The Ebb and Flow of Creativity

Recently, I’ve been struck again about the importance of viewing writing holistically. I’ve written about this idea in previous posts—particularly when speaking about worldbuilding or the “character-first vs. plot-first” dichotomy—and, likely, many other authors and artists have talked about the same concept using different language (nothing new under the sun, amiright?). But it’s resurfaced in my mind because I’ve come upon another slow patch of writing my WIP, and like all other times before, I don’t like it.

The familiarity with the highs and, specifically, lows of writing eases much of the frustration I used to have when went through periods of decreased or non-existent signs of creativity. I’m not unfamiliar with those “proverbial winters” either: prior to beginning my current novel’s draft, I hadn’t written anything beyond short stories or character development scenes for years. A friend and I, when discussing the differences in our writing patterns and tendencies, concluded that I’m slow to the punch but I hit hard: hours spent brainstorming and outlining mean I can whip out hundreds if not thousands of words a day, finishing several chapters a week. And yet—for all I’ve experienced thus far as an author—why am I just now getting a sense for the crests and troughs of creativity?

Life is filled with metaphors that prove this idea. Look at history, the economy, hormone regulation, the sleep cycle—you can’t remain awake for too long or else your body goes haywire (or might even give out entirely). On top of all of those practical examples, so many artists have already told us about the need for breaks from our most productive states. It seems a universal state of humankind; indeed, even God established a day of rest. And yet, experience is so often the best tutor.

My previous mention of a slow patch is not as dire as it may sound. I’m able to write most days, or, on days I don’t, edit and brainstorm important worldbuilding or character details for upcoming chapters. Most people who looked at the word count for my most recently written chapters would likely say “what do you mean slow?” Thankfully, most of the initial frustration of decreased productivity has mellowed—but my ability to be accept the “troughs” of writing is the result of shifting my mindset regarding what writing means. I don’t believe that the only part of the writing process that counts is literal writing (or perhaps sometimes editing); what I’ve come to call “pre-writing” counts, too, and even breaks to refuel my mind by reading, making art, getting out in nature, or socializing are all part of the process of creating.

Considering writing in its entirety means that when our word counts get smaller or brainstorming stalls or editing seems never ending, we don’t become discouraged to the point of giving up or having an identity crisis. This isn’t even about writer’s block or life prioritization, either, although those things do interact with the creative ebb and flow. Nobody writes in a vacuum. Life will affect your productivity, creativity, and energy levels, and even the most passionate artists can’t spend all waking hours devoted to their craft. It’s about being aware of and prepared for the natural cycles of creativity so you can handle them—whether the highs or lows—in a healthy, productive way. How better to take advantage of those days or weeks of excitement and new ideas than to recognize their arrival and make room to use them while they’re there? How better to take advantage of those days or weeks of low energy or scattered thoughts than to recognize why you’re in that state and properly address it?

Perhaps the best summary of this idea is to work with what you have. Rather than lament the lows, figure out how best to use them—or at the very least, learn from them. Every difficulty is the opportunity to grow. Every victory is an opportunity to grow, too, just in a different way. Who doesn’t want to make the most of their waking hours and get the best nights rest? It’s not realistic to think the two aren’t connected. The more I realize this, the more I’m at peace with the ebbs and flows of creativity.

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