Candy to the Creative Child

Et nysgjerrig esel på den karibiske øyen Bonaire.

Some days I am flowing over with creative energy. There is no end to my cornucopia; it’s like an endless stream of ideas flowing through me combined with an unstoppable desire to create. I can go on and on and on. Other days my mind is completely empty, I feel drained and I don’t even want to think about creative work, let alone attempting to do such futilities. I just want to shut myself down, crawl up in good chair and read a completely unchallenging book.

How do I go about those days? Well, sometimes I do exactly that, shut down and do something utterly mindless. But in the long run that is no solution at all. I risk never getting up of that chair, figuratively speaking, because most times I feel creatively drained not because I am really creatively exhausted, but because being creative is scary as hell. It’s not for no reason that the American existential psychologist Rollo May talks about the courage to create – because it does take courage. It’s a daring path to choose. Or as George Bernard Shaw once stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz; it’s an active battle with the gods – and with oneself I would like to add for my part. The courage to create is something I have already written about in a previous post, so I won’t dwell far and wide about it now.

The question is what do we do when we get into that stage of inertia and creative apathy? As far as I see it, there are four ways around it. We can do nothing, find that brainless book and hide from ourselves. I have already made my point about that solution.

A second solution – which is not a bad solution at all – is to rest your creative mind, not by withdrawing, but by filling it with inputs and new impressions. It’s what I called replenishing the creative well in one of my other, previous posts. Replenishing the creative well (by the way an expression I have taken from Julia Cameron) could be visiting an exhibition, it could be gathering some creative friends and discussing each other’s work, it could be as simple as going to a coffee shop and have a nice espresso or a long walk in Mother Nature.

Another way out of the misery is simply to force ourselves into a creative mood. Is that possible you might ask? Yes, and no. I think it depends on the situation. Sometimes the creative work you are pursuing will not come alive with pure force of mind. Other times it’s all it takes. I know for sure when it comes to myself, that for instance when I have been travelling and shooting on the streets for some time, at some point I run into a wall. Suddenly I feel drained, I can’t face the street again with a camera in my hand, and I just want to spend the day in a nice hotel room or even better in a nice bar somewhere. But then I know if I just make that first step into the street again, with camera in hand and start shooting, albeit it will be lousy pictures in the beginning, at some point the energy comes back again, and I am suddenly back on my creative path again.

The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing. So what do you do when a child has decided to put both feet on the ground? You promise it something nice and alluring, something it cannot say no to – if it only starts moving again. It’s simple psychology. If it takes a candy to get the child over the hill, then give the child a candy! So it is with my creative child. If I am only willing to walk down one more street and take scores of photos along the way, I promise my creative child a new camera! That is something that can get me going. Well, I guess I would quickly become a poor photographer if I really did that. But I think you get my point. The point being, you need to find something that you can give yourself to keep going down that creative path you don’t really feel like walking. It’s about motivating ourselves. If not a new camera, maybe I will buy myself that photo book I have long been drooling for. Or maybe that nice bar – but at the end of the day. Give it as a present to myself when I have done my dead, instead of sneaking in with a bad conscious before I have accomplished anything all. Again it comes down to motivation and luring that child to keep going. Just give that creative child a candy! – Or a carrot to the donkey…

98 thoughts on “Candy to the Creative Child

  1. Great post! Usually I feel quite creative and love to write but some days like today I push the computer aside and let myself be grumpy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has off days! I’ve decided to not push the creative juices and indulge in a few boring unsuccessful days for tomorrow I know I’ll feel better! 🙂

    1. Of course we all have days when the creative muse has left us. I am sure even Picasso had those days, too. As Jack London was said: You can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club. 🙂

  2. your posts oftentimes reflect what happens in my creative life, though i have different ‘downtime’ needs after long painting sessions. about once ever six or so months, i throw on the brakes for a few days. i read a novel or two, watch the birds on the river and basically do nothing except rest. after my physical batteries have recharged, i am again ready to move forward.

    i am lucky that i have endless material that inspires me – probably because my natural environment has such biodiversity. if i were enduring cold winters, i would probably hit brick (creative) walls.

    your suggestions help us see how to sidestep those blocks and stay in charge of our creativity.

    1. Resting is always good for our creative minds – as long as it doesn’t take us completely away from being creative, as an excuse to wait for inspiration to come. This however does not seem to be a problem for you. It’s great that you have some much inspiration and creative drive. A lot us could envy that drive… 🙂

  3. Thanks for this. I need some positive solutions for when I suffer creative fatigue, because all too often I hit that chair with a vengeance and then find it difficult to get out of again.

  4. As always, I read something here and it dawns on me that I have never really been conscious of it until I read what you have so well put into words. The MISERY of not creating. I am totally miserable when I am not thinking creatively or creating. There is almost nothing I do that makes it good except to do mundane chores or drink wine and eat and laugh with friends and hope it passes soon which it usually does. Online shopping is also dangerous good medicine. My inner child is fat and happy. Another thought provoking post Otto, thank you.

    1. And thank you for a wonderful response, Christina. Being miserable when NOT creating I hope means you do create a lot. Judging by your blog that definitely seems to be the case.

  5. Yes, great post – as always.

    I’m a great believer in ‘treats’. No matter how broke or how fatigued or exhausted mentally, deep down, I know if I just get out the door and go for a walk breathing in fresh air, I will end up finding something to photograph or something to compose in my mind for the next walk. Sometimes it takes a stop for a treat along the way eg if I’m down at the pier or beach, it’s a stop for the best fish & chips in the area and a seat overlooking the sea & rocks to staring mindlessly out to sea that gives me a mental break.

