Do you struggle with creative block? Perhaps you struggle with the pressure to always be generating new creative ideas like it’s a tap you can turn on and off? Maybe your creative job causes you to push yourself to create and innovate constantly and you feel like you’re hitting a wall in your creative process… whatever the case, in this episode I’ll be introducing you to the concept of creative seasons to help you understand the ebb and flow of creativity.
We’ll explore what seasons of creativity are, what that ebb and flow can look like in ourselves. I’ll be sharing tips on how we can honour it and in turn allow for more flow, more self-kindness and self-care and ultimately a better understanding of ourselves and our relationship with creativity.
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Welcome to Creative Power! Today I want to discuss an important topic that I don’t think gets talked about or even acknowledged enough in the creative space. It is what I call ‘seasons of creativity’ because much like the seasons, creativity ebbs and flows.
Too often I see people be tough on themselves – hey I’ve been guilty of this too! – that they’re not always “on” creatively all the time. To be honest, it’s a completely unrealistic idea of what the flow of creativity and our experience of it is actually like.
So in this episode, I want to discuss what seasons of creativity, what that ebb and flow can look like, how we can honour it and in turn allow for more flow, more self-kindness and self-care and ultimately a better understanding of ourselves and our relationship with creativity.
When I first started to take notice of how creativity goes through these peaks and troughs, my first thought was towards the concept of creative block. Writers in particular talk about being blocked a lot. A quick search of the internet would turn up millions of results for how to solve it. Of course, I’m not negating the genuine reasons for any kind of creative block at all. But what if we reframed creative block as a quiet period in our creativity? What if instead of a block, it was when our ideas have gone into incubation to allow us to rest and renew ourselves?
Because the majority of creatives don’t actually give themselves downtime to rejuvenate from creativity. If you’ve listened to my earlier episode about meraki (episode 4), you’ll know what I mean when I say… we pour so much of ourselves into what we do. Heart and soul, it all goes in. And to do that all the time, 24/7, 365 days of the year would be exhausting. And yet, we expect ourselves, we PUSH ourselves to do it.
If you’re freelance, self-employed, sole trading or running your own business, there will be constant pressure to keep making and doing because otherwise, you don’t get paid. The business requires so much of you to keep running (or that’s the story we’ve told ourselves!)
If you’re employed in a creative environment, there’ll also be pressure to continue to create and innovate because job after job after job comes up and if you want to keep your job, you “have” to perform. You may even be working on multiple projects at the same time so you’ve got to generate and implement lots of ideas on a constantly flowing basis.
Now there’s a point where that can be beneficial. Creativity feeds off creativity. When you’re passionate and ignited by what you’re doing, the ideas will bounce and build off each other and it will all feel like an effortless flow.
And then there will be times when it would feel easier to draw blood from a stone than it would to come up with a sparkling idea that’s going to fulfil a brief and satisfy a client. You’ve got absolutely nothing good in your head and the more you try desperately to claw out a good idea, it’s all empty space. Or worse, ideas that are so bad, you are sure a cat could come up with better and make it look good.
This is when we start to berate ourselves and put massive amounts of pressure on ourselves to ‘perform’ like generating creative ideas is some kind of party trick we can turn on and off.
In reality though, creativity simply doesn’t flow in the same way, all the time. I imagine it to be somewhat like water heading towards the sea. It will spring up from somewhere, seemingly at random (it isn’t but there’s a story for another day!).
There’ll be a tiny trickle of water, of creativity starting to flow that will have broken to the surface. And it doesn’t just trickle towards the sea. Nor does it spring up full force and rage towards the ocean either though. Sometimes the current will be fast, then it may be gentle. The water may rage over rocks or it may look perfectly still on the surface. It may cut through narrow lines or open out into lakes.
Sometimes, the water may get cut off and never reach the sea. You just never quite know how it is going to flow or where it is going to stop and start, much like a creative idea. And i think it’s really important that we acknowledge that process.
Years ago I had a boyfriend that was writing a novel and I remember him saying to me once that he hadn’t written anything for days, possibly weeks by that point and he wasn’t sure if he was even a writer anymore. He was deeply under the impression, as many creatives are, that if we’re not showing up everyday making something, then we are not BEING creative.
I beg to differ.
Because what I’ve found as I’ve gone through the process of working through my own limiting beliefs and building daily practices is that actually… so many things can affect our creativity without us even realising it and forcing ourselves to create like trained monkeys is actually more detrimental in the long run. Not only does it enforce to the world at large the idea that creativity is something you have or you don’t and if you have it, you’re always turned on but it puts insane amounts of pressure on us as individuals and when we can’t live up to it, we feel awful and we stop the creative flow even more.
Think for a moment about a musician. They go into the recording studio to work on an album and it can become a very intense period of activity as they create songs from snippets and ideas they’ve been collecting. But once that album is complete… they move into a different phase of promoting the album. They’ll do interviews and publicity, go out and sing those new songs, release singles, do a tour but it’s all based on the album they’ve created. And after the steam has run out, they’ll rest and start collecting ideas for the next album. It could take years before they release anything new.
Does that mean they stop being an artist? A musician? A singer? A songwriter? Of course not.
What it does mean though, is that they are honouring a season of their creative process. They are allowing themselves rest and rejuvenation. They are letting the ideas percolate and incubate. And when they come back, they feel fresh, the work is exciting to them and giving themselves that space can provide growth, experimentation and evolution.
