It’s that time of year. Everywhere you look, there are grand plans, renewed vigour, resolutions and declarations. Everyone’s blogging in a frenzy of fresh starts and new projects.
Everyone except me.
I’m sitting on the sofa with the cat, unable to find the energy or ideas to even think about sewing, let alone posting new ideas and projects.
Part of me feels that I’m just experiencing a creativity slump, and I I need time to take stock and review quietly by myself. But then a snide little voice inside points out how much everyone else has achieved, and I start to wonder – maybe I’m just plain lazy?
There’s a certain amount of comfort to be taken in calling it a creativity slump – my subconscious likes that, it makes me sound like a tortured, misunderstood creative. And you might be wondering whether it really matters – after all, whether I’m regrouping or just bone idle, the net result is the same – nothing’s getting done.
The difference starts to matter when you want to escape and move on. It’s always difficult to do, but both states of mind require different strategies – if you’re struggling with a creative slump, often the right thing to do is to roll with it and give yourself time. If you’re suffering from laziness, though, you probably need a swift kick up the rear.
But telling the two apart can be difficult as the symptoms can look remarkable similar. Worse, there’s nothing a lazy mind likes to do more than claim to be wallowing in the creative mire.
How to Identify a Creativity Slump
So what exactly is a creative slump, and what does it look like?
Lack of Energy
At the very beginning of the year, I was constantly tired and lacking in energy. Whenever I cleared some time for sewing, I found that I was just too tired to use it.
This was straight after the Christmas holidays – lots of stress and deadlines, followed by a week of eating too much cheese and wandering around aimlessly wondering what day it was.
The lack of energy in a creativity slump is because you’re burned out – you’ve drained yourself and need to wait until your energy levels rise again.
I was full of negative feelings. I found myself thinking, “I can’t do this” and “it’s all been done before” and “there’s no point in even trying because it will probably turn out rubbish” and “I’m just a massive failure because I can’t even come up with one single thing to do”.
Negative feelings are always pretty self-indulgent. Here they are focused around doubting yourself and your abilities, and feeling a failure.
Lack of Enthusiasm
All my existing projects seemed grey and dull and uninteresting, uninspiring. I’d plan to do something off my Unfinished List, but when I got it out I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm, so I’d either put it away or do a couple of things listlessly. I craved something new but didn’t know what.
This is what happens when lack of energy meets self-doubt – everything you were previously excited by, all the projects you couldn’t wait to get started on, seem dull and listless. You think you want something new, but really you want to recapture the excitement you felt originally.
Lack of Ideas
I felt empty of ideas because I ought to be planning and coming up with ideas but whenever I sat down to try and come up with new things to sew, I just sat in front of an empty sheet of paper. Then I’d feel guilty for getting nothing done. The harder I try, the more my mind seems to go blank.
Lack of Decision Making
I felt lost and confused; I had no direction. What to do next, what to do first? There were too many choices, and since I didn’t trust myself to make the right decision I made no decision at all. Instead I ended up going round and round, repeating myself.
Sometimes the problem is the opposite of no ideas: you have too many and you don’t know which to follow first. Other times it seems you have too many choices, but you don’t trust yourself to make the right one. You lack the perspective to judge critically and end up going round in circles and repeating yourself.
All five of these symptoms are focused around lack of the things you usually rely on to feel creative: energy, feeling good about yourself and your work, enthusiasm, new ideas and good choices.
How to Identify Laziness
Like pornography, defining laziness can be difficult but we think we know it when we see it. It’s not quite as easy as you might think, though – superficially it can look suspiciously like a creativity slump.
After my genuine creative slump I fell into a period of genuine laziness. In many ways this was much better – I could properly wallow in my un-creativity and not worry have to worry about actually trying to do things. After all, I was in a creative slump, and needed to take things easy…
Lack of Energy
I couldn’t be bothered to start anything. Because I hadn’t done anything for so long, I didn’t have the energy to do anything… So you end up in a downward spiral.
Once again, I felt there was no point in trying anything because it would all be rubbish anyway. But beyond that, I found it difficult to muster up much emotion one way or the other – I didn’t really care enough.
