Surrendering to Creative Cycles
This chapter focuses on creative cycles, from creative highs to zero creative productivity, also termed “The Void,” and everything in between.
Reading this chapter woke me up in a startling, very real way.
I went through years, literally years, in the Void. (Or, so I thought.) It annoyed me to no end. Every now and then there would be a small glimmer in the darkness, like a poem, or a good set of photos, but those were very few and very far between, so it seemed to me, and I thought I’d lost it, that I’d lost a consistent connection to creativity.
It turns out I wasn’t very tuned into my creative cycles.
My last semester at university, I had taken a creative writing class in short fiction. I started off very strong with the first piece, but by the time my final piece was due, I felt like I had regressed, like each subsequent piece had gotten worse and not better as was expected by not only me but my professor. From a purely academic view, it was baffling. The idea was that you were supposed to write through the blocks, and work very hard at making each piece better. I did that, writing even when I didn’t feel a story waiting to be told, and I tried to make the pieces better, but after such a strong start to the semester, an inspired piece in which the protagonist/narrator jumped so fully formed into my mind, it was difficult and produced less-than-stellar results.
After graduation, for many reasons, I fell headlong into the void. I didn’t just fall into a void. I fell into a depression. Even when the depression lifted and I started going about trying to live a life outside the confines of my bedroom, I still felt stuck creatively. I thought all was lost because I wasn’t producing any writing past the occasional journal entry.
Instead, in hindsight, my creativity energy switched tracks. I received my first digital camera as a Christmas present from my parents the Christmas after graduation. I started snapping pictures like a madwoman, and my best shots were nature-based. That sort of saved my creative life, as the drive for nature photography I discovered in the midst of what I thought was my dry spell has carried over.
I still didn’t consider myself out of the void yet, as I wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders, but it was a rope leading to the way out, and I grabbed it.
It’s been quite the odyssey from there to where I am now, finding my way into a tentative creative rhythm again.
Since starting this book and reading the posts of the group, I came to the realization that I was not, in fact, in the void as long as I had thought I was. My problem was not lack of creativity; it was my overly-narrow definition of creativity.
I now know that in addition to cycling from creative productivity to the void and back again, I cycle among forms. Early in life I began cycling from the more visual elements of art (drawing, collage, painting, photography) to music (singing before I could speak in full sentences, choir involvement, making up songs I shared with no one and had no idea how to write down, making up vocal harmonies for my favorite songs) to writing (poems, short stories, journal entries, blog entries) to, recently, cooking and creative combinations of clothing (some of the latter more successfully than others).
Looking back, when I’ve finished a creative cycle in one medium from germination to completion, I have dropped into a brief–compared to what I had been thinking–void to rest and germinate ideas, then switched the medium. When my writing stalled out, I was taking photos fairly regularly, for example.
If I could say one thing about surviving the void, I would say that when you get frustrated and think nothing’s going on, take your notions about creativity out of the box or pigeonhole in which you keep them. Don’t limit yourself to one form or one genre.
As for celebrating, I usually call a few friends and write about it in my journal and/or blog about it. I’ll put on music and dance around like a maniac when no one’s watching, or at least do so as if no one is watching. I’ll give myself a treat, usually chocolate. Then I rest, and, from here on out, try to avoid viewing the rest as unproductive, and, instead, as a time for something new to come in.
My favorite quote from this chapter was this one on the void:
The void often feels like a test. It may be escorted in by job loss, illness, death, betrayal, burnout, disillusionment, or other life crises we didn’t sign up for. While we long to restore the old, its time has passed, even if we wish otherwise…Change thrusts us into chaos, and it takes time to reorder things and find a new route. Courage is mandatory” — Gail McMeekin (p. 59)
That’s not just applicable to the creative sectors of our lives, our chosen forms of creative expression, but to life generally…Especially now with the state of affairs here in my home country, the U.S., the way they are.
Note: At this point I feel like I should note the reason I’m behind. I’ve been reading and working with my creativity this whole time. I’m just behind on writing my blog entries for various life-related reasons. I hope to be caught up by the end of this week.