Afraid to Take a Creative Break? Here's What I Learned From Mine
Creatives, like everyone, get overwhelmed. Whether it's a major life change, like moving, getting married, a new job, a new baby, or a major illness, or if everyday life suddenly becomes too much, sometimes our lives (or our heads) are thrown into chaos.
During COVID, I've heard from many people about the struggle to create. Add to it political unrest, natural disasters, the stress and pressure working and schooling from home causes, and so much more, many of our "normal" lifestyles have been turned on their head.
If you're stressed and struggling to create, a break might be just what you need. But stepping away from creating is scary. While it doesn't mean you won't be creative at all, it can mean turning your back on current projects, deadlines, wordcounts, and, for some of us, income. And doing that begs the question... What will happen when I come back? And even more frightening, can I come back?
With this in mind, it's easy to see that taking a creative break for many isn't just a little scary. It's seriously scary. Knee-knocking scary. So scary that for years, I fought taking a break.
And the universe fought back by presenting me with more obstacles and chaos. Not realizing I'd engaged in a battle with the universe (can you guess who might win?), I'd tighten the schedule, find ways to squeeze in more productivity and less sleep, and ̶m̶a̶n̶a̶g̶e̶ struggle to get everything done.
And end up with creative block.
No real writing. No ideas for art. And worse? No desire to do either. Since I'm a slow learner, it took several of these battles for me to recognize the signs that a break is in order. And by taking breaks, I learned a valuable lesson:
It's okay to take a creative break.
For me, this means letting go of my current projects and going back to my creative roots. Not pushing myself to meet a word count or finish a painting. Not feeling guilty for stepping away from my blog or newsletter. And while I still journal and work in my art journal during these breaks, I no longer feel bad about not doing more.
This past winter, however, I was challenged to take a more significant break. Some serious hurdles arose, and while I got through them with the help of my partner, I was left in a deep, dark hole. My creative well? It was empty. My ability to generate anything, let alone anything creative? Non-existent.
It wasn't easy, but I knew I needed to take a Big Break with a double capital "B." This meant breaking promises to myself and to others. It meant stepping away from exciting writing projects. It meant turning off various social media accounts. It meant letting go of goals I'd spent two years working towards.
It meant trusting myself enough to know that by stepping away, I was giving myself the gift of time. Time needed to heal mentally, emotionally, and creatively. Time needed to recharge and reaffirm my personal and professional commitments. Time needed to re-evaluate where I was headed and how I was going to get there.
Taking a Big Break was a huge leap of faith. And when I stood on the edge of the cliff looking down, I felt fear. But I also felt a deep sense of knowing that this was the leap I needed to take in that moment. It turns out I was right.
My Big Break was the best creative decision I've made.
It was also a huge learning experience. I learned that social media is not good for me or my creative process. There are some great things about it, but generally, I find social media stressful, confusing, depressing, and frustrating. So it's off my list for now.
I learned to slow down and create less. Near the end of my break, I started painting again, but painting more slowly. And the process taught me that I'd been creating (writing, visual art, creative business projects) at a pace that wasn't healthy for me or sustainable for the long haul. I need weekend time with my family and adventures with my friends. I do better focusing on one project at a time and going slowly instead of juggle three or five or ten.
I learned that I'm okay with creating for myself and no one else. I've taught this for years, and I thought I understood it. But the Big Break forced me to absorb this in ways I hadn't before. With no public output for the first time in a long time, no sharing of my products, there was no feedback. The only person who saw what I was doing was me. I finger painted. I used crayons. I wrote silly short stories. And song lyrics. And doodled in the margins of books. And like my writing journal, practice writing, and art journal, the solitude was good for my creative soul.
And I learned that to create authentically, I need to create with the fear. Not push it aside. Not work through it. But create with it. Face the messy parts of a creative life, write about them, talk about them with others, share the ugly and the things that don't work and the realities of creating for a living and let them live alongside the many wonderful, beautiful aspects. Because that's the truth. That's life. That's creativity.
Creativity stems from a place of solving problems, and if you let it, it will.
I'm coming back from my creative break slowly, and it feels good. It feels right to take each step purposefully, mindfully. With intention. The creative path is an ever-changing one. It's okay to make adjustments along the way, find your North again and again, change your mind. Take a break... even a Big Break.
Happy creating... or happy break taking!