I dream up a lot of projects as a self employed artist. Some of them are lofty. Some of them are completely manageable. I set small project goals every week, and every year I set an income goal that hopefully will be fed by said projects. Since art sales ebb and flow with the consumer market, this means November and December are usually a hustle to maximize holiday sales to meet my goal. By the time January 1st hits, I am ready to collapse on my bed and sleep for a few days. Maybe with a sense of victory. Maybe with a sense of failure. Doesn’t really matter what the outcome is, fatigue is nigh.
This fatigue is normal, but I feel like 2021 has an extra dose of it. Many of us were counting down the days until last year ended–because 2020, am I right? Whew. Personally, I was pushing to meet my art income goal AND finish the first draft of a novel AND finish my latest series of paintings AND do a bunch of holiday marketing. I had way too many projects going on, but damn that felt good. And then I finished the projects. My schedule was suddenly empty.
The first week of January, I was a bit high off of creative closure. The second week, I was like who am I? What am I doing with my life? Why do I feel so depleted? Why won’t my brain make the colors meet canvas? Why is my brain so QUIET?
I wasn’t distracted by my projects anymore. I exhausted my creativity. I met my goals for 2020. I gave my all to everything in my path, and I didn’t have anything left.
This is normal. This is part of the creative process. Every project must end. But now what? What should you do?
I’m really bad at this, but you should celebrate when you finish something creative. It’s a wonderful feeling. Even if you think what you created sucks, you should still celebrate. You wanted to do something, and you did it. That’s huge!
Yay, you! Pat yourself on the back.
You need it. You can’t be creative all the time. You can’t expect yourself to be productive 24/7. You can go through the motions when you feel uninspired (and I do recommend this for the most part), but you have to give yourself time to recharge.
Do something that is purely for fun. Not a side hustle. Do something that doesn’t require creative thought. Or do mundane tasks that help you feel centered. Clean the house. Organize your closets. Or sleep for the entire weekend while letting Netflix auto-play. Or give your body some much needed movement. Work out, go for a walk, stretch.
I give myself braindead days. I feel guilty while I do it, because I fall victim to the “do all the things all the the time hustle til you die” mindset. But if you don’t give yourself time to rest, your body and brain will demand it later (hello, burnout).
Rest is productive. Rest gives you the energy and clarity needed to start your next project.
This part is a little more difficult with the pandemic and winter settling upon the US–but you have to live. Interact with other humans, be social, and connect with people who make you laugh. Life isn’t about our accomplishments, it’s about the connections we make with people. Creativity is great, but you have to step into the real world at least occasionally.
Call a friend. Call your mom. Have a date night with your significant other. Play a game online and connect with people across the world. Find socially distanced activities in your your community. Anything. Just live.
I am an introvert by nature, so my version of living still involves a startling amount of alone time, but I focus on the activities that bring me joy. Being out in nature, talking to my best friends on the phone, cooking delicious food, and connecting with all of you through my blog and through Instagram.
Do the things that make you smile. Do the things that make you forget about the past and the future. Do the things that help you enjoy the present moment.
When you run empty, you have to fill your mind with new input. This can be any new experience, but often it’s other creative content.
While you are in the middle of a project, it’s hard to step away and consume anything outside of your creative world. November and December, I barely had time to do anything beyond my creativity. When I wasn’t writing or painting, I was sleeping or eating. This was great, though! It meant my own creative energy was flowing. I was immersed in my imaginary world, and churning out paintings and chapters. I wish I could feel that ALL the time–but I can’t. You can’t.
Your flow will stop, but this can be a great thing, because now you have the time and the mental space to pick up a new book, watch a TV series, enjoy other artist’s work, and more. You can learn something new. You can give your attention to other’s creations without fear that it will ruin your own creative flow.
You might say, “But I do this while I create.”
To that I will say, “But maybe don’t do that.”
When you are deep in a project and you consume another artist’s work, it can trigger your internal critic. It can beg you to compare and contrast your work, which often leads to you being overly critical of your own and halting your progress.
I can guarantee that if I picked up a book in the same genre as the novel I was writing, I would have given up. I would have said “My book is crap. Why am I doing this?” When I am creating new paintings, I don’t look at other abstract artist’s work. I love to support other artists, but truth be told, I have muted most creators in my social feed because I know it will interfere with my own vision. I know my internal critic will whisper “But you’re not as good as them. Just stop.”
If you consume other creator’s work while you are in the middle of your project, be wary of your critic, and try to consume work that is vastly different from your own to avoid triggering that little naysayer.
After a project is finished and my internal critic can’t halt my progress, then I can go full creative glutton and feast upon everything the creators around me have to offer. Give me all the books, art, TV, movies, blog posts, YouTube tutorials, and whatever else I can consume. Consuming this content helps me recharge and find inspiration for my next project.
After you do the steps above, you will start to feel a pull to your next project. If you don’t feel the pull, then you either aren’t listening to your inner voice close enough, or you are in need of more rest. I have to ask myself frequently if I am just being lazy or if I really don’t have the energy to create. When I know I’m being lazy, then I push forward.
Inspiration doesn’t always flow like a natural spring. Most of the time, it’s like a well that needs a bit of pumping to bring the energy to the surface. That’s where brainstorming comes in.
I take notes all the time. When I am consuming new things and a little nugget of an idea pops into my head, I write it down. When I walk the dog and words flow through my mind, I record a voice memo. When I’m lying in bed at night, I capture ideas before I fall asleep. I collect every tiny idea I can. When it’s time to start a new project, I sift through these ideas and hope they act as a catalyst for something bigger.
When you feel recharged, it’s time to shut out the world again and focus on your inner world. Sit with your ideas. Make time to play with your creative tools. If you are a writer, sit down with a pen and paper. If you are a painter, start sketching.
You don’t have to have a direction for what you’re creating. Whatever your discipline, whatever your tools, lock yourself in a room and see what happens. You don’t need to have expectations. You don’t need to make anything polished or beautiful. Get raw ideas out of you. It will feel uncomfortable if you aren’t inspired, but that discomfort is worth pushing through.
6. Plan a New Project
It’s time. You are a creator. You are meant to make things. The more you make, the better you will get.
If you’ve celebrated, rested, lived, consumed, and brainstormed, then it’s time to push forward and set that new project goal. Don’t linger too long in the space between projects. Creations are waiting to be born.
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