but I’m not doing the worst. This past weekend, I took a lot more time for myself and spent a lot less time producing. I was feeling creatively empty and I worked within myself to try and not panic. I understood that ma girlfriend Life might be calling me and the time might be approaching for me to grab her hand and frolic with her a bit. And that might mean putting the creative stuff down for a bit.
CREATIVE BLOCKS ARE ALWAYS TEMPORARY
When I’m in the midst of a block, I always worry that the last great thing I created was the last great thing that I’ll ever create. But the flow always returns. It just returns when the time is right. In the meantime, I have to make the most of it and turn my attention to slurping on the cup of life while I’m waiting.
Hang in there. It will be okay. I’m most concerned about the health of your body and your mind. I’m most concerned about your happiness level. If that is fading, then it’s time to make some changes. Creativity is an amazing gift, but it can be a burden if you don’t care for yourself regularly. Please take care of yourself. It’s actually the most efficient way to UNBLOCK your creative barriers. Try it!
Are you able to do this with me? Can you relate to these feelings? What worries you the most about creative blocks, and what do you do about it? I would love to know!
Also, if you like this article, you might enjoy SURRENDER TO THE INEVITABLE EBBS OF LIFE.
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Woman on a ledge photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash
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