Friday, August 7, 2020

How to be creative in stressful times

A reader asked a very good question in response to my last blog...and, as i think many of us are experiencing similar problems, I decided to write an open letter in response.

She wrote:

I'm having difficulties I don't remember having before the pandemic.
 am paralyzed by too much time, too many choices.
I feel untethered and aimless.
Even when I have all the supplies  for a project, I still can't get going. 
In the evening I feel excited about what I'll do in the morning, but come the morning, I just don't have the creative energy.This isn't like me. 

Reading this I had a lot of different thoughts.  Some of the problems described often occur occasionally, but many of us are experiencing something like this now as a result of the situation we are all living in right now, especially here in the USA.

We are all under a great deal of stress: the result both of fear of the virus, the uncertainty of the future,  and frustration with "them" - i.e. those who could do something about it, and don't...or won't...  Other countries have shown the way, we know what to do to alleviate the problem...but we're not doing it. Actually, I find this creates more tension in me  than the virus itself. We're not all acting together for the benefit of all, but rather infighting.

I think the first step is to address the very real threat of disease and sickness and assure yourself that you are doing all YOU can to be safe...and for your loved ones.  Then say to yourself: I am doing ALL I can, therefore I need to stop reading the news, watching tv or listening to the radio about the virus or politics or global warming etc etc!!

This kind of hot air news with more and more people saying the same thing, but nobody actually doing it is very depressing and it gradually gets you down.  Research has definitely shown that listening to bad news is depressing!

Second, be sure you're getting enough exercise, when we're at home or close to home all the time, it's difficult...but lack of exercise definitely affects mood and drive.  Again, research shows exercise - any kind - here's me dancing by myself!!! - improves mood.  

Third...having eschewed all bad news and started sure to do some good deep relaxation each day.  It's suggested  that right after lunch is a good time.  You can call it deep relaxation, or meditation, or mindfulness...they all involve totally relaxing your body and mind.....ten to thirty minutes. (the cat is optional!)

Don't let yourself feel useless and tiny at the mercy of powerful forces!  Within our own spheres, there's a lot we can do to ensure happiness, creativity and productivity. (yes that's me on his hand!)
Four: More research suggests that getting out into nature is very it's rare that we'll have a chance to have a view like this!! (Maine)...but most of us will have access to some quiet and beautiful natural area.

Five  Social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation; we need other people.
And we can meet with others, one or two at a time, a little distance apart, friend and I meet to paint and critique in our carport which has a wonderful through breeze.....

Six. Initial inertia. So having take all those steps to feel happier and more does one overcome that initial inertia of getting moving in the studio? Well, starting to move, overcoming the weight of the inertia requires a little more push than usual..a little more gas!

 Don't make the mistake of feeling that you have to wait for excitement and intuition etc etc to carry you gloriously into the task!!  many many creative people have written/spoken about how sometimes it's very difficult  and uncomfortable to get started.  So don't worry about thinking you have to feel tremendous excitement!  Also don't ever feel that everything you do has to be a masterpiece.

A good first step is to set a goal, it can be very small, in fact it's better if it is small.

Some writers aim for so many hundred words, composers so many bars (sorry! not drinks...but measures!), or so much harmonization.

A painter might say - I'm going to paint a very small painting every day...and take a full size sheet of paper and divide it up into little squares or rectangles, one for each day. A choreographer - some steps to the first few bars of a classical piece.

As a quilter, I would decide on a project:  say a small abstract piece, 16 x 10 made from no more than 12 different shapes fitted together.  I would say: okay at 10 am (after the early morning exercise!), I will be in the studio without internet access!!  I will roughly  sketch out 12 different possible designs and pin them up on the wall, and  then I'll have a cup of tea.

yes, you have to push yourself a little to get going...but once you're'll usually stick with it.

I would say to myself (when in the middle of constructing a piece pinned out on the design wall): okay, elizabeth, you have to get just one piece sewn into can stop after that, or keep going, but you HAVE to do that one....often (not always of course, but often enough) I'd find I was onto the 3rd piece before I realised.

