Sometimes we just run empty.
2020 has been a wild ride so far, and it’s only October. I don’t care who you are, if you exist in modern society right now, you are probably stressed the f*** out. Working from home, being out of work, homeschooling your kids, missing out on much-needed social interactions, not being able to hug your loved ones, fearing for your health, arguing about politics, worrying about the environment, and wondering if you should doomsday prep your house with 50-pound sacks of rice.
It’s a lot. Everything is a lot right now. When life gets tough, art can serve as a respite for our tired souls, but when life gets too tough, everything inside of us can slowly drain out like a water balloon with a hole in it. We are left empty and without the ambition to even think about creating.
In the past, I have said you shouldn’t wait for inspiration to create, but sometimes it’s okay to do just that.
How do you know if you should wait for inspiration?
You have to know yourself. Are you tired and lazy or are you empty? There is a huge difference. When you are tired, you have ideas. You have at least a little energy. You have something to give to your creative work, you just choose not to because it requires more effort than usual. Being creatively empty is entirely different. It is exhaustion. It is panic when you look at a canvas. It is pain and guilt because you want so desperately to give your passion the attention it deserves, but you’re simply empty. It doesn’t matter how much you squeeze, nothing is coming out of that tube of creativity.
When you are creatively empty, it’s okay to wait for inspiration. It’s okay to wait until you fill yourself back up with the energy you need to create. You need to recharge and rest.
Respect the Creative Cycle
Every artist goes through a cycle of creativity, and each part of the cycle is necessary even if it feels like you’re not actually being productive. If you Google “Creative Cycle” you’ll find a variety of labels for each stage of the cycle, but it’s basically:
We take in ideas, we let them roll around in our brain as we play with new arrangements, we make something, and then we rest before starting over.
The creation stage feels like the most productive and magical part of the cycle. You are actively making art and kickin’ ass. It would be amazing if we could stay in this space the entire time, but we can’t. It requires a lot of energy to maintain. When you are finished with the work, then you must truly rest. Embrace an empty brain. Then start filling that brain back up with input that will inspire you.
If you feel empty, then you are likely caught between Rest and Input. Maybe you need more downtime between projects, or maybe you need to be more intentional about finding input to help recharge your creativity. (Read 23 Ways to Find Inspiration) Give yourself a little push to test where you’re at, but if pushing gives you a panic attack, then I’d say a little more rest could do you good.
Be Kind to Your Inner Artist
Do not punish yourself for not being inspired. Instead, ask your inner artist what it needs. Does it need rest? Does it need input? Does it need you to scream into a pillow or sprint full speed down the road?
Where are you in your creative cycle? Respect the process and be kind to yourself. But when inspiration hits, don’t squander it!
Take that big pool of creative energy building inside of you and pour it onto whatever surface you can. Take notes, sketch, journal, paint, play music, write poetry, or record melodies. Whatever your medium, capture all that energy. No, you can’t just sit on that energy and hope you can save it for later. You’re not going to remember everything you’re thinking and feeling.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laid in bed at night, had glorious ideas come to me, but then confidently thought I don’t need to write this down, I’ll remember it in the morning. Did I remember it in the morning? Nine times out of ten, nope. Gone.
Go Through the Motions if You Can
I don’t want to tell you not to touch art supplies, because making art can be a way to recharge, but I do want you to strip yourself of expectations to produce something with purpose.
You don’t need inspiration to make art. If you are empty, you can take creativity out of the equation entirely while still keeping your hands active. Turn on Bob Ross and let him guide you through a painting. Find a step-by-step project on Pinterest. Or even order a paint-by-numbers kit.
If you are too empty for that, then you need to rest and trust your creative cycle. Inspiration will return. In the meantime, embrace some much-needed downtime and self-care.
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