Some days I can’t wait to run into the studio and work. Then there are days when I drag myself into the studio, slap my to-do list on the wall, and force myself to get to work. What makes the creative urge dry up? After the usual suspects–stress, too much to do, not enough sleep—comes the lurking fear, “I’ve finally used up all my ideas. There isn’t anything else.” It can feel stale, or it can bring real terror.
If you find yourself sitting in your studio, sweating and not working, it’s time for a break.
The creativity dry-up seems to be seasonal, related to the major changes in weather. Many feel it crushing down on them in March, with Spring close at hand. No matter what the reason for creative shrivel, here are a few simple ways to climb out of it. First, grab your calendar and give yourself a day off. Even if you are busy. Particularly if you are busy.
1. Indulge in the creativity of other’s genius. Relieve yourself of the burden of creating. Listen to music without doing anything else. Sink into the melody, focus on the rhythm, write down the lyrics and wonder what the artist experienced to write those words. The further the music is from your comfort zone, the better.
2. Re-live an art activity you loved as a child. Fingerpainting. Collage. Coloring. All wonderful and tactile. Fingerpaint is still available and it still feels great to squish it through your hands and mix colors. No art medium smells as wonderful as a new box of crayons. Buy a new box and use only the colors you like to fill blank pages. Or buy a coloring book and color the way you never allowed yourself to color. This isn’t art, this is downtime.
3. Do something all wrong. The punitive, self-critical voice we carry in our heads may be at the heart of your creative dry spell. Deliberately do something wrong. Paint a purposefully ugly picture using only a sponge and sock. Go to the secondhand store, buy cheap, ugly plates, break them, and make a bad mosaic. And while you are there, buy some big clothing in outlandish colors and wear them while you are making bad art. Venting bad work lets the light in for good work.
4. Fire your inner critic. During your day off, your inner critic will let you know how bad it is to be wasting a day. Take a walk to expend some energy. When you get back, sit down and write a scathing letter firing your inner critic.
5. Be your own shaman. Walk through your house and pick up three objects that are beautiful to you at this moment. Look at them closely. Feel their texture. Inhale their smell. Do something that temporarily changes one of them—for example, if you picked up a stone, cover it in foil and see if you recognize it from that perspective. Embue these three objects with the power to change your life. Take them to your studio and give them a special place. Ask them to call forth creativity. Then leave your studio and let them work.
6. Invite over a friend. Call a friend who has an hour or so to visit. Sit down and take turns—each of you will bring a piece of your work that you love. Do ‘show and tell’ with your friend. Talk about what you loved about the piece, what made it special, what worked for you or the client. If you sold the piece, talk about that experience, too. During your friend’s turn, listen to the excitement, the joy, and nod. Ask for details. Smile and encourage. Get excited again.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com