Seven.  The use of time.  Many of us are used to schedules and many different activities and for some of us that structure has fallen away because it was externally now is the time to build one's own structure or time table.  It is very helpful to spell it out.  When you get up, go to bed, eat.  When you exercise, when you meet with a friend - zooming or car port!  or gazebo!  Time on emails and internet activities.  Relaxation time.  Studio time. Nature time.  Draw out your schedule, try it for a couple of days, then you can adjust it as necessary. The most creative people have the most discipline and structure.

Eight.  Accountability.  I find this helps a lot - having a critique session with a friend or friends - that's something you can do on Zoom and would be fun, or joining a class where there is a weekly requirement, promising to send somebody a piece for their anniversary.


I hope these ideas help.  Remember you are not alone, many of us are feeling this...but there is a lot we can do. I'd love people to write in Comments and describe their own ideas or experience!

if i get more useful cogitations (it does happen from time to time!), I'll add them and put revised at the top so you know I did!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth


From my readers...some extra possibilities:

1. Start with something easy, like following a pattern...that will help to grease the wheels!

2. Divide the day into segments, so you're flowing forwards always.

3. Leave what you're working on at an enticing point, so you're dying to get back to it!

4. Tell yourself you HAVE to stick with it 20 minutes, or so, before giving up!

5. Maintain your social contacts, albeit digitally, with frequent emails and "mini challenges", sharing ideas and work.

6. Say to yourself: now I have the time to sit back and appreciate small things - particularly in nature.

Thank you!


Anonymous said...

Living here in N Ireland it is summer so I have to tend my vegetable garden and greenhouse so that fills a fair bit of the day. I find it hard to get going as I tend to make things for exhibitions or challenges so I like to have a bit of random log cabin scrap work (will be a bed quilt) on the go to satisfy my urge to create without effort or mind work. Fun comes in laying it out.
I try to always leave any creative work at a stage where I am wanting to do the next bit/thing, I have been spinning out a small piece so that I find it easy to get going. Like so many people I am feeling... what is the point of.......but I try to keep a cheerful demeanour as do not want to become apathetic

Linda Steele said...

Many people in my Art Quilt group are experiencing the same lack of motivation. Whenever I try something new but I am not sure how to start or even if I can do it, I just give myself 20 minutes to have a go. It takes the pressure off. All of your tips are great, Elizabeth.

Julie said...

I have given myself permission to use a pattern to get the structure to begin, and then exercise my creativity in selecting colors and fabrics within that structure. Very soon I found myself deviating from the pattern, and realized I was ready to begin creating my own designs again.

Mary Ritter said...

So good to see your smiling face! I will try to add mine. Your letter is so extensive and inspirational. I have always kept lists, so when I began social distancing at home in March, I segmented my day with a list.
1. While I have my morning cuppa Joe, I catch up on all my social media so I can put it away for the rest of the day.
2. Then it is time to water the plants and do a tiny set of exercise
3. This is the hardest part. I must complete a part or all of a task that has continually been shoved to the bottom of the to do list. As a result, I have totally gleaned my hard drive and backed it up in Dropbox and on an external drive. This took over 2 weeks of snatches of time, and it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated because I found so many interesting and nostalgic things. AND, now I can grab everything I need when designing on my iPad from the Dropbox. It makes me excited to design.
4. Then time organizing and cleaning or actually making in my studio. I enjoy all of that, and if I am not in a making mood, the cleanup usually triggers ideas.
5. Meal planning and preparing
6. PBS movies (Acorn) with my husband or reading.
This gives me structure to my day - not required to stay with it, as a ride in the car is always welcome. Stay well!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Dear Anon in Northern Ireland...thanks for writing! that is a great idea, leaving something right where you are ready to get to the next it's actually temply you. Gardening is so good...we're shady so I can't grow much to eat, but I'm revamping some of the borders...just a little bit each day. Here we have ticks and lots of critters to worry about, but I got some insect proof clothes and that makes it so safe and easy. And setting challenges...I'm sure that could be done online, or you can set a personal challenge. Elizabeth

