Does this sound familiar? We all know the feeling. We’re not inspired. We don’t like what we’re doing. We’re ready to give up.
Everybody has s once in a while, and there’s a strong tendency to think in black and white. We think we’re wasting our time or being selfish and self-indulgent. We think we don’t deserve to create.
But it’s important to be kind to yourself at these times. Realize that this is a part of the process, accept your current situation, and try not to worry too much about it.
“So many of us have an expectation of never-ending creativity,” says Kevan Lunney. “Is it realistic?” Probably not.
Writer Elizabeth Berg has been through such times. “Trust in an ongoing process that has a timetable and a method of its own,” she says. “You may not be able to control the way your creativity works, but you can have faith that it will not leave you.”
“Perhaps you need to be kinder and more patient with yourself while trusting that the art waiting inside you will find its voice eventually,” Susan Schrott advises. She went through a complicated time in her life when it was difficult to create. “I decided that, for now, I was not meant to be doing art,” she says. “This was time to care for my health and to simplify my activities.”
So the first step, then, is acceptance, “admitting to yourself and possibly others that life isn’t flowing as you might expect it to,” as Gwyned Trefethen describes it. And there’s a positive side, for Schrott: “It is this time outside the studio that allows me to yearn for it, dream about what will be my next piece of artwork, and just let things be.”
When you’re ready, do something — anything
As a writer, I often trick myself into getting to work by telling myself just to write for fifteen minutes. I can do anything for fifteen minutes. Another thing I do, to ease myself into working, is to choose the smallest possible task — writing one paragraph
or making a list. If I need to revise something, I’ll tell myself just to read through it. Not surprisingly, that usu- ally leads to my reaching for a pen.
Gloria Hansen uses an egg timer. “When I’m either totally avoiding something because it feels too over- whelming or I’m totally uninspired, I use an egg timer. I set it for one half hour. I tell myself, just work on this for a half hour. Just one half hour and out.”
For Carol Schepps, cleaning her studio is a way back into creating. She starts moving things around, putting things away. “Eventually I’ll find a piece of paper with an image, sketch, or other inspiration, and then out come the fabric, threads, rotary cutters.”
A similar ritual — cleaning her studio, going through her stash of fabrics, her folders — works for Melissa Craven Fowler. “If nothing else,” she says, “I enter the studio every day and look around, breathe deeply and imagine myself working there.”
Karen Linduska doesn’t usually have totally dry spells, but she sometimes gets tired of working in one direction and feels stuck. “If I feel I need extra inspiration, there are a few basic things I rely on to give me a push.”
She looks through a book of favorite artworks. She also looks through her journals to get ideas for images, sometimes making new entries to see what will happen. “If I get an idea for a new technique or discover a new material, I start out working small, about 6 x 6 inches, and produce several pieces. I give myself permission to make mistakes. Not every piece has to be successful, or maybe just one part will be. I use what is successful and build from there.”
Mistakes are part of the process
In college, I took some music appreciation classes. I loved them, but I dropped out when we were asked to write a simple melody. I was self- conscious, and the only piano avail- able to me was the one in the lounge where girls sat with their dates. I wish I had gone there early in the morning and written my tune, or had even just written any old five or six notes. But I didn’t. I was so afraid of making a mistake, of embarrassing myself, that I just quit. I don’t believe in regret, but I sometimes wonder what that class would have led to if I hadn’t chickened out.
The desire for perfection can deter us from what we want to do, what we enjoy doing, what enriches our lives. “The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all.” 2
Gwyned Trefethen firmly believes in routines and commitments, such as the SAQA 12x12x12 group, where the goal is to make one 12 x 12-inch quilt each month for twelve months. This kind of regular assignment is a good way to keep the juices flowing. At a low ebb, you might not pro- duce a lot, but at least you’ll do this one piece. At a more inspired time, having created that work will lead to other ideas, which will cry louder for your attention just because you have something else to do first.
Trefethen, who has been “religiously journaling” for at least ten years, describes herself as an Artist’s Way devotee. Her journal writing is one of the two basic practices Julia Cameron advocates in her book, which is devoted almost entirely to breaking through creative blocks. The first is the Morning Pages, three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing each day, which are a way to clear your mind of the clutter that keeps you from creating. You can talk about anything in these pages, and unexpected things often pop out. You can play with ideas and surprise yourself into inspiration.
The other practice is the Artist’s Date, a once-weekly fun activity for you and your “artist child.” Its purpose is to get you away from the grindstone and back to the play- ground. Cameron suggests that your artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work as play. She emphasizes the need for color, fun, and stimulation, what she calls “filling the well."
Cameron’s whole book is really a workbook for getting out and staying out of the creative doldrums. It’s filled with enjoyable, stimulating, and encouraging exercises. It’s a kind of guidebook to the creative life for anyone who wants it. It helps the artist in you to stop judging yourself and keep doing what you love. Don’t wonder whether it’s good enough. Just let yourself enjoy doing it. And everybody hits a block sooner or later — but the good news is, there’s a wealth of suggestions out there.
Elizabeth Berg suggests thinking of a dry spell as a mandatory holiday. So she goes to a museum, eats ice cream, visits a friend, or lies in bed with a book.
She says, “Most of all, remember this: If you have the calling to be [an artist], it’s not going to go away any more than the shape of your nose will. Your need and longing to express yourself will come back. Like love, you can’t force it. Like love, it will find you when it’s ready.”
Berg, Elizabeth. Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1999
Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1992
Lynne Davis lives in Southern Illinois, where she enjoys doing needlework as a pastime and writing about those who make it an art form.