How to be creative during artistic dry spells


“Spring does not come from winter; it comes from the silence from which winter came and summer and autumn.”  —Max Picard, The World of Silence

If there’s one thing that connects all people in the arts, it’s this: we live to be caught up in the act of creation.  The creative buzz that comes from writing a book or preparing for a concert is the spark that keeps us engaged in our work and gives meaning and structure to our lives.  Yet all projects have a life span—the concert ends, the book is released, the show closes—and once the glow of accomplishment fades, the artist faces the emptiness of a blank page or empty rehearsal schedule.  

I’ve met people who seem to bounce from project to project with little or no empty time in-between.  I’ve even been lucky enough to occasionally experience that buoyancy several times myself.  But sometimes—usually when I need a good long time to refill the creative well—I complete a creative project and there’s nothing but silence and emptiness on the other side.

As artists working in a world where we’re only as good as our last project, this can be terrifying.   The freelance nature of our income only adds to the stress.  But experience has taught me not to panic.  New ideas sprout and grow when they’re ready and no amount of thrashing about makes them appear any sooner.  These “fallow” times are for rest and some old-fashioned quiet listening.  They’re also opportunities to practice creativity apart from productivity.  The key is to find activities that bring joy, and to choose to do them as creatively as we can.

A pianist friend of mine spends her “off” time working in her garden.  A writer friend decorates her house.  I love to cook or bake and improve my photography skills.  The point isn’t what we do, it’s the creative buzz we get from doing it. All it takes is a passionate interest in something and the commitment to spend time doing it.  This time allows us to relax, to reflect, and perhaps to just play with possibilities.  It teaches us to widen our worlds and gives us the silent satisfaction of a new flowerbed, a perfectly baked loaf of bread, or a timeless moment captured on camera.  These quiet times give us the space to find meaning and context in our working lives.  

The pause, the rest, the full stop—all are natural parts of art.  Sentences have punctuation.  Paintings have white space.  Music has rests.  Without these “blank” times everything would lack structure and would become meaningless noise.  The graceful pause invites recollection and rejuvenation, giving us the rest we need to continue birthing beauty into the world. 

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