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Creative Ebb & Flow

Blood, Sweat & Tears best record ever.
Blood, Sweat & Tears best record ever.

Ever had a stretch of time when you were creatively on fire? A time when your brain was on fire with new thoughts and your energy level rose to the point of near mania? Creativity will do that from time to time.

But in the immortal words of David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears fame, “What goes up must come down.” (I loved that band, btw.)

I’ve been in a creative ebb of late. This is not my first by any means. It’s happened plenty of times and I know (or at least, I hope) it will one day end. In fact, I may already be coming out of it.

But what brings on a period of creative quiet? And what should we do when the Muse is silent?

Lots of things can bring a creative ebb tide in, I think. If you’ve been in a period of extreme creative output, it stands to reason you can only go so long before you need a break – a period of rest and restoration. Life changes, both big and small, can impede the creative flow, too. Something as simple as a head cold or as serious as the loss of a job can put us in a downward spiral for days or even weeks.

And then, of course, we really should face the reality that a lot of creative folks are blessed with an extra dose of insecurity. It doesn’t take much to get us to thinking that nobody likes us and that they hate what we write. (I can go to a dark place very quickly.)

I’ve experienced all of the above this past year: After spending some two years writing a musical and getting it to market, a creative exhaustion swept over me and it lingered for several months. Today, I’m coming off my second head cold for this season. (When my head is aching, my brain doesn’t want to think, let alone create.) And almost one year ago, my beautiful wife suffered a serious heart attack – and our daily lives have not been the same since. Oh – and there are bills to pay, and a home to maintain, and emails to answer and blah, blah, blah…

The point is: There are always plenty of reasons to slide into a creative No Man’s Land. The question then is: How do you crawl out once you’re in there?

First, and maybe most important – cut yourself some slack. If you’re in a creative valley after being on the creative mountaintop, accept the inevitable. Thank God for the mountaintop, enjoy the respite, and pray that it is brief. If life is assaulting you with difficulties that block your creativity, deal with the crucial stuff, and try not to sweat the creative dullness. Later, once the smoke clears, use those difficulties as fuel for your writing.

Second, have faith that your creativity will return. (Actually, it never went away. You’ve just lost touch with it temporarily.) I’ve gone through this cycle dozens of times, and I still have to stop and remind myself that this, too, shall pass.

Last, take advantage of the low tide and take a long walk on a metaphorical beach. Watch a metaphorical sunset on a metaphorical horizon and remind yourself that a very real God is in control, and that’s a very good thing. To further mix my metaphors: Use the down time to recharge your batteries. Refill your empty tank. Clear the decks. Wipe the slate clean. Think of it as a healing process. You get the picture.

Like I said before, I think I’m about to come off one of these creative down times. Like everything else, as I’ve gotten older, this takes longer than it used to. But it’s happening. (Hey, I’m writing this, aren’t I?) I recently adapted two of my symphonic orchestral hymn arrangements for choir. And I’ve begun another long-term project, which if it bears any resemblance to its predecessor, will take months to complete. The head cold is passing, I think, and the fog in my brain is lifting, both physically and creatively. Cautiously I believe hope is dawning on the creative front once again.

Where are you right now? Are you in the flow? Is your creativity output steady and strong? If so, enjoy the moment. Relish this time. Get as much done as you can before the tide changes. (And it will change.)

If you’re in the ebb tide, and your creative dinghy is stuck in the sand, take heart. Another high tide will come to lift your boat and you’ll soon be writing once again. Just keep your metaphorical oars at hand for when the time comes.

My apologies for all the mixed metaphors and cliches in this blog post. But like I said, I’m coming off a creative funk. My brain still isn’t working as smoothly as I’d like.

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