Creative Cycles Ebb and Flow

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creative cycles

Have you ever noticed that some of the time ideas and projects seem to flow out of you with no resistance? And at other times you feel like you have no ideas at all?

Welcome to the Creative Life

Just as the moon waxes and wanes each month, our creative lives have their own cycles. Some of the time I feel dull and stale but other times I can barely keep up with my ideas and projects.

I’ve been through enough cycles to know when I’m feeling totally empty and directionless in my art to keep on doing the work while also treating myself with compassion and understanding.

There is much delicious fullness in my life and art right now. Ideas are popping. I have online classes in progress. And my life is full of wonderful connections with friends and family.

I want more hours in my day, more time to work and play, more time to create, more energy and strength in my body so that I can do more each day, and more time to read and dream.

But I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes I feel dull and listless wondering what in the heck I’m doing calling myself a photographer.

Creative Cycles Reflect Nature’s Seasons

My creative cycles often seem to track the seasons in nature with new ideas and energy arriving in the spring and summer and waning in late fall and winter. In the summertime I tend to have more ideas and projects and if I’m lucky I also have more physical strength and stamina that allows me to do more projects. Winter usually brings me into a quieter more introspective space.

Occasionally I find that I switch modes from active and full to quiet and dull quickly. It is those times that are most difficult for me. I find myself wondering what happened to all my ideas and enthusiasm and I sometimes also fear that I will never again feel the urge to create.

Once when I was talking with a group of photographers, I admitted that I had been feeling like I was losing my passion for the art and feeling like everything I did felt stale. One of the more experienced photographers in the group quickly told me, “You need to take a workshop with someone new or someplace new. That will get your juices flowing.”

Creating Space for a New Creative Cycle

I think she was right. One of the ways that I coax more creative passion into my life is to do something new, go somewhere new, or learn something new. Simply pushing myself outside my comfort zone often uncovers new ideas and new creativity. My trip up to the north woods from March – May this year did that for me.

When I returned home from the north woods I went through a sort of re-entry into my ordinary life that took almost a month. During that month I felt little passion for my work and questioned the work I had done up north. Although I was delighted to be home again, I wasn’t sure what to work on and how to integrate my experiences from the north woods into my ordinary life.

Give Yourself Down-time

It took time to let things settle into life at home and to find a new rhythm in my days.

And Continue to Do the Work

Finally after 3-4 weeks of spinning my wheels without getting any traction in my work, I began getting excited about working on projects again and about starting new projects. My book, Wild Altars, sputtered along during the re-entry period with me starting and stopping but never actually making real progress on it until suddenly one day I began working on it and felt totally clear about how I wanted the book to look and which images I wanted to use in the book.

You can’t predict when the muse will arrive, so keep showing up to do your work. Even when it feels nothing is happening keep showing up. Don’t judge. Don’t give up. Keep doing the work. Ease off when you need to. Take breaks. Take care of yourself. But keep doing the work.

I have learned that the seemingly fallow time when I don’t feel like I’m getting anything done is necessary. Perhaps it is the part of the cycle when things fall apart to make space for something new.

Here are some things I do to support my creative cycles. Perhaps some of these ideas will help you.

Seven Ways to Support Your Creative Cycles

  1. Learn something new in your preferred creative medium by taking a workshop or an online class. Check out CreativeLive,  Brooke Shaden’s blog, or Quill and Camera.
  2. Learn something new totally unrelated to your creative passion. I recently began studying French online at a site called DuoLingo. I’ve been surprised at how refreshing the study is.
  3. Take a road trip somewhere you’ve never been before or wander around a part of the city you’ve not visited before.
  4. Go to a concert or to a play or an art museum. Take in new ideas that stimulate you and bring you joy.
  5. Give yourself an assignment that stretches you in a new direction or commit to a several month project.
  6. Take a short break from your creative work and do something new or different. Get out in nature or read a good book or call up a friend and go somewhere.
  7. Most importantly, treat yourself with compassion when you’re feeling down about your work or lack of new ideas. Remind yourself that creativity has it’s own cycles. Perhaps it’s time to slow down and nourish yourself to prepare for the beginning of a new round of ideas.

May you walk in beauty.



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