On Creative Dry Spells

11 Apr 2012

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So, I mentioned this on Monday, but I've been in the midst of one of those creatively-spent periods lately. It came on mostly without warning a few weeks ago – one day, I was working away on my plastic canvas tiki gods, crocheting a blanket and choosing sewing patterns for spring and summer clothes. And the next day, I was all "Meh. Crafts."

(I say "mostly without warning" because I've been burning my candle at both ends since January. A brownout was bound to happen sooner or later.)

I know these fallow periods happen to all creatives, but each time I hit one, it scares the bejeezus out of me. What if that's all there is? What if I never feel like making anything ever again?

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That's all bunk, of course. To stop making things would be like stopping breathing – and I've lived through some years where I did no making, so I know there's a distinct lack of oxygen there. What actually scares me is that I don't get to know when this dry spell will be over. I prefer things I can schedule, plan for, and control.

I find that I go through a few stages when these dry spells hit. First, I resist them, pushing myself to pick up that crochet hook, or do just a little stitching, or at least make a few danged notecards. But soon I have to accept that the resulting work is as dull as my inspiration is, and set it aside.

Hexies, Baby!

…That's when I really go into resistance mode, and start up all kinds of ambitious new projects, as if that were all I needed to get re-invigorated. This time around, I decided to start drawing a graphic novel, make us a quilt, and fire up yet another unfinished hexie project. I usually make a lot of notes and think about what will happen when I officially start on all this stuff, but ultimately I don't do a thing.

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If only this reality were as easy to achieve in real life!

…So at that point, I usually start wallowing. I watch a lot of TV, and chide myself for watching a lot of TV, and watch some more TV. And I play lots of video games. And I get crabby.

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Someone quite enjoys dry spells, because there's usually more cuddle time in it for him.

… And after that part, things generally finally start looking up. Because somehow, when the wallowing and crabbiness are finished, I find myself starting to take in ideas again. Maybe I look at more books and magazines, or maybe I take more walks around downtown, or maybe I get motivated to re-organize my fabric stash. (Please, please, can I get motivated to re-org my fabric this time around?)

The day always comes, sooner or later, when I can pick my projects back up and feel the same excitement. Right now, I'm sure looking forward to that day!

What about you? How do you pass through your creative dry spells? How long do they last? Do you have any practices to help you prevent them?

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Comments

Ah, I shall be joining you in the post-book burnout in a couple months. :-) Congratulations on finishing your book - that's an exciting moment, and I'm looking forward to seeing it!

I had a similar experience to what you're describing when I made postcards for the DIY Postcard Swap. I had to give myself permission for the postcards to be simple and colorful this year - not big extravaganza projects like last year. It really was nice just to mess about with colors and shapes - and, to have a fixed end point, so I didn't feel like I was taking anything major on.


Your candid thoughts are timely for me. I spent an hour early this morning Googling "passion", "renew", "dreams" -- and wound up with a host of self-help gurus encouraging me to take the (fill in the blank) quiz to rediscover my spark. It's great to be reminded that there is a reason for every season. Thank you.


...Although, wouldn't it be nice if a quiz could do the job right now? :-/ We'll soldier through, and be raging creative maniacs again soon!


I still really hate the creative dry spells but over the years I've learned two or three things about mine. 1. They often happen when I push too hard. When I've stopped having fun crafting I know I've gone too far. Even when crafting is work it's usually still satisfying. But when it stops being fun in anyway I've pushed too much. If I back off and give myself some breathing room before I get to that point, I can usually avoid a dry spell. 2. Sometimes although they feel bad they aren't bad. I try to look at it as a way to restore balance. These dry spells allow me to catch up on some of the things I've ignored a bit while crafting. And 3. They can be an opportunity. Some of my best ideas happen at the end of a dry spell. I think sometimes the other things I do instead of crafting during these times actually becomes inspiration when I go back to crafting. I also noticed that sometimes I develop a new area of interest. I always go back to what I've been working on but now I'm also excited to try this "new thing".

Hang in there Diane! And don't be too hard on yourself about the TV, who knows you could find something that ends up being a source of inspiration. : )


True enough - sometimes new passions DO emerge during my dry spells. I got interested in comics and graphic novels during my last one. (So far, this one has yielded only the TV-watching, but who knows?) Thank you for sharing your practices, Meg!

