Cycles of creativity

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Each day has its rhythms.  Each month, each season, each year – all have their own character and pattern.  We forget, in this modern world, when nature’s cycles are drowned out by noise and concrete, that there are hidden energies at work on our bodies and our minds.  But recognising how these daily and monthly cycles affect our creativity can help us to create more effectively.

Even before I began to pay attention to my creative cycles, my daily rhythms seemed obvious.  Evenings are the times when I am at my most creative.  I’ve always been nocturnal, staying up until the early hours and getting up late.  At night, I plan, daydream and cultivate ideas.  I look forward to those quiet times before sleep when I can take advantage of the creative mood.

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By contrast, mornings are always difficult for me.  Having suffered from depression on and off throughout my life, I sometimes struggle to meet the day.  I’m often anxious and reluctant to face the world.  Mornings are my doubting times – when the ideas and plans from the night before seem silly and I don’t have the enthusiasm to do anything about them.

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Knowing the rhythms of my daily cycles means that I can make them work for me creatively.  I know that ‘morning pages’ or getting up earlier to create will never work for me.  Finding ways to create once the working day has ended will be much more successful.  But I’ve also found ways to make my mornings more productive.  For some time, I practised yoga, which both calmed and energised me.  Now, you’ll find me in the park just after 6am, walking the dog.  First thing in the morning, visiting with nature, is a good way to begin the day.

Weekly and monthly cycles can be more difficult to recognise, so for eight months now, I’ve been recording my daily levels of creativity, comparing them to my moods and the phases of the moon.  I would have expected that my creativity would increase with the waxing moon, becoming strongest at the full moon and fading as the moon waned.  (In magic, waxing moon energies are generally for growth, while the waning moon is for banishing).  In fact, I am more likely to feel creative during the waning moon.  I almost always feel creative at the full moon, but quite the opposite at the new moon.  But as you can see from the chart below, my creativity is capricious – there is no gentle pattern of waxing and waning, rather there are myriad peaks and troughs.

Cycles of creativity

For two thirds of the time I’ve monitored my cycles, I’ve felt some level of creativity.  November and January were my most creative months.  The weekend is my most creative time of the week – Sunday, followed by Saturday, then Friday.  This is understandable as I’m freed from thoughts of work to focus on the other parts of my life.

But creativity isn’t just affected by natural cycles, it is affected by mood.  I’m most likely to feel creative if I’m in a positive mood.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not creative if I’m sad or anxious.  The number of times I was creative or not creative when feeling sad or anxious was equal, so it could go either way.  And moods, of course, are affected by what is going on in my life.  So during difficult times in the year, I often felt little creativity, whereas when I’m on holiday from work, for example, I’m more likely to feel creative.

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Recently, a women’s writing magazine carried out a survey and asked a question about how hormones affect writing.  There were a number of complaints from women objecting to the question, in the belief that we shouldn’t be defined by our hormones.  I am a feminist and don’t believe hormones prevent women doing anything.  But I know that for a few days in the month, usually around the new moon, I will feel crushingly depressed.  This is probably the reason that new moons are usually so creatively unproductive for me.  During my period and just after, I’m more likely to be creative than not, but just before, I’m much less likely to be inspired.

I’ve written a lot about the creative cycles of the year, but life is awash with cycles.  Without paying attention to them, we can feel pulled in so many different directions that we may never know when creativity will appear and feel disheartened when it doesn’t.  By paying attention to it, we can know when we’re most likely to be effective (for me, a weekend evening around the full moon, is probably the optimum time) and when we’re not (for me, on a Tuesday morning around the new moon).  Creativity can seem capricious, but in actual fact, perhaps it isn’t as erratic as we think, we just need to tune in to the rhythms that affect it.

61 thoughts on “Cycles of creativity

  1. My most creative time is also evenings. The day’s work is done, the time is all mine to spend as I wish. It’s dark outside so I don’t feel as if I am missing something. The house is quiet and I can lose myself in my stories.

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  2. I love that photo of the flowers circling the tree – how amazing that they should grow that way. I wish I felt more energetic at night because I so desperately want to extend my hours of work, sometimesI feel it and I can work until early hours of the morning – but rarely. It’s the mornings for me, equipped with a strong coffee, I arise before the kids and steal an hour – heaven!

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    • I’ve always had a bit of a desire to be an early bird – I love the world before people wake up, but if I had the choice between getting up and staying in bed, I’d almost always stay in bed! I’ve tried getting up earlier to create, to meditate, to do other things, but I’m just not motivated enough to keep to it at that time in the morning.

