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In a Creative Rut? Here's how to get out

Do you feel like you’re in a bit of a creative rut? Or maybe a creative canyon?


I’ve been there. Many times. You feel restless, a bit hollow, aimless. You’re not sure where to start or what you’re even interested in. 


If you’re feeling this way, I want you to know that this is completely normal and all a part of living a creative life. This often comes when our creativity has either been in disuse for so long or it can come when we’ve completed a different creative project that was all-consuming. 


I was feeling this way earlier this year. I felt scattered, aimless, uninspired.


I wanted to feel creatively fulfilled and feel that excitement and spark and passion that you feel when you’re in that creative flow. But I didn’t know where to start or what I was even passionate about. 

So I decided to follow the advice Elizabeth Gilbert offers in her breathtaking book, Big Magic

 

She says when you're feeling this way, instead of worrying about your passion-- instead, follow your curiosity.


What are you curious about right now?


Even if it is outside the quilting world. Are you wanting to plant a garden? Start baking more? Try a particular quilting technique? Learn to dye your own fabric? 


Let’s start with what you’re curious about and go from there. I think your curiosity is your inner artist nudging you in the right direction. Give yourself the space and permission to follow it, even if it feels like you’re going down a rabbit hole. 


I’d also like to address something else that happened to me that some of you might be experiencing. There might be this thing that you’ve always wanted to do-- a passion that you’ve had for a long time but that completely terrifies you. 


Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a children's book or learn to paint or try art quilting. But the vulnerability required to give it a go when what you create could be terrible-- is paralyzing. 


Maybe you haven’t even told anyone about it or haven’t even admitted it to yourself out loud. It felt way too audacious. Who do you think you are to do something like that!?


So instead of going after that thing, you have kept it buried deep within you, you seek ancillary creative projects. Hobbies and projects that live on the outskirts of what you REALLY want to be doing. 

 


Steven Pressfield in his fantastic book, The War of Art, introduces the phenomenon of what he calls “resistance”. Resistance is sneaky and clever and presents itself whenever you’re about to do something creative. 


And it appears completely reasonable.


It might look like, you start pulling fabric for a new project and you realize the laundry really needs to be done, or "you know what, I think I should reorganize my stash first."

It’s that contraction you feel in your chest when you start thinking about a new creative challenge.


It says, “you know what, that is beyond what you’re capable of right now, let’s choose something easier instead” or “you just don’t have the time right now” or “maybe sometime in the future, now isn’t the right time…”


Resistance sounds perfectly reasonable but will always try to stand in your way of doing what really lights you up.


Diving deep inside of you in your creative work is scary and requires vulnerability and risk and courage. Resistance is that primitive part of your brain that sees a lion lurking around every corner and wants to keep you safe. It’s not resistance’s fault. You know what another name resistance goes by? Fear. 

 


In a creative life, fear will always be present because the act of creation requires so much bravery. And that’s okay. We can allow fear to be there and have her say, say all the scary and reasonable and distracting things, and we can pat her on the head and say, “thank you, dear, for your input. No lions are around here. I’m not going to die from sketching a tree, I appreciate your concern, but I’m going to carry on now.”


No need to try to vanquish your fear or that feeling of resistance. Let it be there and hang out with you while you’re doing your creative thing, and just treat it like a puppy who is vying for your attention and wants to chase the ball or have a treat or go outside, or bark at your neighbors who are walking by your window. “Everything is going to be fine, Sally, you can hang out here with me, but I’m going to do my own thing. We’ll go on a walk later.”


When you’re in a creative rut, it is easy to feel like you’re just no longer creative.


Maybe you felt creative when you were younger, but that’s all dried up now. 


I promise you it is not. 


We as humans are inherently creative beings-- look at what we’ve created and built over the years -- SO MUCH! Skyscrapers, electric lighting, the iPhone, the Mona Lisa, agriculture, post-its, language, ballet, cheeseburgers...


It’s baked into our DNA to create things. 


Creativity is a muscle that might stiffen up after disuse, but can always become strong again, with the slow, gentle working of it. 


Be gentle with yourself and your creativity. Let it be light and playful. 

 


What are you curious about right now?

Is there something deep within you that you’ve always wanted to do?

Whichever question you answer, begin there. 


We cannot wait to see what you’re going to create.


I'd love to hear from you. Have you ever felt (or currently feel) in a creative rut? What has helped? What stood out to you the most in this article? Leave a comment below! 

 

If you're interested in being a part of an international creative community where you'd explore different quilt-making styles from around the world, I think you'd love The Meander Guild. Learn more about it, here.

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17 comments

  • Thank you, Shannon, for this encouragement and support. I have had to abort my sewing and quilting these last 4 months (right after I joined Meander) to take care of my dying 100 year old mother. She passed a few weeks ago, and I now have all the hours I gave to her care back in my court or studio, and I am having a bit of a time getting re-started. Reading and re-reading your note really helped me move forward again. I have projects to finish, projects I began when I joined Meander that I never completed, and new projects waiting for me! I will sew again!

    Gail McKay
  • Thanks, Shannon. Good words and very helpful.

    DIANNE J MCDONNELL
  • I’m less in a creative rut right now and more in creative work overload, and that is a cycle I tend to keep myself in. Either I can’t bare to look at my sewing machine or I have 5 projects with the same deadline and am lining more up. I work myself up, I burn out, repeat. I am working on that, and this newsletter was a great reminder that this is art, my art, and the joy is in the process.
    Also, always talking myself down from trying new things. I have been working on that this year and I am WAAAY better at new things than I thought I’d ever be. But even when I’m not so good, I’m glad to have a new skill to work on.

    Thanks!

    Stephanie

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