A few days ago I found myself thinking about the blog post I wrote just a couple of weeks ago about creative cycles. I realized that it’s true that creative cycles can and do change in an instant.
In what seems like the blink of any eye I’ve moved from being filled with ideas, creative energy and enthusiasm to thinking, “I have no good ideas. I’m not happy with my work. I feel stuck so I’ll just sit here and bury myself in a romance novel.”
How to Get Unstuck
When I feel like this it’s easy to think that it will last forever and I will never become unstuck.
I have some ideas I’ve been wanting to work on but I’m mired in a bog of fear and uncertainty about how to achieve my goals and the projects not turning out well. And the uncertainty mixed with the fear has me feeling paralyzed.
I’ve also been working hard on updating my website to include galleries of my recent photos and to provide a way to purchase prints of my photos. After spending hours trying to get something easy and inexpensive set up on my website I’m 80% of the way there with no idea about how to get the last crucial pieces working the way I want them to. I’m feeling frustrated and discouraged!
On top of the frustration with the website technology I’ve fallen into a pit of self-criticism about my work.
I sit and avoid the whole mess. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. But for days I’ve felt that sense of failure and frustration that dogs many artists.
It happens. I know it. And I’m once again in the middle of it. It may simply be growing pains but whatever it is it feels awful.
How do I overcome this deadly inertia and self-criticism?
How do I get unstuck???
What does it mean to get unstuck? How do I think about it? How can I change it?
By Changing my Thinking…
That sounds way too easy, but what else is there?
I wrote in my journal about my current feelings and discovered that the deadly SHOULDS had crept into my life again. (As in I should be doing, or feeling, or producing…)
So I embrace self-compassion to help get unstuck.
I give myself permission to let go of my SHOULDS and embrace joy.
What do I want to be doing?
What brings me joy?
Can I let go of needing to produce something or accomplish something?
I take time to relax and focus on the joy of the process, not on outcome to get unstuck.
Yesterday I took a break and went on a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka with a friend. I left my camera at home and simply enjoyed some time feeling the breeze on my face, enjoying the water and the sunshine. I stopped banging my head against the website gallery problem and just left it be. Who says I need to display my photographs in galleries on my website or offer a way to sell my prints?
I give myself permission to walk away from it all, even my camera, to get unstuck.
Lately I’ve embraced a new restorative yoga practice, cooking fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, trying new vegetarian recipes, lazing on the deck swing, reading books, and just being relaxed and not in a hurry.
Earlier this week I bought a bunch of flowers in an attempt to “jump-start” my creative process and before I had finished I wanted to throw the flowers and my camera across the room. The photos I made looked trite and uninteresting to me. But I think now that it was simply my response to pushing myself to “produce” something when I wasn’t feeling the joy of it.
Yesterday I bought more flowers at the farmer’s market but not because I was trying to accomplish anything with them—they were simply a little bunch of lavender colored flowers that made me smile. I don’t even know what kind of flowers they are. But I brought them home, put them in vases and without even intending to started playing with my camera in little bits and spurts. Then I went back to the flower photos I made earlier this week and found something I liked about some of them. I discovered that I had been playing with two kinds of photos this week — high key (very bright, light photos) and low key (darker photos, often intentionally under-exposed).
When I embrace joy, it makes all the difference. The intention to follow joy versus the intention to produce are diametrically opposed.
I can’t say that I’m completely unstuck yet. But I’m no longer worrying about it or feeling anxious. I’m too busy focusing on the things that bring me joy.
When you’re feeling stuck what do you do? Here’s a quick list of ideas to try:
Breathe in, breathe out—practice mindfulness and self-compassion.
Recognize that getting stuck is a normal part of the process. Accept. Let go. Forgive.
Let go of all need to produce anything good or bad, and focus solely on the process of doing what you love and your joy.
Write about it in your journal.
Take a break by going on an artist’s date.
Find a friend to work with on a creative project.
Let it be. Wait for the creative impulse to rise up. It will, sooner or later.
Declare a vacation week and forbid yourself from working on your art for a whole week.
Pick one small thing to do that will move your work forward.
Celebrate doing that one small thing.
Pick one more small thing to do.
Celebrate again, and repeat.
May you walk in beauty.