Creative Cycles

Be you a writer, a sculptor, or a maker of killer-sack-lunches, you likely experience creative cycling in your art.  Near as I can tell, most artists experience acts of creation in their own unique ways, but many of us encounter periods of extreme inspiration and prolific creation, as well as the inevitable (and rather disconcerting) sessions of dry, fruitless, unproductive and otherwise barren stretches of non-creativity.  These “down cycles” can send even the most steadfast artists among us to the edge, wondering if the muses have all but dropped their pants in laughter at our utter impotence.

As a writer and visual artist, I am as vulnerable to the down cycle as any other.  The first time I experienced a major dry spell, I found myself feeling like most other artists in my position: “My work is actually a pile of worthless crap;”  “I’ll never create again;”  “I don’t know why I ever thought I was a writer in the first place;” accompanied by other unabashed thoughts of self-pity and self-doubt.

Over the years, I’ve learned differently.  No matter how difficult these down cycles are, and no matter how deeply we might dig ourselves into that hole of insecurity, they are not, as we might feel, the end of the artist.  Quite the contrary: in my experience, these dry spells are often the place where we do some necessary stepping back, where we take in other experiences, thoughts, and perspectives, and from which we jump into the next massive upswing that carries us through the subsequent outpouring of creative fervor.

So how do we endure the stillness?  How do we as artists survive those periods of self-doubt, unproductivity, and creative sterility?

We breathe.

As artists, it’s natural for many of us to be deeply if not spiritually connected to our creations.  Even if our art is connected more directly with our means of making a living than with the utopian free-spirited act of creation, it is nonetheless an integral part of what defines us.  Just as the proverb tells us that “if we love something, we must set it free,” so too is it the challenge of every artist to cultivate the inner patience to step back, let the art be, and have faith that it will one day return.

5 Responses to Creative Cycles

  1. LilyB says:

    I’m all too familiar with the creative dry spell. Sadly, as a commercial artist with a regular deadline, I can’t indulge myself in self-pity as fully as I’d sometimes like to.

    Congratulations on your newest project!

  2. JLB says:

    Greetings Lily, and thanks for visiting!

    Life as a working artist is something I’d like to address at Brainripples as the blog grows. Because I am currently approaching the task of writing for a living (as opposed to just writing because I’m a writer), this is something to which I devote a great deal of thought and attention (and obviously something which you address day-to-day).

    Thank you again for coming to Brainripples, and have a lovely weekend!

  3. Trailhead says:

    Thank you. I needed this piece right now.

    I once heard a professional musician lament that he had lost a part of his joy in listening to music, because he was too focused on hearing the technique. I feel like that has happened a bit with my nature photography. The desire to capture this or that image has crowded out some of the joy of nature. It will be good for me to be on the trail with only a digital point-and-shoot.

  4. JLB says:

    Thanks for that thought Trailhead. I have to think about the same thing when I write poetry… it’s only recently that I began to give serious thought to the possibility of publication. Up until then, it was simply a part of what I did. Sometimes I think that I need to regain some perspective to stay true to the pleasure of my work, otherwise I get too hung up in the technique, as you describe.

    I am so excited for your Great Trailhead Adventures! If you think you’re focusing too much on the picture-taking, take a page out of my vacation book, and try to conveniently forget that you even have a camera. We the audience might not get the benefits of seeing all that you see, but YOU will see a lot more! 😉

  5. […] Which got me thinking: how do we get back on track, or get cruising back down the tracks, when we hit the slow patch, or lose sight of our original goals? We’ve discussed creative cycles here before, but what about the day-to-day, or the mid-project-crisis?  […]

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