I’ve learned not to panic when my creative inspiration is gone. Once, I would have strained to catch an idea or a wave of thought just to feel that I was creating something. This is particularly pertinent, I expect, for those of us who have to set aside specific slots of time to create. If we don’t use those periods productively, then surely they’ve been wasted. But now, I accept that creativity works in cycles and the times when my creativity is at its most fruitful are punctuated by periods when it appears to be absent.
Recently, I took a big step to focus on my creativity. I reduced my hours in my job so that I would have one day a week specifically to spend time on my creative work. Obviously this meant taking a pay cut, as well as shrinking the time I had available to spend on my job (since it didn’t get any smaller!), so it was a risk, considering I’m not yet a ‘professional’ writer or artist. But, I saw it as a way to make a real investment in myself. It was a statement that being creative was something important for me and my life, whether or not it leads anywhere. This was something I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do at any time previously. But, now felt like the right time to do it, and so I embarked on my creative Mondays.
I knew that there would be Mondays that wouldn’t work out the way I envisioned them. There would be times when I would have to use the day to run errands or complete chores. There would also, no doubt, be Mondays when I would want to do nothing more than sit all day in my pyjamas and watch television. But generally, I’ve found those days to be energising and productive. In the morning, I take the dog for a long walk, perhaps along the river or to the coast. This helps me to begin the day by absorbing sights, sounds and smells while thinking about nothing except my dog and our walk. The walk stops me dwelling on worries or ‘to do’ lists and instead, gives me the necessary mind space to focus on my creativity. Afterwards, I have the energy and motivation to immerse myself fully in writing or painting.
But there have also been occasions when I have absolutely no creative inspiration to draw on. After a week of dabbling, feeling moderately inspired, doing a little painting, a little writing, my creative day came and there was nothing there. I tend to feel these times, not as a ‘block’, but as an absence. I knew that I wouldn’t create anything that day, but there was no panic, no grasping for ideas. I don’t view these periods as empty or blocked times, but as fallow periods. In farming terms, by leaving a field unsown (fallow) for a season, the land is allowed to regenerate itself, to restore the nutrients that have been leached from the soil by overuse.
This is a helpful way to view a period of ‘creative block’. Rather than worrying about it, first, accept that there will inevitably be times when you don’t feel inspired. Don’t force it, but think of it as a fallow period during which your creative fertility is restoring itself. It may only be a day or a week, or it could, as in my own past experience, be a period of years. You might find it helpful to think of your creative mind as that empty field. Perhaps you’ll see it as bare earth, furrowed but unplanted, with mysterious processes taking place beneath the soil that will act as a perfect nursery for new ideas. Or you might see it as a patch of land gone wild, colonised by beautiful plants that some would see as weeds and others as wildflowers.
Following acceptance, the second step, for me, in making best use of fallow periods, is to indulge in what I think of as ‘passive creativity’. So, I will use the time as a period of reflection, preparation and absorption. What this meant for me this Monday was walking the dog as usual and snapping pictures just because I found them interesting: the wildflowers on the river banks, the fish quay at work, the shells on the beach. I may use them to spark a painting or a story, or for nothing at all. I wasn’t concerned about their quality or purpose. I used them to observe the world around me without any creative agenda.
Another aspect of passive creativity for me, is to absorb other people’s work – reading a book that I’ve read before, perhaps, watching a documentary about an artist at work. I don’t believe that reading or enjoying art are always passive activities, but when I’m in a fallow state, this is what I want: something that won’t challenge me to engage with it too much, but will allow me to gently absorb it to help restore my own creative energies. Another approach might be to do something you think of as completely non-creative, but for me, a different type of creativity is what works.
‘Creative block’, or ‘writer’s block’, is only a label. The words themselves sound harsh and unhelpful. They hide a host of fears about failure and the sustainability of ideas. Re-framing these times as simply fallow periods takes the stress out of them, evoking a sense of relief, an acceptance that you don’t have to actively chase your creativity all of the time. It’s fine to leave your creative mind to turn a little unkempt for a while, to simply be receptive to whatever creative energy is out there, and to return, refreshed with a new crop of ideas.