...Maybe I'll come out of this with a design for a plastic canvas extravaganza that immortalizes Don Draper, the Dowager Countess, and Doc Martin. :-)


What I've noticed is that when I start to have that meh feeling is that I've spent too much time focusing outside of myself and not enough time giving back to myself. We creatives often have so many projects going, we need to replenish that creative energy. I'll do even a 10 minute meditation and consciously call my energy back, filling in my body. If I end up napping,well, it only goes to show, I must have been tired too.

By the way with knitting, I got nothin', collage is rocking my world.


You know, meditation is sorely lacking in my life. I pretty much go from one activity to the next from waking to sleeping. :-/ I'm the Type A's Type A!


I think I am heading towards one if these spells! I gave too many things on the gi abd that id bound to burn me out....

I love to read though and since launching my blog and doing more crafting... i have been neglecting my books...so I always pick them up in a drought.

My cat too enjoys the extra cuddles :)


Books and kitty cuddles FTW!!


It is a total leap of faith to let go during these times, and trust that things will happen again. Of course panic ensues. Many times I just am stuck, and waiting for the answer or a missing piece of the puzzle that hasn't produced itself yet. Of course I try to keep my hands busy in the meantime with knitting or sewing hearts over the endless holes in my quilt, but usually I just play endless hours of video games while fretting that I should be more productive. But I do have to argue that playing video games IS productive for me. It allows me to focus on something that isn't too terribly taxing while allowing me to rest. If I allow myself to just rest, my recovery time is faster than if I try to force it. And I don't run the risk of ruining things or at the very least picking them apart and starting over when the answer to the design problem comes..

Listen to the cat! He knows exactly when you are pushing your limits and need to slow down. That is his job!


Heh! Those cats - they're tireless workers for their cause... of relaxation. :-)

You're making me feel better about the number of hours I've been spending at the Wii lately, Kirsten, and I really appreciate that!


I like to think of creativity as a cycle. I sometimes have my wild, creative, fiery, inspired moments and I sometimes have my moments where I'm a little burnt out. The cycle, for me, is natural and a part of the creative process. I wouldn't know when I'm all fired up if I didn't know what it was like to feel uninspired. I also like to take what i call the "sketch perspective". This is that not every piece can be a masterpeice. Art students will tell you that you have to do a lot of sketching before you a) have the skills to create a great peice and b) find subject matter that really speaks to you. When I'm feeling "dry" I try to relinquish the "masterpiece perspective" and just enjoy some simple making. Or not. For me, the more I stress about being uninspired and the more I blame myself for a dry spell the longer it takes me to bounce back. I like reminding myself that it's not a competition (most creative vs least creative moments) but more like a spectrum. So I try to embrace the dry spells for what they are: a time to recharge and get ready for the next inevitable bout of midnight manic making.


That's lovely, Elsie - thank you! I've always had a certain problem with the downside of the cycle. If I could, I'd be on fire All! The! Time!!! :-)


Ah-ha! Perhaps you've read Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot? Just today she's going on about her Inner Knitter being a bratty 14 yo. Perhaps you have an Inner Crafter that's kin? I'd suggest you give her a look-see. And maybe lose a couple hours on Etsy and Pinterest to see what's going one elsewhere. It's cheap and you don't have a to find place to store anything ---- unlike a trip to the craftstore without a shopping list!

http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/


Heh - that's a great post - thanks for sharing the link, Liz! My inner crafter is probably more like four years old – you know how they run around screaming at the tops of their lungs until that moment where they fall down on the floor and sleep?


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspectives, Eileen! YES, the crafting does change a bit when it's crafting-as-work. I agree, it's still fun, but there's a slightly different undercurrent there.

...I find deadlines to be an excellent idea-driver, too! I can't get much done without them!


...Aaaand I just went and took my vitamins. Thanks for the reminder, Haley!


Hi Diane! I have recently finished my first quilting book and find myself all quilted out and bone tired. What works for me when this happens, and it does every now and then, is to switch to a different kind of craft not assoiated with any kind of work or pressure or expectations. Usually I'll knit or crochet (in front of the telly) until my quilting mojo comes back, but as I'm having some issues with a hand, I have switched to sketching and painting and mixed media. I find that anything creative involving playing with colours - like beading or building Lego with my grandson, will keep my creative energy flowing. I'll see colour combinations, shapes, or contrasts that I like - or don't like; all valuable information for whenever I am ready to get back to work. I do love crossover arts, so it all makes me grow as an artist as I'll bring new elements into my work.
And - I find myself hoarding supplies every time I hit a dry spell. I guess I need my regular fabric or yarn or paint fix - and a bigger house.
I too get scared I'll never have my mojo back, like what if I can never design another quilt. Fortunately it hasn't happened yet!


