Quilt designer and author Katie Blakesley.
Photo by Ellie Cox.
The word slump even sounds like dejection, defeat. The physical manifestation of slumping is the bad posture of the baseball player, the falling into the couch cushions, the hanging head.
Slumps are not just a phenomenon of athletes. Creative professionals of all sorts feel them too. Sometimes they can be paralyzing, a total block. Other times they can be depressing or caused by depression, a vicious circle. For some they can last only days, if they are lucky. For others, it can be months or even years. Defining it is easy – a slump is when the thought of creating stops you cold or the creating itself stops cold.
“It’s mentally exhausting. I know I should still be making things but I fear that the next projects are just not going to live up to the previous ones,” Shields said.
“I define a creative slump as a period where I have to drag myself into my studio, instead of periods where I look forward to creating, or even try to spend every stolen moment in there,” says Katie Blakesley, a quilt designer and author.
The bad news is that many of us still have work to do, creative work, even in the midst of a slump. As Baker says, “Deadlines disregard slumps.” Those are the times to rifle through inventory of work you’ve already done – recycling old content or publishing something older. Sometimes you have to go forward with work that doesn’t feel as good or as authentic because the work still needs to get done. It’s hard, but doable. Or take some short term actions.
The good news is that slumps don’t last forever. There are concrete actions you can take to make the connection again. It comes down to taking a break or making a change.
Taking a Break
You can, literally, walk away from your creative work. Whether for an afternoon, a week, or a month, taking a break is very effective. Like a writer staring at the computer screen and not being able to type anything, staring at your studio and doing nothing isn’t helpful at all. Walk away.
Speaking of walking, do something physical. Anything that gets your heart racing and, even better, gets you outside, fires up your energy. The rush of physical energy may be enough, over an hour or a few weeks, to give your creative energy a push.
Consider taking a field trip or a class. Learn something new, whether about history, another artist, or a technique. Challenging our brain out of the norm fires us up.
When the slump is really bad, tackling mundane tasks can be a great way to lift the weight. We often put tasks like accounting, answering emails, and cleaning aside when we are in the heights of our creative spirit. When that spirit dissipates, release the weight holding you down by clearing up the boring things. It still feels productive yet the results are freeing.
Quilt designer and author Katie Blakesley.
Photo by Ellie Cox.
Make a Change
Being overwhelmed is a common feeling for many creatives. The attempts to balance real life and creative life can also sap our energy. Try making a change to your routine or the type of creating you do.
Switch up your daily schedule. If you tend to create late at night then try a mid-day session. Consider adding a Morning Make habit to your day. Go for a walk instead of an Instagram break in the afternoon. Answer your emails before dinner instead of first thing in the morning. It can be something small, but the point is to make it something disruptive. You want to break the rut. Routine is comfortable, yes, but it is stifling and safe. If fear is stealing your creative energy then fight back by making a change.
Switch up your medium. This could be as simple as changing the type of paint or shape on canvas. Try using solid fabrics when you normally sew with prints. Write long hand. Try a different camera. It can be familiar, yet still different.
Finally, did you know that creativity begets creativity? The act of creating, the motions, the muscle memory, can trigger creative ideas. If all else fails, keep creating. Put one foot in front of the other. If you’re a dancer, pull out a piece that is familiar and move through it. If you are a painter, copy a painting of yours or a master and let your body feel the brush stroke. If you sew then make some simple blocks or a basic tee. Keep your body moving in the creative act and the mind will follow.
That is, ultimately, what baseball players do. They don’t stop coming to the plate to face the pitcher. Nope, they continue to step up and take the swings. By keeping their body going and finding the focus, they eventually make the hit again.
Such a great article! I recently heard a great quote along the lines of “nothing in nature blooms all the time, so why do we expect ourselves to bloom all the time?” With creativity being such a mix of mental and emotional energy, one of those is bound to run out at some point and need a refresh! I find switching up my actual craft for a week helps give me the break I need to get stuck back in to my work. I’m a quilter, but I also enjoy scrapbooking. Playing with paper instead of fabric is a nice, creative holiday! And an actual holiday, even just a weekend away with my family, is usually guaranteed to hit the reset button on my creative energy. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps!
Great comment Alyce, I love the flower blooming analogy. I don’t think we give ourselves enough time to think and let ideas bounce around off each other and I am going to keep that feed the flower idea so it blooms spectacularly when it can. For me, making something small like a quilt block can get the muscle memory and brain in the right space to make a project again. So can a good clean up. Just touching the materials of our craft, that tactile way of assessing what we have, sorting and clearing the decks can chase away the negative energy and refresh the mind so I can mess it all up again on the next project!
When I’m having a slump I find quick and easy makes help me get through it. Something I’ve made before and can do without too much thought. It leads to almost instant satisfaction and makes you feel like you have a achieved something. After a few of those I tend to feel more like tackling something bigger or more complex.