Interestingly, although the negative thoughts were similar, I found there was much less self-doubt in Laziness; everything was a lot more self-indulgent and involved excuses for not doing anything. So it was more “I’m no good, so there’s no point in doing anything” rather than “I’m no good, why did I even think I could do this?”
Lack of Enthusiasm
There’s a lot of overlap between lack of enthusiasm and lack of energy. I find in laziness, though, I often have small bursts of enthusiasm and I really do intend to do something… and then I don’t have the energy to pursue it and end up wasting my time on Pinterest instead.
Lack of Ideas
I had no ideas. But this was mainly because I wasn’t really spending any time trying to think of them. This stage consisted of bemoaning my lack of ideas rather than any attempts to generate new ones.
Lack of Decision Making
Again this was characterised by a lack of direction – I wasn’t going anywhere so all directions were much the same. I wasn’t making any choices or decisions, but that wasn’t because I was confused, it was because I couldn’t be bothered to spend much time thinking about them.
As you can see, the symptoms of Laziness look very similar indeed to the symptoms of a Creative Slump.
But the two stages differ in one key respect:
In the Creative Slump, I was trying but not succeeding. When I got to Laziness, I didn’t bother to try.
How to fix a Creativity Slump
You’ll eventually come out of it in the end by yourself, but here are some things to help move things on.
There’s no point in trying to do anything until you’ve got some energy back: tackle that first. Then take a hard look at all the negative things you’re telling yourself. Finally focus on generating ideas and enthusiasm, and wanting to make decisions again.
Finding your Energy
The first thing with lack of energy is to check that you’re looking after yourself. Are you getting enough sleep, eating properly, enough exercise? Sort out your routine before worrying about anything else – if you’re feeling lack of energy for anything at all, not just sewing, then start here.
Similarly, if your lack of energy for things follows a period of intense business and deadlines, then you probably need time to recover and refuel. Cut yourself some slack, take it easy and allow yourself not to be busy all the time.
If you still have no energy for sewing, it may be time to take a break. No-one can be on form 365 days a year, so be kind to yourself, and give yourself time to regroup.
Meditate, if that’s your thing. Relax on the sofa watching back-to-back box sets, if that’s your thing. (Warning: don’t stick at this stage too long, though, or you’ll lounge all the way into out-and-out laziness.)
Intersperse relaxation with action, but do something different – get out in the fresh air, go for a walk, do something physical. Take a break from the sewing, but not from the rest of your life. Give yourself some time – don’t expect to fix everything instantly.
Listening to Negative Emotions
Negative emotions can just be the voice of frustration, but sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you something.
Rather than try to leap in and start sewing, perhaps you need some time to reflect. Look at the bigger picture: what are your big goals? Try to get at the motivations underneath – do you want to push yourself, or create something for a specific loved one, or make something on a grander scale? Or is it because you feel you ought to?
Listen honestly to your misgivings and negative thoughts – is there some truth, something else hiding in there? Can you do something about it? For example, if you’re telling yourself “I can’t do this because I’m no good at zips” then consider the alternatives. Can you learn how to put in a zip? Can you do it without a zip? Can you ask someone else to do that bit for you? Should you make something else instead?
A Toolbox to Generate Enthusiasm and Ideas
I’ve grouped these together, as the same set of techniques will help with both. The aim here is to get your mind working again, and start coming up with things. They don’t have to be great ideas, and you can always discard them later, but you want to start generating.
- Talk to someone who always gets you excited or fired up about things.
- If there’s a place or an activity where you’re at your most creative, spend some time there.
- Go looking for ideas in unlikely places – visit art galleries, museums, exhibitions. Pick random books out of the library. Browse other crafts such as pottery or jewellery for inspiration.
- Try restricting yourself – imposing limitations can help stretch your imagination. What could you do with
- Combining – can you combine two separate ideas into one?
- Play – pull out bits of fabric, ribbons, buttons and try putting them together in different ways. What interesting effects can you produce? How could you use this?
