The life of an artist. How on earth do you describe it to someone who doesn’t live in that zone? The drive to create, the ideas sneaking around behind dark cupboards, the intense pleasure in finally achieving some predetermined measure of success – and then the agony over temporary blocks, the growing suspicions that you’re talentless, and the days when no matter how hard you push or how deep you delve, nothing comes to the surface.
As writers, it’s our lives. (…is that a weird set of tense and pronouns or what?) We’re blessed with a moody brain, a crushing ego, a relentless drive, and the ability to take the amazingly glorious world around us and turn it into something new and different. Something that sparkles on the page or captures the imagination. But sometimes the last thing we want to do is engage that gift.
So what do we do when Netflix, computer games, and checking email over and over and over seems more appealing than putting words on a page? When the efforts to hide from our work tumbles us into a guilt-filled, abysmal, non-creative state? (I saw you flinch! You know what I’m talking about.)
The first thing is to realize that those down times are not bad.
Creative lulls are just as important—if not more important—than the intense creating times.
Lulls in our creative practice are where life happens. They’re where we experience things, where we delight in what is going on in the world around us and unconsciously glean seeds of ideas for future projects. Instead of wailing and gnashing our teeth over what isn’t getting done, we need to nurture the down times. We need to rest.
Now, if you’re like me, rest is an interesting dilemma. It’s not… proactive… unless you’re “resting correctly” (whatever that means), so the first thing you’ll have to learn to do is let go. Let’s face it, resting is not measurable. It’s one thing to say “I wrote 7,000 words today, and it was awful,” and another thing to admit you played on a swing-set, discovered a small island, and nearly made yourself sick on the roundabouts.
Pry those fingers off the self-created goals that give you such an instant sense of meaning and worth and just chill for a moment. Tune in. Figure out what you are feeling hungry for, literally or figuratively. It’s going to be an uphill hike to learn to relax, but do it.
The one caveat is when the creative block you’re facing is self-inflicted. You probably know if it is. Admit it. And if you’re hoping to get an excuse to go watch another episode of something just because you don’t want to write a difficult conversation, or tackle revisions, I can’t help you.
But! Maybe your creative tank is really dry. You’re halfway through a massive project, but there’s a little cough in your motor. A kind of wheezing. The story is stalling, and you’ve got this weird sense of pumping and getting nothing but gravel. This is a sign, my friend. Your creative sides may be tapping you on the shoulder and asking for nourishment. This is your opportunity to mindfully create a space for your creative side, and therefore yourself, to rest and grow. Take the opportunity.
On a practical note (and for those of you who are terrified of stopping because you might not be able to start again) here are a few things to keep in mind while resting.
- Set a time frame, such as an hour, an afternoon, a day, and know that at the end of that time you’ll begin work again.
- Don’t get caught up in long, complicated projects that will siphon all your attention.
- Unstructured time outside rarely hurts.
- Ditto with talking to people. (You know, those loud things that walk by while you’re trying to concentrate on an intense chapter.)
- If you like familiar things, do familiar things.
- If you like adventure, just don’t die.
And always, always, always remember that the rest time is giving your creative side a chance to regenerate and replenish.
Your work is worth it.