Dear Julie...and thank you for writing too!!!Yes...great idea...following a known path just to get moving...some writers say they'll just begin anywhere writing about their day or next door neighbor and then the creative juices gradually start flowing.
One needs to Prime the Pump as it were. Elizabeth

Dear Linda, thank you so much for saying that many are experiencing this, I think it really helps to validate it, and not feel so alone. Again telling yourself you have to stick with it for a certain period of time no matter how little you seem to be achieving is a very good point. Elizabeth

Dear Mary, thank you! Segmenting your day...I think is very important...structure ...I remember reading about a prisoner who devised a whole day in his each hour he would think about another different thing and thus was able to get through solitary confinement with no entertainment at all. I do hope that car ride comes about! Elizabeth

magsramsay said...

4 of us who used to meet once a month at the ' HotTin' art venue to share what we'd been up to have been taking it in turns to set a daily drawing prompt ( we're now up to Day 145! ). Most of us have been isolating to some extent and it's been a valued focus in our day . Sometimes we do a quick sketch or share work we've done in the past , we've learnt so much about each other. Rather than dashing around as I used to I've grown to appreciate the local and the small things like the bees visiting the garden ( they obviously like it , we had a swarm of 5000 !) Lots of ideas for when I eventually decide to work on something larger again.

Matah Hati said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Mags! and thanks for are totally on the right track...keeping those social pathways open between you and your "neighbors" even if digitally!
And giving yourself time to appreciate small things...we have been watching lightning bugs...and looking for bats! and watching birds feed their young...

Thank you for writing...and continued good luck with you drawing prompts!

elle said...

As an introvert the isolating is not stressful and my hubby has set up the steps 1-5 when we began our retirement phase. He misses the Wed. senior meal and crib games and I the Thursday evening quilt group. I may suggest an online weekly date come fall when we usually start up.
But 6-8 is my nemesis. Thank you for this excellent post. I can see that I need a studio schedule and definitely some more accountability. Ideas are never a problem but finishing them is a big problem. hmm, I wonder if I can convince hubby to come up with an 'or else' motivation. lol
Again, thanks for helping me define the problem and giving some practical suggestions!

Elizabeth Barton said...

HI ELLE! Thank you for know several folk have commented that this is one time that introversion is an advantage!!
Why not an "or else"....motivation, or rather a positive reinforcement to getting something finished.
I'm deep into death cleaning/decluttering and I'm piling everything up that MUST go in a very obvious place I see all the time!! when I finally take it to the thrift store, that beautiful empty space will be my reinforcement!!!
Not all UFOs are worth finishing - for you...but you know many people love to come across a half finished piece at a garage sale or thrift store...decide which ones mean the most to you personally, and give the others will feel good!!!
all the best...Elizabeth

kay said...

Thank you for this post! It was just what I needed. It's difficult to avoid feeling guilty about time "wasted" during this pandemic, when I could have been so much more productive. Since getting started is always the hardest part for me - and it's a challenge every single day - #6 on your list is a great idea. Doing just one small thing may be the way to deal with my inertia.
(And, I must say, #7 and #8 reminded me that, when I participated in your year-long masterclass a few years ago, one of the many things I learned was that I could actually meet the weekly/monthly deadlines and have twelve finished pieces of work at the end of the year!)

Elizabeth Barton said...

good morning Kay, and thank you for writing!
You're right ...these little cures and reminders and goals and steps outlined help us over our initial inertia...I used to drive a very big old car...1938 Rover!....and it would take a gallon of gas/petrol to get it moving...but once the thing was kept on going!
we were brought up to be productive every minute!! it's hard to step back and enjoy more sensual pleasures, but NOW is the time to regain and rejoice in the beauty of our natural world and the amazing set of senses that we have.
good luck!!! Elizabeth