- Brainstorming – use lists or mind maps, whichever you prefer. Pick a generic item (for example, a bag) or a technique and see how many variations you can come up with. Or pick a problem that’s irritating you and see if you can come up with a solution.
- Change of scene – get out and about, but take the time to really look around you at patterns and shapes. See what catches your eye. Look up or down – directions you wouldn’t usually look.
- Tidy up – make sure your sewing space is conducive to creativity. Arrange your favourite fabrics or ribbons where you can see them to inspire you. Sort out your patterns into categories, and remind yourself of all the patterns you already own. While you’re tidying you might rediscover something that gets you desperate to start making again.
These are some things that have worked for me. But none of these ideas will work every time for everyone; so collect as many suggestions as you can and identify ones that work for you. A lot of the resources on the internet focus on creativity in business (although you can often adapt the ideas) but here and here focus on tips for creatives and artists.
Make a list of everything so it’s not cluttering up your mind. Try talking things through with someone – even if they can’t offer advice, the process of putting it into words can help you clarify your own thoughts.
Then pick something – anything – and actually do it. If it’s wrong you can always back up a step, but often there are no perfect choices. The important thing is to make a start – take a look at the tips in the next section if you need help.
If you think you have no preference at all and really can’t choose, pick something completely at random. If your gut reaction is NO! then it turns out you did have some preferences after all.
How to fix Laziness
It’s time for tough love. Laziness needs a swift kick to the rear, no excuses. Otherwise it’ll wallow on your sofa, eating your chocolate and hogging the remote.
The key to breaking out of laziness is to start doing something – anything. Inaction breeds inaction, so you need to break the cycle. However actually getting into action after you’ve been wallowing for a while can be tricky.
How to start something – anything!
- Choose something small and simple to start with. So for example, rather than aim to finish a large a quilt, plan to sew the first three strips together.
- Commit to it – schedule it as an appointment in your diary and set a reminder on your phone. Then turn up – you don’t have to do anything more than sit in front of the sewing machine if you really don’t want to, but make sure you physically keep your appointment.
- Commit to spending just 5 minutes. After your 5 minutes, reassess – if you really don’t want to keep going then don’t, but often the hard part is starting at all.
- Break things down into smaller steps and make a list – cross each step off as you do it.
- If you’re still struggling with your small steps, break the project down into time chunks instead – this removes the stress of having to achieve something.
- Be accountable – tell your loved one, your worst enemy, your mother-in-law, the world on your blog what you’re going to do and get them to bug you until its done.
How to spot if you’ve got it wrong
Sometimes you’ll make a mistake. Forcing yourself to make plans and be accountable when you need time to reflect will send you into a spiral of stress and inadequacy. But pampering yourself and letting yourself off the hook when you need some tough love will just settle you in and make it even harder to start and kick back into action when you do try.
Laziness loves to masquerade as a Creativity Slump – it makes it feel important, and creative. A Creativity Slump often worries that it’s really Laziness.
If you think you’re in a Creative Slump, try taking a break and relaxing. If you find after a while of quiet contemplation that you don’t find yourself invigorated and coming up with new ideas, then it could be Laziness in disguise. Switch tactics – move onto the idea generating techniques and use the Laziness tips to get moving again.
If you think you’re being lazy, start with the tips to get yourself started on something. If you impose deadlines and structure and routine, and you’re turning up but just sitting there unable to do anything, then you’ve probably hit a creativity slump rather than laziness. Take a short break and try some of the idea generating tips that involve talking to people and getting out and about.
To get yourself out of either a creativity slump or a bout of laziness you need to take action – but the focus for each is different.
I’ve been talking specifically here about sewing, but of course there’s nothing that doesn’t apply more generally. It’s about being honest with yourself and learning to spot your own patterns;
A genuine creativity slump is a time to reconsider and take stock. It’s about renewing your energies and looking at the bigger picture – you are still working, just not necessarily on things that have a physical end product. In contrast, laziness is characterised by self-indulgence. The key here is the prefix self – a creative slump has nothing selfish about it.
How do you get yourself inspired again after a slump?