The point I’m trying to make is that it can be scary to press pause but actually, it can be the kindest thing you can do for yourself sometimes. By acknowledging that the ideas aren’t flowing, maybe you are simply tired because you’ve got other things going on in your life. Chances are if you’ve got plenty of other stresses in your life, your creativity will be a struggle. Because it’s not essential to our survival.
We’ve been living through a pandemic for a couple of years now and I remember so many people saying they’d have time to paint/write/draw etc due to lockdown and furlough. They were excited by the prospect of having time to create but when they sat down with the pen in hand, the inspiration didn’t come.
And then that self doubt and negative self talk creeps in but honestly, with the rug pulled from beneath our feet, living through a prolonged state of collective trauma and stress, of course creativity wasn’t going to be that easy for everyone to access in their heads. There was too much other stress. And that’s okay.
It doesn’t make you any less of a creator if you haven’t made anything for months. It’s just a season of your life where creativity isn’t at the forefront. Other things need you’re attention. Perhaps you’re learning new skills that will inform your creativity at a later date in a way you can’t foresee. You could be going through a period of emotional growth that you’ll draw upon in your next creative phase.
Creativity can be affected by more than what’s going on in our own lives and minds though. The seasons and energy flow through the year could have an impact, the phase of the moon or planetary transits can affect our moods and flow. There’s a multitude of reasons why ideas may come and go and all of it is okay.
Now I do realise it’s easier said than done to give yourself time, particularly if you are your business and the work doesn’t get done without you. I get it because that’s me too. If I don’t show up and record episodes of this podcast, no one does it for me. Many of my own courses and coaching programmes aren’t ready to go out into the world because I haven’t made the workbooks yet.
But what I found has happened is that what I thought I was originally creating, is much richer than before. As I’ve honoured my feelings that I knew I didn’t have the headspace to make beautiful workbooks or write my books, I took the pressure off myself. It didn’t mean that I’ve given up on the ideas but it allowed more dots to connect in what I’ve been learning and evolving into as a person through what I’m experiencing and the work I’m creating as a result has also evolved in a way I couldn’t have imagined or expected. And certainly couldn’t have come to had I forced myself to put everything together and send it out into the world ASAP.
So on a practical level, how can we support these seasons of creativity within ourselves?
My first tip is simply to acknowledge and honour it. No matter how long it has been since you made something, if you are not feeling able to go back to it today, give yourself permission to rest. It doesn’t make you any less of a creative being for not writing every day. Take the pressure off yourself and be kind and mindful of your own needs. Because like I said before, creativity feeds off creativity and creativity is ignited by passion so… go do something you love. For no reason other than you love it and you want to have fun.
Last year when I was struggling with burnout I spent a solid two months working on a passion project that raises money for charity purely because it was the only joyful thing I could find to do with my days. It was the only thing I talked or thought about for a good couple of months and by the end of that time, I felt more energised and excited to go back to my other work again.
Think of this as a season of quiet in your creativity. It doesn’t mean it will never return.
The second tip is to track the ebb and flow for yourself. Keep a diary of when you felt in flow and inspired versus when you struggled to think of one good idea or were completely unmotivated or unproductive. I suggest also keeping track of what else is going on in your life and in the world so you can spot patterns. If you feel inclined to track moon cycles for instance and overlay this with your creative flow, do it! Incorporate whatever information works for you to help you build a picture of what things could and do affect you creatively because then my third tip is even easier to implement.
Tip three is to build in time for self-nurture. If you find winter is when you are more likely to be incubating ideas and summer is when you’re creating new courses left, right and centre, use this knowledge to your advantage. Build time into your schedule, set up automations, delegate as much as you can and dedicate time to your own replenishment.
I realise when you are employed this can be really hard as you’re still expected to show up to work and create all the time but look building in the self-nourishment into your time off and see what impact it has. Is it something you can discuss at work to help people flow better? Because the truth is that yes, we all have off days but it’s when we pile the pressure on and those days turn into weeks that can lead to stress, overwhelm and burnout so it’s worth having the conversation if you can because we are not machines able to constantly churn out golden ideas and it’s important to acknowledge that both individually and as an industry.
Tip four is to reframe your thinking. This is a great way to give yourself room to breathe and takes the pressure off. Going back to what I said at the beginning of the episode, what if it’s not that you are creatively blocked but actually, your idea has gone into an incubation stage in order to metamorphose into something even more miraculous than before? Experiment with your own creative way of framing what is actually happening when you’re struggling with creative flow and you’ll immediately notice a difference in how you feel.
My last tip is to follow the flow. Creativity often doesn’t make sense, especially when it comes to how ideas bounce off and connect to each other so allow that to be the case. Let yourself fall into wonderland no matter how crazy it seems. If you’re inspired, energised, intrigued or excited, go with it, even if it doesn’t seem relevant. Especially if it doesn’t seem relevant. I’m still consolidating ideas, experiences, skills and knowledge I collected years ago which at the time, I had no idea if they were useful. No experience is ever wasted. It may change form but you never know where things will take you so always follow your flow!
So whether you’re currently in a season of high creative activity or not, remember this, you are valid and you are enough. You are still a creator regardless of when you last made something. Your creative ability is not invalidated by the time between creation. Acknowledge, honour and get to know your seasons of creativity and you will be surprised at what a difference it can make to your creative flow.