Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Telling Life: Creativity and drought

Here we are, well into the beginning of a new year. If you're anything like me, you're busy pretending you haven't made any resolutions when, in fact, you have some ideas about what you'd like this year to bring. You just don't want to call them resolutions. Me? I call them goals.

I have all kinds of goals. One of the most important, maybe the most important, is to make sure that I take care of myself on the most fundamental levels, so I can continue to create and feel alive. Built into that is the need to nourish myself creatively and continue to make new things.

Right now? I can't think of a single damned way to do that. I'm in a drought, I'm cold and barren. Not only do I not want to create anything new, I don't want to work on something old nor do I want to do anything that might move me in that direction. I want to sit on the sofa, watch tv and maybe have some popcorn.

I hope some of you out there know what I'm talking about, it would be a terribly lonely thing to think I'm the only one who gets stuck like this. It's funny, often enough people comment on how creative I am, that I must always be working on something interesting, that they wish they could be as productive as I am. It's not true. Much of the time I'm trying to avoid the work, I'm staring at a blank screen where the words just won't appear, or I'm wondering if I should just give it up and get a day job. It may look as though I'm creatively flowing all the time, but it's just not the case.

I suspect it's this way for many creative people. When we look at other artists, be they storytellers, writers, visual artists, etc, it may look as though they are the most creative, most able, most gifted person out there. I suspect even Leonardo daVinci had his moments when he wanted his equivalent of sitting on the sofa with tv and popcorn. Comparing ourselves to others just doesn't help.

So what can we do when we're feeling dry?

I hate that question. If I'm feeling dry the last thing I want to do is anything that might fail to get me out of the rut, because failure feels like validation of my fear that I have nothing left. Rather than offer you answers when I am struggling with this problem, let me share a story with you.

I was driving through Iowa recently. The land was still snow covered, the trees leafless, the view long and rather barren. The part of Iowa I was driving through was all farmland, dedicated to corn, soy and other crops, but in that moment it looked like the aftermath of some terrible catastrophe. And yet I kept smelling manure. At first I was annoyed by it since I grew up in an urban environment and manure isn't immediately meaningful to me. Then I glanced again at the land around me. The ground was furrowed, dark patterns in the white snow. The earth had been fertilized, nourished, so in the spring it could produce riches.

Maybe instead of being barren winter, it was merely resting.

Maybe what we need to do is recast creative drought. Instead of it being a drought, what if we're lying fallow? A field left fallow is plowed but unplanted, so it can regain its fertility. What if some of the dry times are actually rest? Sleep? A chance to dream up something new? I'm not suggesting a serious case of writer's block isn't a problem, but maybe when we have those times when, for a day or two or a week, we have trouble soaring, we are simply lying fallow.

If we treat ourselves kindly and nourish ourselves creatively even during the fallow times, perhaps we can create more consistently. Perhaps we can give ourselves a chance to read, to take a break, to really enjoy catching up on that show and eating some popcorn. We can give ourselves that time and embrace it wholeheartedly if we know this is nourishment and that soon enough we will again be productive.

What do you think? Do you have tips for managing the fallow times? I'd love to know.

p.s. I do have one tip to offer you. Don't go it alone. If you're feeling frustrated that you're not creating, take a break and reach out to someone who can sympathize, brainstorm and help you feel less isolated. I had a rough time getting started on this post so I called my friend Elsa, who brainstormed with me. She spread some manure, is an excellent listener and even better friend. Thank you!

(c) 2016 Laura S. Packer
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1 comment:

  1. "Lying fallow" is good. I call it a gestation period. I think when one is written out one's mind needs time to let go of the old ideas and start putting together new connections and links that will create something interesting and original. It's as though it starts as smoke, then thickens, then begins to take on shapes and cohere into something solid enough to belive in. I can't usually write with conviction till I get to that point. As long as I'm thinking about it I'm not too worried. It's when it goes dead that I worry. If you're waiting for an idea, maybe it just hasn't reached that stage. As long as you are turning possibilities over I would trust your process.


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