Every now and then it happens. Life throws new challenges at you, or prolongs the excruciating agony of some old ones and your creative Mojo just ups and leaves you, high and dry; usually just when you need it most. If you’re a painter, you just stop painting mysteriously. If you’re a musician, you find you can’t get interested in making music. If you write, you notice that you’re not writing much stuff anymore and that the stuff you write looks a little second rate to your own eyes. The low ebb of creativity is upon you.
It’s very common to panic or enter a downward spiral of depression about it. It feels like the low ebb will never end and that this is, indeed, your future permanent state of affairs. Some people begin to manically and obsessively analyse the reasons for the ebb and in try to understand why the creativity fairies have deserted you. Some blame all sorts of spurious things. Your muses and inspiration might be just fine, as per usual, but you just aren’t being ignited in quite the same way. Maybe there really is something wrong with you, you begin to think. Maybe you’ve finally been unmasked as the fraudulent artist your self-critical voice always secretly thought you were. Maybe it’s all over. I doubt it.
I used to do this myself and I still find it hard not to get caught up in the angst of a creative lull. I’ve found there’s no future in that response, though. It’s actually better to let the wave ebb away and just observe. Don’t worry that the tide will never return. Of course it will return. It’s a wave, innit? Anybody that has lived by the sea knows that sometimes the lowest tidal ebb is followed by the most magnificent, powerful and dramatic wave. Not always, but sometimes. Don’t fret about the falling away of your productive, creative powers temporarily; look forward to the returning wave, whenever it might reappear.
The unconscious mind is a weird old organ, too. Sometimes, when you are producing your most fallow of outputs, your unconscious mind, unknown to your conscious self, is cooking up something truly spectacular. You won’t find out about what it has been up to, inside that head of yours, until the wave returns. That’s the nice thing about the low ebb. The high, peaking, crest of the next wave is so refreshing and so welcome when it finally comes.
The low ebb is a great time for quiet contemplation, for reading, for maintenance, on both yourself and your environment. Put your creative tools in order. Make preparations for the next frenzy of artistic outpouring. (I nearly typed “outpouting” and thought that was much funnier, but this being my low ebb, I erased it immediately)
So let it wash over you. Acknowledge the feelings of frustration, loss and fear. Believe in your own creative abilities and trust that they will return, stronger and better than ever. Meanwhile, find all of your art materials, reorganise your colours, order some canvases, work on the playability of your favourite guitars, learn something more about your music creation tools, and shoot the breeze with people who do different things to you, but who do an inspiring job of it in their own terms. Watch the world go by, pay attention to the seasons and nature. Listen. Contemplate. Relax. Re-charge.
One fine day, the creativity fairy will once again grace you with her presence and the universe will provide you with abundance, skills, opportunity and fulfilment. You just have to wait it out and take care of yourself.
Take notes of anything you do produce, while you are at your low ebb. It might seem terrible at the time, but future revision, with hindsight, might yield some surprisingly good things, the least of which is insight. The stuff you think you are doing at your low ebb, which you are sure completely sucks, might look considerably better to you, when you are back at the crest of the wave. Your powers of harsh, unfair, self-criticism are always in inverse proportion to your own creative comfort and productivity. The worse you feel, the harder you come down on yourself.
So forgive yourself for not being a perpetual creation machine. Nobody is. Nobody can be. Even God took the Sabbath off. It’s the gaps between the creativity fests that demonstrate to us how remarkable we really are. Let the waves wash over you, flow away and return. They will. It’s a law of nature.