If You’re Stuck and You Know it, Clap Your Hands!

At work one day, a woman asked me a question unrelated to the products we sell.

“Have you ever been stuck in your art before?” (YES) “Do you have any tips about how to get unstuck?”

Why yes, I do. Before I present a list of ideas about how to inspire your muse during a period of listless motivation or a complete creative dry spell, let me assure you, it happens to everyone. We are human. No matter if we are basketball players, accountants, teachers, or artists, everyone goes through seasons of life when it is more difficult to conjure up enthusiasm, even for something we love. Stress saps our energy, we get hungry, busy, tired, or there are a dozen other duties vying for our attention every day. I reminded the customer of this and encouraged her not to despair.

Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Yay! You are alive! There is hope! Keep breathing.

Ask yourself if there are any circumstances in your life that are increasing stress, or creating an emotional or physical block that is dampening your desire to pursue creative things.

Think of one small thing to change in order to decrease this stress. Maybe you need to take a nap, eat regularly, or better food, take a walk, get a different job, hire a neighborhood teenager to mow your lawn so you have an hour free of household chores on the weekend to do art. Have that conversation with your friend which you have been avoiding. If you think it is strange that I am discussing stress on a post about unsticking your creative muse, trust me, stress is not just a stealer of health, but also of life. If it doesn’t kill your physical form, it can sap your joy. Pay attention.

PLAY. (This is also an effective way to lower stress.) Often, even as creative people doggedly pursue their medium of choice, boredom sneaks up unawares. It is not necessarily that the medium must be abandoned, but maybe that you need some fresh perspective. I often dabble in other disciplines. My favorite medium is paper for collage, but I have painted in oil, acrylic, watercolor, with gelatos, and watercolor pencils. I have carved linoleum blocks, dabbled in calligraphy, taken a ceramics class, and created clay sculptures. Embossing powder? Coloring books? Jewelry making? Sewing? I tried it all. I like to learn and to rediscover that sense of curiosity when doing an unfamiliar task. In the process, I find it stirs new ideas for my work. It is like a sea breeze blowing out the cobwebs of my lackadaisical creativity.

Don’t do art. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes in order to give your creative muse an awakening, you actually need to step away. Try running, Pilates, tai chi, volunteering at a homeless shelter, walk through your favorite stores, hike in the woods, visit a beautiful park, have coffee with friends, attend a symphony concert, dance performance, or join a chess club. Not only does this point help with stress, and inspire play, but as the adage goes, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Taking a mental break from trying so desperately to DO ART, will probably make you miss it enough to want to return. It has the added benefit of giving your creative mind more fodder to work with and might inspire new purpose for doing art.

Embrace the season. As the quote in the image at the top of this piece describes, there is an element of struggle in the pursuit of art. Dabbling with new materials while you embrace the season might remind you that art is fun. Experimenting narrows the focus of your style and voice. The trial and error, the growth spurts, are all part of honing your craft. As with anything else in life, creativity is not a constant state of never waning productivity. In fact, the incubation period of an idea, project, book, or painting is as important as the actual execution of the thing. (Speaking of incubation periods in the creative life: Read this great article.)

The customer that I spoke with at length found my suggestions helpful, but it is only because I have experienced dry spells myself that I have learned how to work through them. We all feel stuck sometimes. Even if these suggestions don’t speak to you, there are dozens of popular workbooks on the market that help guide artists through dry spells. In the end, do not get discouraged to the point of giving up. Take a deep breath and know that your gift has not left you. It might need a rest, new inspiration, or to incubate for a time, but keep “feeding” your muse until you are ready to move forward.

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