REKINDLING CREATIVITY – CREATIVE BLOCK AND HOW TO RELIGHT THE FIRE.

It seems most artists and writers go through times when they feel blocked, or worse, burnt out. These are trying times, when nothing flows and inspiration seems absent. It feels as if, inside, there’s a vacuum where artistry used to be. A blank space. A black hole. Or a huge, unscalable wall. And the longer it’s there, the bigger it seems to get. I know something of this, having spent the last four months feeling ‘blocked’ and unable to really produce anything much at all. I have tinkered at the edges of things. I have worried that I might have lost my way, my touch, my ability. I’ve considered other avenues. I’ve questioned my approach. I’ve questioned my ability. I’ve even questioned writing this blog post. Let’s face it, it would be so much easier to write about less personal things like exhibitions I’ve been to etc., but this is important. I know I am not alone in how I have been feeling. This is probably an occupational hazard, after all. I still find myself longing to create and feel massively frustrated that I haven’t been able to. Now though, I feel that enough time has passed and been lost, and I need to reclaim and rekindle my creative side. I’ll share ‘how’ I’m doing this with you, by analysing the block and working out a strategy to fix it.

CAUSES OF CREATIVE BLOCK

In asking myself the question, ‘What has caused me to feel blocked?’, I find the answer buried in two things. Firstly, life events – sometimes, the things that happen in everyday life can hit you hard and knock you back. I think the sudden death of my dear, beloved dog last year upset me more than I had realised. I think grief goes deeper than we sometimes think, and it’s not always easy to brush it off and be brave. I’ve also had a busy year with family and lots of changes on the horizon. My attention has been ‘elsewhere’, which is just what happens sometimes. It’s just ‘Life’… The trouble with attention being ‘elsewhere’ is that production effectively stops. This is dangerous in the sense that ‘practice’ stops, and this has led to the second cause of my creative block which is that other old enemy, Self Doubt. Yes. You probably know it!

I am a firm believer that practice really is the most important work. I wanted to say ‘Practice makes perfect’, but focusing on making things ‘perfect’ is another route to creative block – more on this later. I find, without daily practice, that my creative muscles stiffen and seize up, which in turn, prevents any sort of flow. Things that were easy become alien. Doubt slithers in and starts to consume any semblance of confidence, and it’s all downhill from there. Self doubt breeds fear. Fear hits confidence harder again, and then, my friends, you are stuck fast. That’s pretty much where I have been since February this year, and thank goodness for the frogspawn that graced my wildlife pond around that time, as I have at least had their development to post on my Instagram feed!

HOW I’M TACKLING CREATIVE BLOCK

1. Accountability – Every two weeks, my accountability buddy Andy and I meet online to discuss progress against goals we’ve set ourselves, and to update those goals to help us move forward. Andy has been very helpful, patient and understanding these last few months, and I am very grateful to him. Being accountable to someone else is a great way to focus on what you really need to be doing, and to not let yourself or that someone down. Thank you, Andy…

2. Being accountable to myself – Part of the problem with creative block and self doubt is that it leaves you wondering if you are ‘good enough’. It’s important to recognise that you are, and I think I am getting there on this one. I’ve spent some time recently looking back at my work from the last couple of years, and I can honestly say now that I am pleased with and surprised by some of it. I didn’t know I could produce some of the pieces, which gets me thinking, ‘What else can I produce?’ The truth is I don’t know, but the crux is, if I don’t get back to my art practice, I’ll never know. So, how do I hold myself accountable? By organising my priorities and writing a list every morning with at least three achievable goals for the day – no drifting. This list is reviewed every evening before bedtime so I can see exactly what I have or haven’t achieved, how and why. Making goals achievable is important, and any goal not achieved is jotted down on the list for the next day. It is in my interest to achieve these goals, so they don’t pile up and become overwhelming.

3. Timer – I have found setting a timer for some tasks really helps me to get them done. For example, I recently drew up designs for some brooches. This was something I’d had in mind for two months, but couldn’t seem to find the time to do it. I kept ‘letting’ life get in the way. That is no one else’s fault but mine. So, I set the timer for half an hour to see how far I could get with a design in that time. The result was much further than I had assumed, so I did it again, and again, and before long, I had made definite progress with 8 designs, which I have now started to stitch. Those first stitches… Well, I can honestly say they terrified me. What an admission to make, but that is how it felt. I continued, then ripped it all out, dissatisfied with how it looked. Crucially, though, I started again, with a timer, and trying to banish any sense of looking for perfection from my mind, I kept stitching. So far, so good. The timer allows me to do just one thing for a certain amount of time and I find I can get so much more done in that time with the timer going than without it.

