The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself.
As I lay on my sofa one day, gazing out of the window at the silhouette of a tall silver birch tree with its cascading branches and no leaves, I was reminded that even though nature in winter may be outwardly less vibrant without leaves and flowers, it is still extremely beautiful. In its stillness and non-doing, its sweet surrender to its purpose is revealed. Its only purpose is to be whatever it is, right there, in the moment. Leaves one moment, gone the next. Perfect in its existence.
So why was I resisting being creatively blocked? Why was I so insistent on pushing through the block and trying to make my own leaves and flowers grow?
It had been many months since I’d felt a consistent flow of creativity. My writing felt stifled, muffled in a perpetual fog with no new landscape in sight. I started writing in 2006 and with the occasional break here and there, writing was something that came from my soul - it came naturally to me. To feel this absence of writing felt like losing a limb to me. I was no longer able to be what I thought I was – a writer.
What do you do when creativity stops?
What do you do when words stop flowing, when art doesn’t reach the canvas or ideas are not there? Is a writer still a writer when they are not writing? Is an artist still an artist when they stop painting? Is music a necessity for a musician to still be a musician?
This is when it dawned on me, not only was I resisting my own resistance, I was also identifying who I am with what I did and if I stopped doing what used to come easily to me, then who was I? I felt lost.
I noticed during this creative drought that life started to pour offers and opportunities my way, people asking me to write, contacting me, and here I was in the dry season. How on earth do you miss out on opportunities that ordinarily would have been a real blessing in the past, but now just gave me a greater feeling of self-pressure.
As I wrestled with my own resistance I was convinced that if I just took a few weeks off, not trying to write, that inspiration would return and so I took 3 weeks off and I sat at my keyboard and nothing. So I took more time away and came back and sat at my keyboard and nothing. My ego was screaming at me that I was missing opportunities and that they would go elsewhere if I didn't hurry up and create something now! The ego is so urgent.
In my time out I was doing something that I didn't realise I was doing. I was faking surrendering to 'what is'. I placed secret time deadlines on myself by giving myself 2-3 weeks away at a time from my writing and I was unwilling to stop pushing myself to perform.
Could I let go of my ego identification with being a writer? Could I drop the need to take opportunities right there and then and trust that life would give me other opportunities or those same opportunities would still be there if and when my creativity returned? I had no choice, I had wedged myself into a corner of my own making.
So how do we get our creativity back?
There is no way to force, coerce, manipulate creativity or inspiration to flow through us again, because when life blocks us it is asking us to surrender into the flow of uncertainty, of not knowing and to truly step into the path of grace.
Creativity only returns when we stop trying.
Going Against Conventional Wisdom
A few years ago I did a local course based on the teachings of Julia Cameron, a great teacher who helps many people unlock their natural creativity. A part of her teaching mentions that when we hit a block we need to push on through, to just create to be creative even if we feel that what we do is rubbish. I believed this wisdom and sometimes it has worked for me, but not this time.
Try as I might, I attempted to plough through the block by writing poetry or anything creative, but it didn't help my flow. I managed to write a short piece, but nothing substantial or that satisfying to me, and it often felt like I was pushing a large boulder up a hill. I simply couldn't force my creativity in any way, shape or form. It had to be more organic, more natural.
You Can't Fake Surrender
Trying to be creative through effort can produce stale creations. They lack that certain oomph and passion that natural creativity brings.
If you reach a place in your life where your creativity feels stifled – take time out. It's important to not put a deadline on this time out and to check in with yourself, just in case you are putting secret time pressures on yourself, causing you stress.
This really takes a deep let go, especially if your identity has been bound up in what you see as a vocation for a long time. There can come a time when you feel lost, wondering who you are. This is not a bad place to be. Sometimes a feeling of being lost is simply a redirection taking place, giving you a deeper experience of who you really are beyond the labels of musician, writer, artist etc. And sometimes you may be unconsciously germinating a new way of creating. We simply can't know unless we fully surrender and trust the great unknown.
It's very important to be kind to yourself during times of creative block and to allow those still quiet places inside to simply be without filling them with extra activity that is distracting. It is okay and worthwhile to take time out in a physical way, through socialising or walking in nature, gardening or dancing to get back in touch with our earthy nature, our grounded connection to the source of our creative flow, our sense of being present in the here now.
The Ego Will Fight
It can feel hard for the ego to suddenly surrender and allow you to do 'no-thing', but it's essential and is sometimes all we can do during these times.
I am walking through my own personal desert at the time of writing this post and being creative in my lack of creativity. Inspiration can be a fickle creature, but I take my words to heart, it's time to fully surrender and trust once more.
How have you handled lengthy periods of creative stagnation in your life? And how have those of you who have external deadlines placed on you by others coped during creative droughts in your personal careers and life?
Author of 'When Everyone Shines But You'. Passionate about helping others remember who they are. Manager of an editorial & publishing support business and social media whizz.