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  3. Yes, I so agree! (As indeed I said in a comment on your previous post.) It can be so beneficial to note these cycles and to work with them, rather than try to override them. I too would consider myself a feminist, but surely we have moved on from the idea that that means negating our womanhood and being the same as men (who incidentally also have cycles in their lives and hormones, as science is finally beginning to recognise).

    I am a late night person too. A waxing moon in autumn, a silent house, two weeks before my period starts – perfect for me! I’ll be overflowing with ideas.

    Your post is really interesting and I hope will be part of a larger acknowledgement and discussion of this subject.

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    • Thank you. Yes, my creativity journal has followed on from this monitoring of cycles, so the two posts are linked – I didn’t think I’d keep up this monitoring when I began, but it’s been very useful to get more of a handle on how they work for me personally. I was quite surprised by the impact of that question on hormones – as you say, we all have hormonal cycles which affect us in one way or another so it seems pointless to deny they exist.

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  4. For me it’s not so much when I feel creative as when I feel most motivated. I can procrastinate when it comes to my writing which is weird considering it’s what I want to do. But once I make myself turn off the social media and get to the task at hand, I find my creativity follows.

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  5. I’d love to believe that there are mappable cycles by which one can live one’s life. Some swear by biorhythm charts and plan their days and weeks accordingly, but in my experience they’re way off.
    Best in my view to recognise your own positive times (as you do Andrea), or indeed try to create them (Sundays in my case) and hope that your muse agrees with you.

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    • That’s right Roy – it doesn’t matter whether your cycles follow some kind of natural rhythm or they’re purely based on your own idiosyncrasies as long as you can make them work for you. I’d expected to find a stronger pattern in sync with the moon cycles, but it wasn’t as strong as I’d expected / hoped, but just by recording when I feel creative and don’t, it’s helped me pay more attention to how I’ve worked.

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  6. Great idea. I think journaling my nature would help me accept it instead of expecting too much. I could also plan ahead to compensate and make those patches less demanding in my work as a writer and in my social responsibilities, being an introvert. You can see I’m going to try this! Thanks!

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    • Thank you, I hope you find it useful – it helps to know that when the creativity isn’t there, it may just be because it’s not that time of the day / month / year, rather than thinking it won’t come back again.

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  7. There is no doubt that our cycles and what I like to call our ‘biorhythms’ affect us. There is a family rumour that my uncle (dad’s brother) used to disappear every full moon!!
    It’s so good that you can recognise what works for you Andrea and when you are most creative and also able to combat those times when you feel the least creative by doing things to help. I’m like you in that for me, mornings are my absolute worst. I feel dire every morning, full of anxiety and very depressed. Yet, I know, that as the day goes on I will start to feel better and by evening much like my old self. The problem is that my husband is an early bird so we are the complete opposite! Still, we work around it the best we can.
    I go for a walk in the mornings too as that really helps set me up for the day.
    Lovely post as always, thank you and I love your photos 🙂

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    • Ooh another interesting member of the family – I’d love to know what he did at the full moon! Maybe you should write a story about it…Yes it sounds as though your mornings are very similar to mine but also like you, I’ll feel better once I’m up and about. My partner gets up early as well, but it does mean at the weekends she can have some time to herself before I surface! I’ve surprised myself at how readily I’ll get up during the week, about an hour earlier than I would have had to pre-dog – we always take him out together, so we do have that first early morning walk as a little family. I did worry, when he was a puppy, that I’d never get another lie in, but fortunately, he’s quite happy to lie in too when we don’t have to get up 🙂

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  8. This was a fascinating post – I love that you’ve charted your creativity. Great idea! I never really thought about how creativity can be affected by the seasons, but I definitely notice it changing depending on the time of day. I work best either early morning, like, before sunrise, or late in the evening. Even on my days off, the whole middle of the day is very tricky and usually better for doing other chores.

    Thanks for sharing this!

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    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s great that you have two points in the day when you can work well – maybe that tricky middle part is the downside for those better times 🙂 But you’ve obviously found a way around it by doing other things then – perhaps your mind / body needs that break in between.

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  9. I think there are definitely rhythms and flows to our lives. Too often, though, “experts” will tell us we should fit a particular pattern, but I think that’s too simplistic. Your best creativity is in the evening where mine is in the morning. One person may find Spring to be the most creative time while another is too distracted by the warming temperatures and blooming flowers.