I'm with you on that Diane. The problem for me is that for a long time I was crafting for enjoyment alone. Now that I do it for pay, it's just not as much fun sometimes... (the checks sure are nice though). What I am finding is that creativity is not a never ending faucet with cool projects always on tap. When I start feeling that way, I look around at what interesting things are in my studio and start fiddling and try to finish a project or clean up. If all else fails I got to Target or call a friend. I have a book proposal that I said I would send by the 15th. Had an epiphany driving in the car today and I'm sure it's the deadline talking... Thanks for your blog Diane- you raise so many interesting topics!


I find that focusing on taking care of myself in other ways helps a lot when I hit a dry spell. Instead of sitting in the studio, willing the magic to happen, I hit the gym more regularly, make taking my vitamins a priority (this is something I'm particularly bad at when I'm in a crafting frenzy), and start planning and cooking healthier meals. It may seem strange, but getting my body sorted out really helps me get my mind focused too. After a few days of that, if I'm still in a funk, I clean the house from top to bottom. A clean space always makes me calmer and more likely to start thinking creatively again.


Heh! That I will, Sam! That's a great point about focusing on the business side of business during creative dry spells - what a nice opportunity to do many of the things I like to avoid when I'm feeling creative. :-)


Ah, these are the type of time-labor crunches a lot of production-based small businesses hit, Nadir. I know you are not alone!


That's a great idea, Rachel - thanks!


Thank you so much, JaneEllen! It's lovely to meet you!


I like Elise's idea of "cycles" instead of dry spells.
It seems to me like my crafting cycles are getting shorter and shorter, leading to all sorts of questions like Am I Really A Crafter? I'm trying to now let myself do what seems interesting, instead of getting frustrated when I won't exactly fit into a category I've placed myself in.
I hope you get your crafting mojo back soon! (and maybe organize your stash before then...)


My current dry spell is more of a "there are so many things I want to do that I don't know where to start - so let's spend some time watching 'Henri's ennui' on youtube instead" one... I definitely do and make things (even if I don't blog or tweet them), and the days always seem rather short, but I'm also definitely in a rut, with that elusive future new website of mine, for instance. Is there such a thing as having too much free time? so it seems, and I'm quite ashamed of it, and quite conscious that one day, I'll probably be angry at my current self for not making the most of this time.

So, seeing as my problem is almost the opposite of yours, perhaps I don't have so many good advice to give. What I try to do is, sometimes, making new and unlikely things, like taking zumba classes (sport! in a room full of people! and mirrors!), or focus more on what comes easily (like taking pictures - but then I have more than 27000 pictures in Aperture, and it would be nice if a small part of them found their way to my flickr account, ideally with names and tags on it...). I also try to read new blogs, sometimes, on different subjects. Like architecture rather than sewing, or this one written by a child psychologist who works in a hospital, rather than all those indie business blogs.

In your case, perhaps the best thing to do would be to trick your brain by acting as if it was a perfectly normal situation, until your brain gets fed up with it? Anyway, you're always working so hard, and doing so many things, you should definitely don't be too hard on yourself about it (in case you were tempted to be). Last year you took a new job, finally realized it wasn't the right fit for you, came back to your business full time, re-launched a podcast that you offer bi-monthly, gave classes, started writing a book... when you read it like this, doesn't it sound like it's a lot? perhaps your brain is just saying that things can't always run smoothly and stay invariably the same: "you already do so much, let's cut on the crafty part for a while" (says the brain with both a soft and peremptory voice). It's so important for you that surely the envy will be back one day.

PS
Fortunately, Pushkin is the only animal who knows about your dry spell. Because, oh my, would the other animals be utterly and completely disappointed in you if they knew. http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/animals-who-are-extremely-disappoint...

PPS
If you haven't seen it already, a netflix suggestion you may like: the documentary 'Being Elmo'!


HAHAHAHAHA! Those animals are SO disappointed in me! :-)

Seeing you enumerate many of the events of the past year, well... yes, I guess that was kind of a lot. :-/ And I've definitely been in that "there are so many things I want to do, I don't know where to start" place, too. There does seem to be a "magic number of balls to juggle" for each of us that leads to productivity. Too many or too few seem to have the same effect - stuckness. But we'll both move forward eventually.

