This isn’t a saying but it should be: The quickest way to collapse a strong creative practice is to change something in your life.
Changes include - having kids, illness/recovery, new employment, moving, new creative demands from somewhere else, or even changes in the medium or scope of the work itself.
I’ve been through some change management myself recently. Well, management is an overstatement.
I’ve been through change, which led to the collapse of my creative practice. I then felt craving and frustration. I tried a bunch of stuff, some of which worked. And I eventually realised what the missing piece of my process has been, and dreamt up an experiment, a way it might work in my new situation (fingers crossed).
I used to work in a job where the structure of what was required of me was really nice and clear. Although there was creative energy required, I still had plenty left outside of work. My creative practice would stay bouncing round in my head. My aim was to do an hour of creative work a day, and this flowed into larger chunks when I had a project on, or in weekends.
Since setting up a business, I have had to provide my own structure, and there is so much solving and discovering and inventing that it uses a huge share of my creative energy. This is great, but had weird consequences for my poetry.
When the change first happened, I stopped writing altogether - I didn’t ‘feel’ like it. But the effects of this became quickly apparent - I started to feel separate from myself, got cranky and anxious, went weird, etc. So I prioritised writing for a short blast every day, making sure it happened by sneakily putting it first thing in the morning before I could argue with myself.
The editing process collapsed too, but it was longer till I missed it. I only realised when I started to feel jealous of other people’s work. I was craving that magic that I could imagine them experiencing, of taking something to the point where you’ve done everything you can think of to it, and in certain lights it comes alive. (Jealousy is a gift for self-diagnosis.)
I pieced editing back together by finding a writing group. It means that I have immediate feedback and encouragement and a weekly deadline to motivate me. Previously, the excess of creative energy was drive enough; now I’m using so much elsewhere it helps to have an external structure providing that. I also tidied up my admin system to make it as easy as possible to keep track of the work.
But there is another part of my process that I couldn’t make fit into my new regime.
For me, between writing and editing is another section, which is like harvesting. I go through the writing, pull out the bits that have potential, and put them in documents ready for editing.
I have to hold a particular mental framework throughout this process. I used to find ways to go away alone for three or four days to an empty house and do it. Lately I haven’t been willing to make this time, given the zillion other things I see as vital.
At first I decided that I could do this part of the process a little every day. Sure, why not? I think I might have even enthusiastically made myself a star chart.
I tried. All I made was chaos in a briefcase. It turns out that I just can’t do it in half-hour increments. And because this part is only an occasional demand in my practice, I pretended it didn’t matter. But the pages piled up and up, and each one weighed on my heart.
Finally, daily journaling helped me to work out that this was the problem. Within a week it had also offered some potential solutions. Out of this, I’ve invented a new version of this harvesting process, one that keeps the core components but fits into my new life.
I have sectioned off a weekend. I will prepare beforehand so nothing else needs to be done. I can leave bits of paper out all over the place, make a mess, and be impossible to communicate with. I won’t be able to go as deep as I used to, but I’m hoping it’s enough to keep me going at this point.
The only way to find out is to conduct the experiment and pay attention to the results. It may be that frequent one-day sessions would be as good, or perhaps three is the magic number and I’ll have to find a way to make this happen. I'll know what works when I find it, because the frustration in my creative self will ease and be replaced by fresh questions.
So what about you? Did something change in your life, and what new pressures did this bring? What did you lose in your creative process? How can you generate a new experiment to try out, one that honours the key components of the part you're missing?
It's crucial to remember that the first thing you experiment with may only give you data. (This is a useful framework to replace an alternative statement: "The first thing you try may fail miserably.”) This is not proof that what you need is impossible for you. It’s proof that you care enough to work towards what you need, and that you have begun.
Change happens, and sometimes your creative practice takes the force of the blow. If this has been true for you, you may sense that you’re growing dissatisfied and ready to get back to the different aspects of your work.
Now is a great time to establish habits, patterns and networks that support all the needs of your creative self.