How to beat the Creative Doldrums

creative doldrums, the horrifying blank sheetIt happens again and again: No matter how much I prepare and practice and study, no matter how hard I try, working on new songs sometimes feels like talking with a sore throat. I often ask myself how I could possibly come up with any good song in the past. In hindsight I can’t help but wonder where I took the creativity from.

Creating art can feel as if I was riding a wave. Everything just seems to fall into place on its own. On other days, though, it just won’t work. After trying for hours I get frustrated. No original lyric will fly by and none of my newly written melodies will really suite my taste.

Or I might just feel like not making music at all. I might be indifferent to making, even to listening to music. How can this be if it is my greatest passion? Those are the hardest days because they seem to threaten my identity. If I don’t feel like making music, how can music be my greatest passion, then? Has it all been a mistake? Did I invest 20 years of my life into the wrong activity? Should I be a project manager instead?

The Creative Doldrums, for me, are not only about the inability to come up with the idea I am looking for. They are also about all doubts, all indifference I might feel towards my hobby. Towards my life, actually.

How can you beat the Creative Doldrums?

1. Be kind to yourself

The muse is very busy. No matter how well prepared you are, how disciplined you practice and how engaged you are: You are not entitled to be inspired by her every time you wish to. That is not your fault. It is just the way it is. Enjoy just practicing your art instead. Be proud of what you have achieved so far. It took hard work. Reward yourself.

2. Stop trying

At some point, the harder you try the less likely it is for you to achieve what you want. Your body and mind get tense, inhibiting the flow of energy, impeding your ability to create and often causing physical pain.

3. Instead, pretend you don’t care

Did you ever wonder how many amazing ideas you had while on the loo or in the shower? It is striking how many ideas just fly at you when you don’t think about creating at all. But thinking about not thinking is difficult, particularly so if when you want to create a piece of art. What often helps me is to play some of my older songs, just imitating the moves on the guitar and goofing around with whatever comes to my mind. Most of what comes out is unusable but occasionally, seemingly out of nothing, there comes a monster riff or a beautiful melody. Just play around, forget all form and convention.

4. Stay in your creative space

Even if I sometimgs don’t feel like practicing or making music or writing songs I try to keep at it. I know that the longer I stay away from music the longer it will take me to comfortable with it again. It kind of fades away and it takes time and work to get it back. But torturing myself with practice does not make any sense because it turns a rewarding activity into something negative.

Instead I look for the next best thing to do that gives me an enjoyable reason to stay within my realm. Restringing and cleaning my guitars, tidying up my workspace, getting rid of old notes or ordering newer ones – these are all things that don’t force me to play if I don’t want to but still get me into the mood. Very often my desire to play arises out of these activities. For a painter this might be cleaning your brushes, sorting through your pens or preparing canvasses.

5. Accept and acknowledge

There are uncountable things you can do to push yourself through the Creative Doldrums. These things are as diverse as we are as humans. What works for me might not work for you. My feeling is that there is a universal, most important step for all of us, though: Acceptance.

Acceptance that only very few of us can create the art we have in mind permanently without any inhibition. And Acceptance -or insight-  that this is not your fault as an artist. I believe that art does not really come from an artist. It is already there. All art already is. You can not really create a note or an interval or a color or a contrast. These things already are. The artist is merely a tube -maybe with a filter- which allows art to flow into its concrete or physical form. Where this tube is connected to? I do not know. The place must be beuatiful but also chaotic. Sometimes the creative juices get into your tube and sometimes they don’t.

What do you do?

This is how I deal with the Creative Doldrums. What about you? What do you do to deal with the problem? Let me know in the comments.

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