In Defense Of Creative Winter

A winter scene at Shipka Pass in Bulgaria. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
A winter scene at Shipka Pass in Bulgaria. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

At the time of this writing, I’m experiencing a phenomenon that’s difficult for an ambitious person like me. I am, as an artist, experiencing a downturn in my creative energy. People have called this phenomenon many things. Personally, I like using the analogy of the seasons, so I call it my creative winter.

What happens during a creative winter? Well, just what you would expect from the analogy. In a creative winter, making art, writing stories, or otherwise inventing things fades from the forefront of your mind. Activities that usually excite you suddenly don’t seem appealing. Instead of making brushstrokes, you’d rather curl up in a warm cave in a pile of leaves, sleep, dream, and stay very still.

For me, this phenomenon is marked by several changes in daily life. Suddenly I want to read a LOT of books. I watch movies I’ve wanted to see, but have never gotten around to. Domestic projects become fun again – I might finally rearrange the contents of my bookshelf, or clean out that too-full closet, or organize my disaster of a pantry. I spend more time with my cats, observing their adorable quirks and enjoying the feel of their fur.

All in all, it’s a time of quiet and hibernation.

And yet, it’s incredibly difficult.

I don’t know about you, but as a creative person I feel pressured to be on the go all the time. Not just by external forces, but by my own impatience too. I am keenly aware that the harder and faster I push my art, the sooner I’ll reach my goal of becoming The Best Artist I Can Ever Be(tm). That’s a difficult proposition to say no to for any length of time.

But sometimes I must.

Why, you ask? Well, because occasional creative winters are good. Even necessary.

Let me show you why.

Tony Hisgett, Wikimedia Commons

1. Sometimes you need to change course.

It’s easy to just keep on keeping on, letting inertia carry you. Every once in a while, though, that is NOT the best way forward. You may not even know it until your energy bleeds away, and suddenly you’re stalling midstream, with enough time on your hands to wonder: “Wait, do I really want to go this way?”

This has happened to me MANY times as an artist. It’s been a good thing every time.

I’ve come to believe that something deep within me knows when I need to change course. I can be hurrying down the wrong path, all gung-ho about this or that project, and my inner self will start to apply the brakes. At first it will be confusing and irritating. Then I’ll start to see the truth: I’m doing this just because I think I should, or because someone told me to, or because…well…any number of reasons. But none of them are good enough.

Next time you’re drained of energy, turn your attention inward. You might find you need a change.

Sudslavicka Cave, Czech Republic. Wikimedia Commons.

2. Sometimes you need to reclaim your purpose.

Just as it’s easy to go down the wrong path, it’s easy to lose your way entirely. You start wondering, “Why am I doing ANY of this? Why should I choose Path A over Path B, or even Path Y? They all look the same!”

If you’re wondering this right now…oh, honey. It’s time to retreat to your winter cave, because you need some rest. Bad.

Here’s what you should do: watch movies you love. Reread favorite books and find new ones. Chill out to music that speaks to you. Go outside. Hang out with friends, cuddle some animals, and journal if you feel like it. But don’t MAKE yourself create.* Your artist self needs time and space to remember why you started doing this at all, and the best way to help is to wrap yourself in the things – and people – you love. Just think of them as the warm bed of leaves in your winter cave.

“But Julia,” you might say, “what if I never knew my purpose? I can’t reclaim it if I haven’t found it yet.”

Well, believe it or not, hibernating can be a good way to find your purpose in the first place. Have you ever gone to bed thinking about a problem, and when you woke up in the morning, you had the solution? While you were sleeping, your brain sorted stuff out. Creative life is like that.

So if you’re having trouble knowing your purpose, burrow into that warm pile of leaves and snooze a bit. You might wake up with the answer.

FORTEPAN / Konok Tamás, 1940. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Sometimes you’re just plain broken, and you need to heal.

I’ve experienced some pretty rough storms in my life. Betrayal by friends and family, personal losses, illness. In times like those, when it takes all the energy you have just to get through the day, let yourself retreat. If you don’t, you risk breaking yourself even further. No one wants that for you!

I know it’s hard to step back. Believe me, I do. I wish I was an artistic superhero, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound without breaking stride. I wish I knew exactly where I was going 100% of the time, and I wish I never, ever got tired.

But alas, my friend, we are mere mortals. We go through seasons, and if we want to stay healthy, we have to respect that neverending cycle.

So this time, I’m leaning into the cycle instead of rejecting it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

*Footnote: Nothing I say here is a license to skip out on paying clients! If you make art for a living, always, always fulfill your obligations. Just don’t feel bad for saying “no” to new ones.

And of course, know the difference between (A) a simple downturn in your energy and (B) total burnout. If you’re suffering from (B), it’s a sign that you need a radical life change.

Take care of yourself. Okay? \\//

Comments

  1. Great advice. The creative person has to recharge their creative energy or ‘batteries’ so to speak. I suspect that if we don’t do so on a regular basis our ‘winters’ come at the end of a crash. The other danger is that if we impugn ourselves for not doing something creative, or for taking a break, we’ve introduced guilt into the creative process, e.g. “I better get a few hundred words down or I’m going to feel like a failure.” We have to give ourselves permission to recharge.

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