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What to do when creativity runs out

Let’s start this blog with a confession: creative work is hard.

Yeah, it’s satisfying to do something that you love. But it’s still work. It still takes an investment of time, energy and emotion.

So, what happens when the thing you love doesn’t feel so fun anymore? Well, this blog is an attempt to answer that. It’s an opportunity to share some of my own experiences with you so that if you’ve been stuck in a rut this year, you can know you’re not alone.

If you stop reading here and take nothing else away, take this:

“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
- Katherine May

2022: Normality? Or assessing the wreckage of the last two years?

I read a quote this month that said that everything has an ebb and flow, not just the tide. That life isn't one perpetual spring. It resonated with me and not just because there was snow on the ground outside the window.

This year feels like it's been a landmark year in many ways. We've been able to go out and meet people, spend time with friends and loved ones. It’s been lovely, and kind of exhausting at the same time. As we approach the end of the year, a lot of people that I've spoken with are abundantly ready for a rest. They’re itching for a chance to relax and recuperate, something I echo.

Like most marketing people, I was flat out during the pandemic. As entrepreneurs across the nation found themselves with a whole lot of time to think, messages were refined, business propositions altered and words that reflected the new landscape were the order of the day.

That creative energy spilt into every area of my life and my creativity. A change, it seemed, really was as good as a rest. Outside of client work, I pursued creative projects such as launching a podcast and focused on my own creative writing projects. The surge of creative energy even spilt into an obsession with yoga and, for the first time in my life, I grew copious amounts of veg in the garden.

As we approach the end of the year, it seems that a lot of people are abundantly ready for a rest.

You already know there’s a ‘But’ coming…

2022 has been the year of creative fallout. The ‘difficult second album’ phase, if you like. The equivalent to a follow-up film that flops after a blockbuster debut.

Client work has been varied and I’ve enjoyed getting my teeth into it. As for my own projects, well, that’s been another story.

The energy that had me in its grip throughout 2020 and 2021 has dissipated. My own words, my own writing projects have faltered. Like a water diviner scouring an increasingly arid desert, I’ve found it more and more difficult to locate reliable sources of H2O. Syllables, ideas, sentences have bubbled up and dried again almost as quickly as they’ve surfaced.

Give me a client project to get stuck into. Give me a new subject, someone else’s ‘thing’ to research and write about and I can keep myself busy for a long time. But give me my own words to wrestle into some kind of shape? Phewww... You better not hold your breath.

Such has the struggle been that I’ve taken to putting my personal projects aside in my ‘sacred writing hour.’ Instead, I’ve been journalling, reading, and free-writing as a kind of meditation. The effort to force coherence out of my brain has finally taken down with it the few words that remained.

'Creativity' has been elusive; syllables, ideas, sentences have bubbled up and dried again almost as quickly as they’ve surfaced.

I’ve stopped trying so hard to be creative

Hence why this blog germinated whilst in the kitchen making soup. I gave up the fight, downed tools and decided to cook instead; it seemed a less depressing prospect than trying to force creativity and getting nowhere. Folded within the delicate richness of leek and potato is a rather beautiful metaphor for, not just creativity and writing, but business in general. Sometimes it’s not about the peeling, slicing, or sautéing. Sometimes the magic is in letting the ingredients simmer away on their own, while you doze for 20 minutes and let the flavours develop.

When we switch our brains – not quite off, but – down a notch or two, space opens up. When we finally surrender to this need to always be on, to always be in ‘successful’ mode, in ‘creative’ mode, in ‘connecting’ mode, in ‘impressing’ mode, in ‘pitching’ mode, or in whatever mode we find ourselves most often, there’s half a chance that spontaneity will take over. There’s half a chance that an idea may spark and, fed with the oxygen of time and space, burn brightly in time.

Productivity isn’t always the goal

As exciting, creative and, er, interesting as the last two years have been, it’s been a lot. Like many people, I’ve found myself running with the idea that more equals better. At times, I’ve fallen into the trap of being busy, busy, busy. Of seeing productivity and output as the goals. It's a kind of sneaking thing; it creeps up on you when you least expect it.

So, if productivity isn’t the goal, you may be wondering what is, exactly?

When we pause, there’s half a chance that an idea may spark and, fed with the oxygen of time and space, burn brightly in time.

The goal is connection

In business, in life, in creative pursuits, there's a lot of pressure: to act a certain way, to appear a certain way, to behave a certain way, especially at this time of year. You know what I mean. To post on social media about…

  • All of your #blessings

  • A never-ending gratitude list

  • The multitude of amazing things that have happened in your life

  • The myriad of successes and achievements that you've had

I have a lot to be grateful for – I hope that you do too. I can express that in my own time; I don't have to broadcast it to the world. When I remember that my words are for me and the people I choose to share them with, it’s liberating.

So, if you’ve been struggling to articulate something this year, keep in mind that your words are so much more powerful when they're used for connection. They carry that much more weight when they express genuine warmth. How much more heart-warming to express your gratitude directly to those concerned than to knock out a social media post?

Why not try a different tack this year?

Perhaps you could handwrite a thank you note and send it to someone that’s made a difference to your life. When it comes to marketing your business, why not get a bit more real? Why not say what's challenged you this year, what you’re glad to see the back of, or what you’re looking forward to next year? It doesn't have to be morbid nor showy. It could be:

  • Coming up with creative ideas has been a real block for me this year…

  • I’ll be glad to see the back of all the doom and gloom 2022 has brought…

  • I'm looking forward to a slower pace next year…

It doesn't matter what you write on your list.

What I’m curious about is, how does it feel to express the thoughts and feelings that are rawer? Is it a challenge? Or is it actually more nourishing than enforced positivity?

If you’ve been struggling to articulate something this year, remember: your words are much more powerful when they're used for connection.

Connection, connection, connection…

From thank you notes to creative writing, whatever form words take, connection is at the core. Our words have the power to bring us closer, something to bear in mind amidst the festive frivolities.

I hope that you've enjoyed connecting through this blog and my newsletter; I certainly have. Thank you for taking your time and spending your energy in reading my humble wordy offering. May you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope 2023 is a year of flow for you.

And if it is more ebb than flow, remember to keep breathing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. And most of all, keep writing, even if the words you come up with are only fit to be kindling for the fire (I’ve had plenty of those this year)! Because whether broadcast or not, whether published or kept private, your words matter.

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