4. Perfection – Set all ideas of this aside. Just do the practice, and keep ‘doing’. This is where I failed earlier this year – I let life events get in the way of my practice, and it felt impossible to get going again. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ and produce what feels good and right to you at the time. What you produce may not be exactly what you had in mind, but keeping those creative muscles going builds familiarity with your materials and retains your confidence in yourself and your ability. It takes time to learn and become proficient at anything. The key is practice. It really does produce results…

5. Simplify – Reduce the burden on your creative brain and don’t try to do too much or too many things – this is a huge problem of mine!

WHAT I REALLY BELIEVE

Putting it simply, I believe I can find my way past this period of creative block by easing myself back into the practice of what I love and long to do. Using the timer has helped me massively, by restricting and defining blocks of time for certain things. It has allowed me to focus in, to concentrate on one thing, by blocking out everything else I might feel I should be doing. Half an hour or an hour is not a lot of time, but it’s enough to allow that focus to grow. As that focus grows sharper, my confidence will grow and my practice will extend and, I hope, begin to bloom again. I will share the results with you here as new pieces of work emerge.

12 Replies to “REKINDLING CREATIVITY – CREATIVE BLOCK AND HOW TO RELIGHT THE FIRE.”

  1. You described creative block so well in this post, Valerie! It can happen to all of us from time to time, and when it descends, it’s hugely vexing and quite discouraging. I’m so happy to hear you were able to meet creative block right where you are, and that you figured out some simple, effective steps to help you get back to your work.

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said in this post: Life can, and does, get in the way; emotions can be insurmountable; self doubt, and even fear, can creep in. And ugh, then there’s that incorrigible internal task master who insists everything must be perfect! All these things can combine to stop us in our tracks— but not for long! You must never, ever doubt your ability, my friend. You are one of the most creative, talented stitchers I know, and your work is always a joy and an inspiration to me. Thank you for all you share!! xoxo

    1. Awww… Amy… Honestly, you are one of the kindest, warmest, loveliest people I know. Thank you ever so much for reading this and for your feedback. It really is heartening to know that, when in the depths of artistic despair/block, you aren’t alone. Most, if not every, creative has been there. It’s almost like the creative side of you becomes set in stone and is immovable. I really do believe it’s vital to stay ‘in practice’ in whatever it is we do, otherwise a kind of emotional rust sets in and starts to eat away at the delicate balance of the inner artist. For me, the timer worked really well, almost allowing and granting me that time, just for stitching. Thank you also for your very kind closing comments – I really do appreciate them… Xxx

  2. Absolutely Val. I have been very guilty of this just lately, and the less time I have to do anything, the less I feel motivated to pick up my pen or needle. Inactivity creatively, breeds doubt and more inactivity in me. The timer thing is a really good idea. I also write morning pages – sometimes. I need to get back to doing these. It’s a way to release everything going on in your head, to leave it clear to then create. It’s from a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
    A great post, thank you x

    1. Hi Sue
      Thank you so much for your comments and for reading. I know exactly how you feel – it feels like the less you do, the less you can do, which sounds strange, but that’s how it is… Doubt is a monster. The timer definitely works for me. I have found that if I set it for 30 mins, after that 30 mins I am still raring to go, and I get more done in that time. Yes, I have the Julia Cameron book. I hadn’t thought of using it, to be honest. I had forgotten about it, but yes, the morning pages do work and can be a valuable resource. I did morning pages for a couple of years while I was doing Creative Writing courses, and loved the experience. It’s great to be able to look back and re-read, and be surprised by it, too! I’m off to search in the bookcases for my copy now. Thank you for that reminder, and have a lovely Creative day, my friend. Xxx

  3. In my experience the most difficult moment in being creative is, when I finish one project and haven‘t started another yet. Then the risk is the greatest to just stop all together, to let life happen. That is why I have started to have several projects going at the same time. Maybe one where I still don‘t really know what exactly I want to do, another where I‘m well on the way so that I can just take the needle and stitch for a little time, another, where there is more time and more creativity needed, and so on. I too have a box with some fotos which I want to turn into embroideries even though it may take a while until I tackle them.
    This way there never is this moment where I sit in front of an empty piece of fabric and have absolutely no clue what to do with it.
    Creativity comes with being creative and if I have pieces where I can stitch away without much thinking, my appetite of doing more or start something new, rises, my hands are busy and my head can produce new ideas.

    1. Yes, Corinne. I know what you mean. Perhaps it’s safer, then, to have multiple pieces in progress all the time!
      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts here. Your process makes total sense!