    In our modern world, though, we’re taught to follow a “9 to 5” routine that really doesn’t seem to fit many of us. But forcing ourselves into that mode undoubtedly plays havoc with our individual optimal schedules.

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    • That’s a good point JM – we have to try to be effective in the ‘day job’ (whatever time of day that happens to be) even though the times may not suit us, which then doesn’t always help us to use our optimum times for creativity – whether because, in your case you have to leave your creativity when you’re in your best flow, or in mine, because I’m too tired from the day to use it to its best advantage. I wonder what the world would be like if we could all work at the times that suited us.

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  10. Another beautifully constructed post, Andrea. I love the idea of creative cycles and am astonished that women would take offence at the suggestion that hormones affect writing. Of course they do – and thank goodness for them, I say. They are what define us as women; we are empowered by them, not disadvantaged.

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    • Thanks Jenny – yes, it seems an old-fashioned view to be worried by thinking about the impact of hormones. I studied the various branches of feminism so I know it’s varied greatly from the first philosophies which were very much based on the so-called natural traits of women to the denial of any differences at all. I always subscribed to the ‘nurture’ viewpoint, which says that we have the traits we do as women and men because of our environment and the way we’re brought up – Sue Sharpe’s book ‘Just like a girl’ helped convince me about that. And I still do believe in that philosophy to a large extent, but I read that book about 20 years ago now and I’ve now tempered that view to believe that there are also some influences or differences that are innate.

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  11. Yes, I agree. Everything works in cycles and has its own rhythm and it would indeed be beneficial to learn how to work with them according to our own cycles. Interesting chart Andrea. What do the numbers stand for ?

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    • Thanks Karin. When I monitor my creativity, I use a simple scale of none, moderate, good or very good, to identify how creative I feel – I just assigned those numbers to get the chart – so the high peaks are when I was in full creative flow whereas the lows are when I didn’t feel any creative inspiration whatsoever.

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  12. How interesting to know that you walk your dog in the mornings to encourage productivity and to get the day going. I’m a morning person and find my lull in the day happens around late afternoon so I’ve scheduled that time for my longest dog walk. Being outside and bring reminded to look around me, and to take in the world at my dog’s pace, helps so much.

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    • Those dogs in our lives have no idea how they spark our inspiration! But that’s exactly how I feel – it’s the fact that you’re in the moment with your dog and forced to pay attention that makes you notice things that feed your creativity.

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  13. Reblogged this on Wild Women Wisdom and commented:
    Thanks for this, Andrea! As a woman, cyclical knowing is our cherished knowing: the phases of living, that include, as the moon, a wane or dying, though not to entirety but on a continuum: that we grow new again. Like spirals, on and on. I am thinking the most lately about the soul life, the reality of the inward wisdom as specific to this–and the injury of humanity which is that it is not real. And how we do self-harm when we exist in this half-wakingness, that the soul or inward wisdom isn’t real. And how the more we perpetuate that harm the more we perpetuate the injury. This post is the great axiom, gnothi seauton, “Know Thyself” It’s so important! Thank you!

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  14. In the winter I turn on my lightbox first thing and take Vitamin D — both on doctor’s orders! I’m past the age of hormonal mood and energy swings, not that it ever got in the way of my creativity. I used to write my angry or depressive pieces when I had PMS and my romantic or passionate sexy pieces when fertile. That’s called tuning into the body clock and making the most of it. I still bring all of these elements into my writing, but it’s less about me and more about getting right inside my characters’ heads and hearts.

    Sorry to hear you get so depressed. In my twenties, my GP told me that anyone who was an idealist would have to expect to suffer bouts of depression throughout their lives but would suffer even more severe depression if they sold out on their ideals in the hope of an easy life.

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    • Sounds as though you really made your hormones work for you Sarah – that’s something I haven’t looked at – do I write different sorts of things at different times – hmm, one to think about. I think I’ve accepted depression is part of my life now – the really bad episodes are very infrequent now, fortunately, but I think it has contributed to the person and the writer I am.

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  15. Brilliant post Andrea. I’m more of a night person. Mornings are when I ease into the day with email and social media, then breakfast, then I do some writing and then I work out. I too find my creativity strikes in the evening and right before bed. I’ve noticed some days are super productive, others somewhat productive.

