Recently I went through a bit of a creative lull. There was about a month or more where I didn’t come up with a guitar riff or write a poem. During the first week or so I wasn’t too bothered by this fact, as I’d gone through dry spells before. But when several weeks stretched into four, then five, it started to bother me. I felt incomplete. This can happen when creativity is an important part of who you are.
But the other aspect of my concern was the fact that I was worried because I was not producing. See, I’m the kind of person that is driven by a desire to do, to produce, to be accomplishing things. And as an independent artist, I am reliant upon technology that has, in many ways, exacerbated this. Social media thrives upon the new and immediate. DIY artist blogs constantly remind us to “Update! Update! Update!” You have to stay current, keep your fans reminded of who you are and what you’re doing, lest you fall down to the bottom of the Twitter feed.
So part of my concern about my creative dryness was also the fact that I had nothing new to share in the social media sphere. I could feel myself becoming less relevant.
But now I wonder if that was part of the problem in the first place. Had both the constant need to put out something new and the constant reception of new information sucked me dry? I am noticing this as a larger trend on the Internet lately. Blogger Ali Luke notes that, “Over the past couple of years, there’s been a shift in the blogging world. More and more prominent bloggers-on-blogging are moving away from daily posting—and reassuring their readers that you don’t have to post every day in order to be successful.” Mega-blogger Michael Hyatt reduced his blogging schedule from five posts a week to three after surveying his audience and finding they wanted less. And just recently author, editor, and blogger L.L. Barkat encouraged many experienced writers to stop blogging altogether.
All these bloggers and authors recognize the backlash that we are beginning to face as our age of digital literacy expands—information overload. And for the artist, this sometimes vicious cycle of overproduction and overconsumption can only exacerbate the dry spells of the creative life. So what are some things we can do as artists and creators to combat these trends and cope with our own creative lulls?
Sometimes life just happens. Author and speaker Jon Acuff recently wrote a bit of simple advice on his blog: “Give yourself grace.” His point was that when we are working on a creative dream, we can often be incredibly hard on ourselves and not recognize the realities of life. Sometimes things just happen that take up our time and energy, and we can’t help it. We won’t do ourselves any favor by further beating ourselves up over our lack of creative output.
Creativity has seasons. Related to the previous point is the fact that we must recognize the waves of the creative life. No one can constantly produce and produce well. Life is a balance of work and play, rest and labor. Ideas have a cycle of inception to realization. There’s a time to receive and a time to give. Sometimes you need to be refilled before you can share with the world once again. As Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking on Water, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of the love of the Creator who brought them all into being; who brought me into being; and you.”
Keep a long term perspective. One of the best pieces of creative advice I’ve heard recently was something author Jonathan Merritt said at the Northern Shores Writer’s Retreat which I attended back in January. During a panel discussion he described the writing life as a “long obedience in the same direction” (quoting Eugene Peterson quoting Nietzsche). We are often more influenced by the culture of “now” than we realize, and we are tempted with delusions that our artistic efforts will attain swift success. The reality is more of a long, patient grind of quiet labor. Some may take this as a discouragement, but I believe this can actually be tremendously freeing, because it releases us from the tyranny of the urgent and the nigh-impossible weight of instant success. Besides that, keeping a long-term perspective helps us see those dry spells for what they are, seasons in a long vocational life of creative work.
Show up and be ready. Now, some of these suggestions could easily be transformed into subtle excuses to justify laziness. Maybe your life is just busy right now—or maybe you’ve poorly managed your schedule. Maybe the well has run dry—or maybe you haven’t done anything to refresh it. Even when ideas aren’t flowing smoothly, or hardly flowing at all, it’s still important to develop a habit of “showing up.” That might mean setting aside some time each day to work or brainstorm, or heading off to a quiet place where its easier to quiet your mind. It might involve some good reading that both recharges and challenges you. And sometimes, when life is really crazy, it might just involve being ready for when the ideas return.
For me, thankfully, the creative juices started flowing again when I both took some pressure off myself and made the choice to “show up” in some regular form. May these ideas be helpful for you in your own creative dry spell. Remember in the end that it is not about how many poems we wrote or books we published, but how much truth and beauty we gave to the world.