The Ebb and Flow of Creativity

Posted On December 9, 2010

  Like everything in life, creativity has seasons. In speaking with a friend, and a fellow writing group participant, she shared with me that she was no longer going to promote her book on organization, and in fact, hadn’t done any writing, beyond our prompts on Tuesday afternoons, for months. She said it “just wasn’t coming”, but what she was motivated to work on were her sketches. In my own life, I’ve noticed that my ideas for writing certainly ebb and flow.

   Perhaps it is related to the phases of the moon, or the seasons, or to events in our lives that are unrelated to whatever artistic project we’re working on. If we work a full-time job, maybe there are times when the work load is extra heavy, or there are family issues that demand more of our attention and energy, and therefore there just isn’t enough left over to indulge in that which brings a little joy. And when this happens, we have two choices: we can roll with it, or we can fight against it.

   If we are in a place mentally and emotionally where we can accept that sometimes events occur that preclude us from our usual activities in the arts, then we can generally weather the ebbs more skillfully. Perhaps giving ourselves a little extra space to just be okay with the fact that right now, whatever is going on that keeps us from our creativity, will pass. Use this time to prepare for when the flow turns around and we once again find ourselves with more ideas than time or energy to follow through. This could be recording simple thoughts or ideas in a journal, visiting with someone we don’t see often, going some place that we rarely allow ourselves to go. Taking the dog for an extra long walk, or perhaps taking a different route will give us the chance to be close to nature and to breathe. This benefits not only our perceived stress with whatever situation is occurring at that time, but it also gives our muse a chance to trickle in enough inspiration to keep us fed in a way that only our creativity can feed our lives and our souls.

   As events come to pass, and the energy of creating once again begins to flow, we need to be ready to catch every drop we can. Time is made, space is created, and we begin to listen intently to the whisperings of the muse. I imagine an extreme example of this ebb and flow would be similar to bi-polar disorder, swinging wildly from creating nothing, or judging each of our manifestations so harshly that we destroy what we’ve put on paper, canvas, sketch pad, or dinner plate. From there, perhaps days or nights on end we sit up flinging paint, tearing through notebook after notebook, page after page, using hammer and chisel to create as fast as the images flash in our imaginations. Some artists relish these times of frantic creativity, and abhor those hours and days when nothing comes, or the flow is interrupted by other pieces of our lives.

   My hope, and part of the work that I’m doing now, is to lessen the distance of the swinging pendulum. I can accept, and even work with, my own ebb and flow of creativity. But what I’m trying to achieve is enough space to let it be when it’s there, and allow myself the space and peace when it is not. I’ve thought about some ways in which to do this:

1) Breathe. Nothing ‘good’ gets accomplished when I’m so much in my head, that I forget my breath and my physical body. I bump into things, I don’t eat right, and I tend to be dark and moody. Taking conscious breaths and remembering that I can invite the ebb, or the flow, to be there, and surrender to the multitude of ideas or the lack of a single one.

2) Take notes. Whether you literally take notes of your surroundings, of particular observations or possible projects, or perhaps you begin to notice what triggers the ebb and flow. It is certain people? Particular events? The moon? The more you notice, the easier it will be to prepare and to acknowledge the arrival of inspiration or lack thereof.

3) Expand. Perhaps begin to recognize when one medium of your creativity fades away, as in the example of my friend. If writing comes and goes with you, what about composing music or taking up a sketchbook when your characters are MIA? You may discover a hidden love, or an outlet when your chosen art form is on hiatus.

4) Allow. Regardless of where you are, in the ebb or the flow, know that it won’t last forever. Accepting what is going on around you, giving yourself and your circumstances a little allowance for being a bit ‘off’ one way or the other, will lessen the critic that is always so eager to jump up in front of you yelling obscenities about your competence and the way you manage your creativity. When this happens, refer back to #1.

   Currently, I’m flowing, but my circumstances have diverted my muse into an ebb. I’m breathing, allowing things to be how they are, I’m taking notes on how I got here and what seems to work for getting me to step back into the flow. And wouldn’t you know? It is forgiveness for being human and grateful for a life in which I have the opportunity to learn so much. In my notes, I’ve reminded myself that the more I fight the events, the further away I move from a time when I can be washed with the flow. An ebb isn’t ‘bad’. Without that, how could one possibly realize a flow? Patience, self-love, understanding that the movement of creative energy is never stagnant, but fluctuates like the ocean tides, as it ebbs and flows through us will make the transitions a little easier to bear. In this time of ebb, I’ve decided to offer a chance for others to experience my flow. On my website, all of my books are on sale for the next month. The prologue and first two chapters are available for preview, as are three poems from my yoga poem project. There are short stories and single poems, tips for writing and links to my archived blog. Check it out at and leave a comment about what you do in the ebb, and how you prepare for the flow.

Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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