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    • Thanks Kourtney, good way to use your less productive time, so you can avoid social media taking up valuable writing time. I grade my creativity so I notice when it’s only moderate, compared to good and very good.

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  16. I am so impressed at the work you put into tracking your creativity cycles! This will be so valuable to you. I have not been so thorough as to track my creativity by moon or seasons, but I know I am at my research and writerly best in the mornings. I can read in the afternoons, but I seem to lose my ability to put words together then. I know that when I was younger, I was a night owl and did my best studying and paper writing in the wee hours of the night. However, getting a dog cured me of sleeping in and as the years went by, one day I shockingly realized I had become a morning person 🙂 I also remember more of an ebb and flow to my creativity (writing, playing music, imagination) when I menstruated. And I have found it fascinating now as post-menopausal, to reflect on that ebb and flow with being on more of an even keel now.

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    • It was actually easier than I thought Laurie – I was sure I wouldn’t keep it up, but I use a system of little symbols every day, so it’s easy to record, then I record more detailed observations in my creativity journal on a less regular basis. My dog hasn’t quite made me a morning person, but he has made sure I’m up and about earlier than I would normally be – soaking in that inspiration from nature.

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  17. Ah, yes. The creativity cycle is a very real thing.

    Nights used to be my inspiration for as long as I can remember, but I became a morning person within the last year or so. I’m so wiped out after work that writing doesn’t come as easily, so I use that time to hang out with my husband and cats, and be inspired by other creators through reading or watching an intelligent show or movie.

    But the weekends I am at my best, especially on Sundays when I have had a day to adjust to my freedom time.

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    • That’s interesting Britt – you’ve obviously got a mix and match approach – morning person when it suits your needs and evenings when you have the time and energy to spare – being able to adapt your style can only be helpful.

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  18. Yes, I think that’s a good point — once you know there are going to be certain times of day (which, for you, it sounds like, is the morning) when you are doubting yourself, the doubts may begin to have less credibility, as they are more of the product of your body’s natural rhythm than any sort of “rational conclusion.”

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    • If only I could see them that way at the time! Knowing that is the cycle doesn’t always help when I’m in the moment of anxiety – but having said that, I do often remind myself that I’ll feel surer and better as the day goes on.

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  19. I read an interview of an actress who talked about how hard it is to be a working mom in a world that was structured for men. I thought her comments were interesting, and JM’s comment above goes along with this. Moms in particular are forced to adjust to someone else’s schedule. And creative moms? Eek. It’s really tough.

    We all have our individualized rhythms and patterns and moods, and I wish we could just write when it felt good to write. For some of us, we just don’t have that flexibility, so we make the best with what we have.

    I write best in the morning because I love the innocence and hope of a new day. However, if I have to, I will write at night and I’ll write the best I can. I have never tracked my writing like you suggest, but what a wonderful idea. I think I might try that.

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    • I don’t have children but it’s hard enough to fit creativity around my job, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be if you have children as well. I love your phrase – ‘the innocence and hope of a new day’.

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  20. I have always envied those people, especially writers, who can wake easily at the break of day and commence writing. I tend to be a night owl and my muse speaks to me after dark. Usually.

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  21. Visiting from Holistic Wayfarer’s site, where you liked a post on race featuring me. Thanks.

    I also suffer from depression, and am not a morning person, but I’m not a late night person either (ha!) I’m a follower now.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

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  22. Appreciate this! I’m totally with you. A clip from one of my first posts, on the things that make us human:

    There is a coherence to the changes. The bodily vicissitudes are not random but often follow cycles. Of time, weather, season. For the person is a microcosmic embodiment of the universe. There is the planetary orbit. The revolutions. And we are governed by a circadian rhythm. Whether or not we choose to rise and set with the sun, our organ systems each heed their own clock of peak functioning in keeping with the tide of day and night. The woman’s body is a candid avatar of the Cycle.”

    Very thoughtful, rich post – one of my fav here. =)

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  23. Very interesting post and research 🙂 My peak of creativity is early in the morning – it is the only thing I know for sure. Have to work out my own chart. Thank you for your ideas!

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  24. Wonderful perspective, “cycle of creativity” so true and all of us go through it but many times we all fail to recognize and act accordingly. Being cognizance of this pattern can make us be proactive and productivity as a creative person. Rightly said so; it depends on so many factors, our mood, our relationship and our physical health to the nature outside to the location we are to the place of sitting in organizing and challenging the creative process. It is very much like the cycle of life and seasons of nature…lovely post!!!

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