I like your suggestion (and it's been a theme throughout all the comments here) to do some exploration of subjects wholly outside crafting. I've been deep in comics lately, but I may need to go even farther out.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Veronique! Oh! And 'Being Elmo' was soooooo wonderful!!


PPPS
I read your post yesterday. Re-reading it today before posting my comment would probably have been a good idea. Oh well :).


I find it helpful to look at my creativity as a garden, then it's easier to see why I can't harvest all the time and to understand how important the winter season is too for rejuvenation. Even in the depths of winter, there is work going on, but inside, beneath…

Also, the importance of FUN! Like many commenters above have pointed out! It's easily lost, especially when one makes the transition to doing what one loves for a living!


I love the garden analogy! It works on so many levels.


I would pay a great deal for a plug-in thingy that would take care of my burnout overnight. That sounds somewhat dirtier than I'm intending it, but I can't think of a better way to phrase it! :-/


That's just beautifully said, Jennifer. Thank you so much for sharing your practices. You're right - it was definitely not following those fun impulses that got me here in the first place. I really like your practice of physical self-care. Super important.


I've definitely gone through dry spells before, some that lasted years. :-( Now my goal is to catch them before they start. One of the things I notice is that if I'm physically exhausted, and then keep pushing myself anyway, burnout is probably just around the corner. Now if I start to feel apathy or uninspired, I don't push myself any further. That's when I practice a lot of self-care: eating right, taking a walk EVERY day, getting lots of sleep, and drinking lots of water. I start paying attention to what sounds FUN in the moment and start doing those things. That might mean folding the laundry, reading a light magazine, or thrift shopping. Whatever sounds fun in the moment. I think that part of what gets me out of sorts in the first place is I'm NOT paying attention to those creative urges but instead pushing myself to do other things I "should" be doing in their place. Getting back to the present moment, listening, and following through seem to really do the trick for me! :-) Jennifer


Wow, I LOVE the idea of "dumping some psychic RAM!" Yes, that's exactly what it feels like. And, British period dramas make for some awesome avoidance TV, because they make me feel smart while I'm wallowing about! :-)


I've only recently been able to realize that my creative dry spells happen because my brain is going in too many practical, unrelated, logic intensive, job-related directions and I've been ignoring the little voice telling me to take time for me.

The sure-fire sign is when I decide to spend all day watching british period dramas. (It takes away my shame to know the tv-chide-tv cycle isn't just me!)

Things that have been helping lately: a weekly hot soak bath, one notebook where I write down ALL that nattering voice stuff (instead of five trying to compartmentalize) and letting go of those projects pulling on me so I can dump some psychic RAM.


In addition to the self-care others have talked about, my number one break-the-funk technique is to learn about something new. Pick an artist, a century, a movement, anything visual (photography, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, wrought iron decoration, mosaics), check out a couple of coffee table books from the library on it, rent movies set in the time period or city, read fiction set in the general time/place, and take as many walks and baths as possible while doing it.

And trust the back burner. It never fails.


I completely know what you mean. My dry spells stem from working my crafts too much. I have my own Etsy shop & take all the product photos, edit & list them, then I blog about all of that, keep up my FB page, I teach crochet classes on the side & advertise for that & am currently perusing other avenues of teaching it also & can't remember the last time I crafted for pure enjoyment & my shop is suffering for it. I feel like I'm crocheting & making jewelry for my shop b/c I *have* to instead of want to now. I don't want to stop it b/c I LOVE running my Etsy shop & going to craft shows & such, its just hard when you hit the bottom & don't know how to climb back out & light that fire again. I medicate myself with TV too like you said. :-/ Ugh, I hate this :-(


Oh! And to top it off, the spare time I have to work my crafts, shop & teaching is crazy busy because I work full time outside of the home too. If I could ditch my job I would though...


Since I've started working for myself I've noticed my dry spells more and more. I guess when you have others around you they carry you or gee you up a bit. But I agree with Gail and Elise that it quite a cyclical thing and probably not something to worry about (easer said than done when you are deep in the middle of one).

I'm very good at being hard on myself for not being productive enough but you have to take care of yourself and a few days recharging your creative batteries is far more beneficial than trying to plough on. I usually distract myself with running, visiting art galleries and museums or focusing on the business side of my business - I often find that if I've lost my creative mojo that I enjoy more organised work (maybe it's a right brain, left brain thing?)

