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?
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.