A lot of artists who create for pleasure or as a hobby find themselves facing a creative blockage at some point (or many points) in their lives. We can’t quite find the answer to the question, “why can’t I seem to create right now?” Sometimes, we’re asking ourselves a variation on that same question: “is right now the right time to create this?”
For a long time, I’d internalized that piece of writing advice that often gets doled out: “write every day.” While that advice does have some underlying merit, it also made me feel guilty whenever I fell short of that goal. Sometimes, I’d go for weeks without writing, and I felt like a failure for not living up to those expectations. I tried to figure out a writing routine to help me stick to my goals, and some months that plan worked, but other months it absolutely did not.
I finally figured out that my writing routine—or any creative routine, really—was heavily affected by the creative season I was in.
When I talk about creative seasons, I mean literal seasons, e.g. “one of the four quarters into which the year is commonly divided,” as well as figurative seasons, “a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature” (definitions from Merriam-Webster). I first started considering the figurative seasons while reading Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta. She points out that sometimes, you’re in a season of doing the creative work. Other times, you’re in a season of preparation or a season of rest or a season of in-betweens. The idea of these kinds of abstract seasons really resonated with me. I could look back on my creative life and break it down into seasons of academia or depression or career advancement. Seasons of caregiving or house remodeling or wedding planning. Seasons of writing fanfiction or novellas or RPG adventures.
Over the last several years, I’ve been able to observe the pattern of how the literal seasons affect me, as well. Almost all of my longer works were generated in the winter months, when the snow and cold made it easy to justify spending hours indoors in front of a computer screen. But when winter finally recedes, I want to enjoy the short summer months as much as possible and do those things that I can’t do year-round: dinner and drinks on the patio, camping in state parks, going on long hikes and bike rides, and tubing or canoeing down Minnesota’s many rivers and lakes.
The last year and a half have comprised a unique season in our lives: the season of COVID. This season has been filled with stress and fear and sickness and isolation. For me, it’s been a season of writing followed by rest, followed by more writing and then rest once again. Now that we are entering a new season (for those of us fortunate and privileged enough to be fully vaccinated, anyway), those things we couldn’t do for so long are what I want to focus on: visiting family, going outside the house, gathering with friends, seeing movies and live entertainment again. It’s no wonder that I haven’t had much interest in writing recently—I’ve been able to do that this whole time.
If you find it hard to be creative, consider what season you’re in, both in terms of where you are in life and where you are in the year. It might be that you’re not being honest with yourself about where your priorities lie and what you’d really rather be doing—or need to be doing—at this point in time. But it might also be the case that you’re trying to force yourself to pursue the creative outlet from a different season of your life, which happens to be an outlet that no longer fulfills you.
Consider what creative work you’ve been consuming and how your tastes might have changed. Be honest about where you are in your creative process, whether that’s the preparation or execution or wrap-up stage. Experiment with different creative outlets to find the one that you can look forward to and enjoy in the moment. Do you really want to spend this season feeling guilty about not wanting do so something or feeling frustrated when you finally psych yourself up to do it? I think life is too short for that.
It might be worth journaling about what kinds of seasons you’ve already progressed through in your creative life, and how the actual seasons affect your creative spark. It isn’t worth trying to figure out a creative routine before figuring out whether the season that you’re in is suited to that kind of creative work.
Once you’ve determined what kind of season you’re in and whether it’s a productive season for you in the first place, you can move on to crafting a creative routine. Every person and project is different, so it’s important to figure out a schedule that works for you, to start small, and give yourself a solid foundation. For writers, that might mean getting back into the swing of things with a modest goal of 250 words; for artists, maybe you set a timer to sketch from a reference for 20 minutes. You can work your way up to more ambitious goals once you’ve started to form a habit and hit your groove. The important thing is to find and seize what you enjoy about your creative project, otherwise, the habit will feel more like a chore. If you’re still running into blockages, you might need to lay more groundwork, such as doing research or watching tutorials on the techniques you want to use. You might also try varying the location for where you create, or try creating short rituals surrounding your creative time to help you enter a different mindset.
You don’t have to commit to creating every day if that doesn’t work for your life’s season, but whatever you decide, you should try your best to stick to it. You might need to schedule the creative session on your calendar to make sure you’ve actually carved out the time, and it might take a few weeks to figure out which times or places work better than others. For example, I discovered that it’s extremely difficult for me to write in the evening because I’ve already “spent” all my brainpower on the day—I’m tired and can’t think creatively after 3 pm. My most productive time is first thing Saturday and Sunday mornings and early afternoons at home, with a short break for lunch and a walk.
You might find that your workflow is different from what it was in the past, especially if you don’t have deadlines (such as those from classes) bearing down on you as motivation. If you find you do need deadlines to motivate yourself, that’s where an accountability buddy with similar goals can come in. Ask someone you know (or find someone online) to check in with you and see how you’re progressing on your goals, and offer to do the same for them. It might be worthwhile to schedule some “co-working” time over Zoom or Discord, especially if being able to chat about or troubleshoot your creative work is enjoyable for you both.
One of the best books I’ve read on establishing and maintaining creative routines is Growing Gills by Jessica Abel. It’s been a tremendous help for me, and you might find it useful as well. When you’re in the right season and figured out a routine that works for you, the creative possibilities are limited only by your imagination.