Anyway, I hope you and your mojo are reunited soon, in the meantime give your cat a cuddle from me :)

S


Ah yes the dry spell. Think it's something us creators need to be creative. I've been crafting since I was a kid,(now I'm 71 1/2) and still crafting. If I don't have some kind of project I feel adrift.
Have dry spells when nothing seems to interest me or inspire me, I look on those as telling me I need to do something else, (like clean out the shed, big ugh). I do alot more reading for pleasure, just let happen whatever seems right at the time. I just let those times take care of themselves and "bang" all of a sudden one day, I find a project I can't wait to work on.
I'm a very spontaneous person so just let things kinda take care of themselves. I know those dry spells have a method to their madness, they happen for a reason even if I don't know what that is.
I raised 4 kids, worked, etc. and did alot of sewing, crafting, crocheting, jewelry making and whatever else I was involved with at the time. I wonder sometimes why I'm not still doing some of those things but it passes.
Due to some physical limitations I've had to change what I do but I look on it as it must be time for that. Instead of being frustrated I can't do previous crafts I get very involved in what I'm doing now which is mostly paper crafting. Once in awhile I get off that and do others but go back to mostly papercrafting.
Life is what happens while we're busy making plans. Maybe getting older helps to make that easier to live with.
Since I discovered all the wonderful blogs and people out there recently I've spent alot of time at night reading blogs, saving projects for future reference. I'm so thrilled that so many young women and all ages of women are crafting. Makes my heart glad and I feel part of a special society. So Diane, let those darned dry spells help you relax, getting your mind ready for your next fantastic project. Enjoy life.


it's like a love/hate relationship with those dry spells. i find them most irritating- and then all of a sudden overload or ideas. it's a funny/weird cycle.
I am thinking though that a lot of these times i end up finding something totally new that i love!
that is what gives the light at the end of that dark tunnel.


Truthfully, I often come here or listen to an episode of the podcast when I've hit a dry spell.:) Definitely cooking and/or baking is a big boost for me. Other things that work for me -- a walk with one of my little notebooks, a trip to the library just to browse the shelves, or some time just leafing through the books on my own craft bookshelves. For my writing, it's about the same -- lots of reading and walking. And since I always have an unfinished knitting project laying around, working on one of those for a while helps to ease my anxiety about what I'm "not doing" too.


I'm honored if my podcasts can help you, Gbemi! Heh - I need some kind of non-crafty "knitting" I can use similarly.


It shouldn't surprise me that I've both been in a creative rut and decided to blog about it today, given how often we've danced this dance together, Diane. Here's hoping we kick the doldrums soon!


Agreed - and, once again we're unconsciously aligned! I love your Rut Race idea! http://www.kimwerker.com/2012/04/12/rut-race-day-1-whos-with-me/


i have go to movies & tv for times when my brain just can't do it. pushing daisies is at the top of that list. also, long, long walks, bike rides and writing letters. anything i can do to empty my head. those are the things that helped me through the brain clog.


Pushing Daisies is the most wonderful show ever!


My dry spells got a lot shorter when I started doing creative work socially. Now I meet up with the Portland Urban Sketchers at least once a month (sometimes more like 5 times a month!), so even when my passion is gone and I just want to curl up with a book, I have that commitment that gets me out of the house and around other people who are full of ideas and passion. My dry spells still happen but the other sketchers are there to offer comfort when needed and to give a hand up when I'm ready. It means that I don't stay in the dry spell for months or years just through lack of momentum to get started!


That's fascinating, Kalina - I'm so glad this group has been such a great motivator and support!


I'm in a rut, too. It's a blog-proprietor rut. Now that I'm doing my weekly recap posts from the last 6 years, it seems I was in a rut often the first week of April. Maybe it's the nice weather. Maybe it's being ungodly busy. Maybe it's my natural cycle. I do worry, as you do, that this may be permanent. I just don't feel like I have enough *me* to write good posts or respond to comments and emails. And, the truth is, I probably don't.

Reading through your responses to the comments on this post, I think we're similar in that we'll run ourselves into the ground given half a chance. I say, wallow in the rut! I bet you're getting the rest and mental downtime you need. I think ruts are the human equivalent of a "battery low" message. If only we could just plug ourselves in to recharge. :)


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