Thursday, May 4

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, May 04, 2017 4 comments
Creative slumps can happen to anyone who strives to bring creative works into the world, be they written works, visual art, music, or handicrafts. Slumps can come on slowly or all at once. Often you aren't entirely aware you're in a slump until you've spent some time there, stuck and unmotivated.

Slump thinking sounds like this:

"I'm so stressed out, I can't focus."
"My brain is so full of noise, I can't hear my characters."
"These ideas are just a big mess."
"This project feels rangy and shapeless."
"I can't remember why I ever thought this was a good story idea."
"Why can't I make any progress?"
"I want to write, but feel adrift every time I sit down."
"I used to have things to say. I'm not sure what I believe or care about right now."
"I should be farther along than this. I'm such a hack/poseur/failure."

Slumps tend to happen after you've expended a lot of energy in one direction (say finishing and releasing a new book) and in the midst of crises in your personal life.

Very possibly it's a temperament thing, that some bounce back quickly from burnout and/or crises, and others of us slip into slumps.

If you're one of those bouncy types, I beg you not to douse your slumped friends with buckets of positive thinking mantras. They make us feel worse--inadequate and deeply flawed, rather than simply different from you. Instead, remind us that you care. Listen without dispensing advice. Invite us to join you in some activity we can enjoy together that's not too demanding--taking a hike or walking tour, poking around cute shops, playing cards or board games, visiting an art opening, crafts festival, outdoor concert, or mellow jazz club. Something fun that gets us out of the house--and out of our own heads for a few hours.

Make no mistake, slumps can morph pretty quickly into full blown depression. If you're prone to it, seek professional help. If your slump feels more like creativity blues--you're functioning okay in other areas of your life, but aren't creating at all--some self-care may be your road out of the Slough of Despond.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

Go someplace new

Get off the couch or out of the desk chair and leave the house--explore someplace new, even if it's a ten minute stroll down a side street in your neighborhood you've never been on before.  Take a slightly different route to work, try a new restaurant, shop at a different market. When "something different" feels beyond your grasp, little forays out of your routine can be a powerful way to prove that mental message wrong--different is ten feet from boring, old, usual, not ten thousand miles. And you can get there in a few steps.

Care for your body

Times of stress can make it difficult to maintain an exercise program or sleep schedule. Stress eating can leave you even more lethargic. Look for small ways to begin giving your body the care it needs, starting with good sleep hygiene, then good food choices, simple exercise (like walking), and a little pampering like a haircut or new outfit. Some change can work from the outside in.

Seek some small accomplishments

Emerging from a slump is a gradual process. Look around for a few small things you've been avoiding and accomplish those things--whether it's making some overdue doctor appointments, weeding that ugly patch in the corner of your yard, or reorganizing a dresser drawer. That sense of pride can energize increasingly larger projects.

Reconnect with old loves

Slumps can feel like a source of joy has taken off, abandoned you. Think about long-lost hobbies or enthusiasms you haven't tried in a while, whether it's going back to earliest memories of finger painting or biking with your elementary pals, playing an instrument you gave up after high school, or a craft you've forgotten about like knitting, sewing, or leather craft, decoupage or beading. Creativity begets creativity.

Draw on sources of strength

Connect with people who love you, like an long-term friend, a sibling, or a grandparent. Chances are after a brief phone call you'll realize how deeply you are valued and valuable to others. Pick up an inspiring book like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Resume or take up new spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. Talk to a counselor or mentor.

Take baby steps with your dreaded project

In the peak of a slump, you're going to view everything about your unfinished writing project with a jaundiced eye. But once you've begun the process of emerging from it. look for ways to reconnect with it. Glance over your notes, and perhaps organize them. Research some aspect of the story, whether it's details about your hero's job, the psychology of the family dynamic in  your story, floor plans of the buildings in your setting, or cultural influences on your characters. Create an idea board on Pinterest. Brainstorm concepts for the cover design. Interview your characters or write journal entries in their voices. Bit by bit, these fictional people and their world will come alive for you again.

Have you ever suffered a creative slump? What helped you emerge from it?


  1. This is probably one of the most appropriate post A to Z topics. Great advice.

    I'm always feeling drained after April, even though it was fun. I'm getting back into writing by reading over a book I finished writing over a year ago that I really liked. Good news is I still really like it and I'm feeling more energized. Now its onto the baby steps into another project that needs a total rewrite.

    1. Thanks, Jean. Yeah, I didn't label this as a post A-Z, but I'm sure we aren't alone in feeling like we expended a lot of energy to participate, and feel drained as a result. Glad to hear you've reconnected with a source of joy.

  2. Suffering now—I have a huge number of contracted commitments this year (3 novels and 2 novellas due by the end of November). Add to that a new puppy, a husband out of work, two kids graduating university (one still at home with whom I'm sharing my car, and the other moving back in with grad debt), and the creativity level is zip. I feel like I'm forcing out mediocre words just to get something written. Plus, I've just joined the hot flash set, and those are truly unholy distractions! Outlining on paper (instead of at the computer) helps. Reading other people's bestsellers makes me feel worse. Seminars and blogs help inspire. Hanging on by my fingernails and telling myself I'll get through it all...

    1. I hope you're able to draw a few ideas that help you fill up during a very stressful time--have to perform on demand is particularly hard. Wishing you some joy in the creating.

      My apologies for the incredibly late reply. I've been lax in checking blogger for older comments that needed approval.