How do you get back to creating after you have been away, whether due to illness, vacation, busyness or distraction?
Whether it has been a few days, weeks or years, the process is essentially the same. Knowing this process is a key skill for artists who want to live fulfilling creative lives.
At the end of May I went to Mexico on a spiritual retreat. It was soul-nourishing, wonderful and rich.
Coming home, I feel deeply reconnected to my Essence, in a place of deeper quiet, trust and ease. I feel mysterious transformations and gifts moving in me on a subterranean level. I feel truly blessed.
Almost immediately I came down with a bad cold, which turned into a fever, then a nasty cough. I’ve been astonishingly tired and had to move at a snail’s pace for the past week.
What with the busy time leading up to retreat, the week away and then being sick, it has been a while since I have been in my studio writing.
Now, when I attempt to begin again, nothing comes.
Do I panic over this? Not at all.
I know this is a totally normal phase, and I know how to move through it.
What You Should Know
You will have resistance. Know that you need to move through the resistance, rather than buy into it. In this way, you’ll be able to get back to doing what you love.
You may be terrible at first. I call it “Grinding the Gears,” because that’s what it feels like when I’m trying to begin creating again. If you stick with it and are gentle with yourself, this will pass pretty soon, and those gears will be greased and moving smoothly again.
Rekindle a Creative Habit
The first thing is to rekindle your regular creative time. Get back in your habits again, if you had them, or start some new ones.
Set aside some days and times that you will make your art. You may need to put those times in your calendar, or perhaps you decide that every weekday evening you’ll take ½ hour to play your guitar, or on Sunday you are going to play with paints. Smaller, regular bursts of time will help you get your groove back, even if it’s been years.
Make a commitment to yourself and keep it, even if in the moment you don’t feel like it. Remember, you have to move through resistance.
It can help enormously to have some companionship, either by taking a class, making a date to make art with a friend, or forming a group to share works-in-progress.
Start Small and Easy
When we return to our art after being away, we face resistance to creating. This is normal. Starting small and easy lowers your resistance, making the way more inviting and fun.
Begin in some easy way to get reconnected to your art, your creativity, your love of making things. Remember why you want to do it in the first place, what it can give you, others, our world.
For me, that happens by reading. I read some poems by other poets. I read about the art and craft of poetry or writing. I may read a bit about the lives of artists or about the creative process.
This is reading for inspiration, not pleasure. I’m not sinking into the couch with a novel for hours. I’m trolling for inspiration, while I’m in my studio at my appointed time.
Then I read some of my own work. I may do some revising.
I’ll give myself a prompt and do a little freewriting.
I may keep the studio time shorter than usual at first.
I want the process to be as inviting, easeful and inspiring as possible.
When I’ve been away from my violin for a long time, I usually begin with a 10-minute session, perhaps 20 minutes. I will play some scales or scale patterns and then improvise for a few minutes. And then I put the violin away before I get discouraged or burnt out. I want to stop while I still feel hungry for more and still feel good about playing.
What are some small, easy, inviting ways for you to begin again? What is the least threatening, most enjoyable way back?
Permission is the Key that Unlocks the Door
As always, the most important aspect of getting started again is my attitude.
And the most important attitude is permission. Giving myself permission to play, experiment, make messes, and most of all, make “bad” art.
I know that often when I start again after being away there is a period I call “grinding the gears.” My words come slowly and awkwardly. The writing is often terrible.
I accept this time and don’t fret over it. I know it’s a necessary stage in the cycle of returning to my creativity. And it passes.
If I let myself be awful for a while, pretty soon the words and imagination start flowing again. I find what I am excited about now, what I want to say, how I want to say it. I find the joy of creating.
Breaks Can Produce Growth
I may discover the time away was a great blessing, allowing me to refresh my connection to my creativity, to learn things while away from it, and to come back with new gifts.
Back when I was playing my violin for hours a day, I was surprised to discover that a break of a few weeks or even a few months could lead to a strange quantum leap in my abilities. As if I had figured something out while away from it.
Longer breaks don’t usually produce this kind of growth. Instead, there will be a loss of ability that I have to make peace with and gently make my way back, rebuilding skills and facility over time.
However, at the same time I may have new life experiences and other kinds of growth that do feed my art in new ways. I want to be open to these, curious about who I am now and how I want to make art now, and not just fall into old ruts.
Be Kind and Encouraging to Yourself
Gentleness is very important. You want to think of yourself as a child that you are encouraging to be creative. How you treat yourself will have a big impact on your creativity and your art.
So, be the best parent you can be to your inner artist—incredibly loving and encouraging but firm too.
Now it’s time to get to it! Make a time, make some art! Let it be easy and fun.
Share with me in the comments below what you got from reading this and any questions you have. Let’s keep filling our world with beauty, truth, imagination, wonder, play.