  4. Such a great post, Val. As you know, whenever I’m overcome with doubts, I just moan to you and you sort me out! And last year, I discovered another resource to kickstart me when I’m lacking motivation. I enrolled on Sue Stone ‘s brilliant course, Exploring Texture and Pattern (from Textileartist.org). I learned so much about why we get stuck, but one of the best things I learned was how to be creative within limitations. It’s such an excellent way of focussing yourself. For example, playing with stitching small samples with just one stitch, with guided limitations, like only using the stitch in two colours, or one direction, mixing threads in the needle etc. It’s amazing how freeing it is when the world isn’t always your oyster! Stitching samples is a no-pressure exercise and becomes amazingly addictive and you soon become inspired to see the potential of what you’re exploring and your enthusiasm is reignited.

    1. Rachel, thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comments. You raise a very important point about creativity and working within limits. I find my butterfly mind flits about all over the place, and my zest to have a go at everything becomes an overwhelming buzz of chaos. I think this, to a large extent, is what gets in my way, and it’s why things like the One Year of Stitch project and my Nature Notes from last year work well in encouraging continued creative thought and production. Concentrating the mind on a limited range of things does produce results. It keeps the ‘doing’ going, which is all important…

  5. What a great post, Val 🙂 We creatives all hit a wall somewhere along the line, whether it’s big or small it’s disconcerting. I think I’ll come back to this post and read it when/if it next happens to me.

    Life does get in the way a lot, doesn’t it? Kary Oberbrunner, an inspirational American writer, calls it “being hacked”, and while perhaps a touch strongly-worded, I know what he means. It’s very easy to get distracted and end up losing 5-10 minutes before being able to get back to where you were before.

    I too believe that perfectionism is counter-productive. Sometimes you just have to “throw it out there” and see what happens. Some of the best artistic achievements in the world were not 100% meticulously prepared. Black Sabbath recorded their first album in a single day, with barely any retakes, but it still stands among one of their greatest, and one of the top heavy metal records of all time.

    I’m also very glad you’re finding the Accountability sessions useful. As am I 🙂 Accountability is great, isn’t it? As one of my favourite sayings goes, “alone we can be strong, but together we are always stronger”. The timer is also a cunning idea – I haven’t used this one for a while, but I’d do well to do so because I think it used to help me get the best out of the time I’d allocated to that particular task.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts! Keep up the good work, and don’t let self-doubt, perfectionism or excessive everyday clutter get in the way 😉

    1. Hi Andy
      Thank you for reading, and for your lovely reply. I agree with everything you’ve said. We just have to do what we do as we can at that moment and put it out there to see what happens. We are our own worst critics, and that’s why perfectionism is such a nightmare. I do find the timer works well for me, as does Accountability. Thank you for being a part of my journey, Andy, and a valued friend…

  6. Hi Valerie,
    I read your post around about the time that you posted it and very much related to everything you’ve shared. I wanted to reply but found myself somewhat stuck for words and so I didn’t at the time because I felt like I wanted to do you justice with a well thought out response. Well as you can see three weeks have gone by and I’m still not too sure want I want to say (I sense perfectionism sticking it’s beak in) so I shall blow caution to the wind and just start….

    I love your honesty and courage in sharing your struggle. It really does help to read that I am not alone in this because it is so easy to think that everyone else has got it all together and that nothing holds them back.

    But it is so very encouraging to read about your pursuits to work towards overcoming the struggle, step by step and moment by moment.

    Life does have a tendency to throw hurdles before us and I all too often fall into the trap of thinking it’s only happening to me. So much distraction reinforcing unhelpful thoughts. Unhelpful thoughts causing so much distraction.

    The idea of using a timer is such a great idea. For lots of things really. Recently, while perusing all the work that needs doing in my garden, thoughts of how much can be overwhelming, I found myself thinking… well if I just put in a half hour or so when I can, progress will be made rather nothing at all. And of course once I start I get so enthused I keep going for ages and thoroughly enjoy myself!

    The notion of using a timer to get some stitching done could be so liberating for me!! It would be like giving myself permission to create!! It’s interesting isn’t it, how much we limit ourselves in the negative sense, forever chastising and prioritising the chores!!

    Anyhoo, thank you for sharing where you are at, very thought provoking, and I am going to set my timer….

    I wish you well in your endeavours to spark your creativity again Valerie, I always enjoy seeing your beautiful work!!

    Much love,
    Marian xx

    1. Awww…Marian… Thank you ever so much for sharing your response to my post and for all your lovely comments and support. I really do believe that we are all susceptible to blocks and doubt. Half the battle is realising they are there. The timer method really does help to get you re-started, by giving yourself that precious time just to focus on doing something that will create some sort of progress. It really works. Most of the time I end up going over the timer time, if you know what I mean! Thank you once again, Marian, and happy creating, whether it is in the gardening or stitching! Xxx

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