    But also…..I can sit at my desk reading my favourite photography blogs & image sites that revives my photographic eye and recharges my creative soul.
    Thank God for the internet.
    (of course there’s always the photography books on my shelf too).

    When I used to paint or draw, I would paint non-stop over the weekend and deep into the early hours of the morning sometimes, but once I’d unleashed that creative side of my brain, I’d have to cross over to the other side before I went back to office work on a Monday morning.
    Interestingly, when I used to do figure drawing classes on a Tuesday after work, I could draw nothing much for the first 20-30 minutes, then all of a sudden my right brain would kick in and I’d capture the human form in all it’s grace & long-limbed beauty. The first part of the class, my sketches were wooden and out of proportion.

    I truly believe there is a big difference between the creative, artistic talent we all have lurking in our right brains and the left verbal side on the left. Now I’m not working, my creative right brain has emerged and I spent most afternoons engaged in that intuitive,imaginative & creative side.

    I just can’t really get into photo editing on the computer though – that to me is a chore, not a creative extension of photography (something to do with working on computers for 35 years I think – I prefer to be outdoors if I can).

    1. Thanks for the elaborate comment. You seem to have a lot going for you when it comes to creativity. And ways to find it when you have temporarily lost it. I totally agree with you that there is a big difference between the right and the left brain, I think that has been scientifically proven again and again. As for photo editing on the computer, it can definitely be very creative, but just as with everything else, it might only be so for some. By the way I hope your new glasses are soon on their ways so you can keep up with your creative drive.

  6. Brilliant post. Creative exhaustion is but a natural process. Sometimes the next level takes time to initiate while the mind absorbs new ideas, techniques to break through higher grounds.

  7. Smashing post Otto. I just treated myself to a Lee big stopper filter. This really was candy to my inner creative child. I spent the day yesterday just dipping my toe in the water, feeling my way. I can see that this simple piece of glass is going to give me creative opportunities where they were perhaps limited before. What better sort present to oneself than one that is going to take you to another place creatively.

    1. Congratulations with your Lee filter. It can be really fun playing with filters, particularly high end ones like Lee that won’t let you down. Have fun playing with it! 🙂

  8. Grey days get me, and we’ve had so many. I do love to be outdoors, preferably not wet. But I’m with Victoria- I can browse sometimes and be awed by some of the work out there. Before I know it the fingers are tapping, the brain is ticking. Nice to know that even the greats struggle sometimes, Munchow. Thanks for this.

    1. As said before we all have to struggle with creativity – on and off. But when those fingers are tapping and the brain is ticking; that is a fantastic feeling, worth all the agony and struggle beforehand.

  9. I call it “being in the mood” – sometimes I see things, but sometimes I don’t. And it can be in the same places and under identical conditions. What I do? Go for a walk and/or talk photography with a friend.

    1. I like the expression «being in the mood». As long as one doesn’t passively wait for it to happen. Walking and talking about photography is always a good way to make the muse show up again. Thanks for your comment, Rune.

  10. Replenishing the creative well…… I do this and now it has a name:) thank you…..great post

  11. Interesting to have read this post today because I’m in that EXACT slump this week!

    Amazing (and creative) tips and solutions! I quite agree with them all, especially not taking a “break” from creativity, but finding it elsewhere.

  12. Very well described, Otto! This philosophy can very well be applied to almost anything—writing, playing an instrument, learning a new skill, even exercising, losing weight, striving for better healthful living, saving the environment. Thank you for illustrating what many of us believe but have not verbalized.

  13. a wonderful read and a fond memory of Rollo May’s book that I read while going to art school.i find going to the galleries help when I am in a slump or reading other’s blogs. Thank you for your enthusiasm and contribution to life.

  14. I needed this post to get back some inspiration. These days I do not feel I could focus on the writing the way I should be. This may be due to the fact that, I’ve been writing almost everyday since past couple of years in my blog and book and somehow now my heart and mind has stopped complementing each other well. So now after reading this post of yours I came to know what I have to do to get myself back on the right path. I just have to motivate myself, so that my creativity can get some valid reasons to come out.
    You always have the best words to tell about creativity. Thanks for this post Otto!

  15. Something we all experience, I think. When I feel uninspired, I pick up a different medium, one with no not so much experience or expectations and give it a try. It often gets the process going again. Terrific post as always.

  16. a good summary on how to deal with moments when we experience a creative slump…something most of us will experience at a certain point in time. great lesson here. ♥

  17. Great post my friend. I do have many days like this when I just want to shut down, retreat, just rest and be still. Thanks for sharing the 4 things we can do when faced with such situation. I think the last is the best, “The last way out of the creative inertia is by luring. My creative self is in many ways like a child. And just like a child it needs nurturing.” Although sometimes, our mind just need to empty itself of everything stressful and just start fresh and renewed. Thanks.

    1. You have a boy yourself, and you know the best way to get him going when he gets tired is treating him with something that makes him forget he is tired. It’s just the same with your creative self. But then again we can’t always be creative, we all need to shut down from time to time.

  18. One thing that would help me is if yesterday’s snow storm was the last. It had begun to get warmer and it was beginning to smell like spring. Me pictures and interviews of the homeless have begun to depress. Perhaps my my trip to Israel in just three weeks will shake things up.

  19. Sometimes getting a new creative tool is the perfect thing to get us creating again. I’m thinking maybe I should go to the art store after work today? Sometimes reading an unchallenging book is a good way to relax too, and we all need to replenish ourselves at times. Wonderful post!

    1. Thank you, Linda. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read unchallenging books from time to time, just as I like to do brainless work from time to time. Sometimes that is just what I need.

  20. Motivation can do wonders. I had a few difficult students who refused to cooperate, may be due to some prejudices. I never missed the opportunities to give them a ‘candy’ and within a year they changed dramatically. I remember they gave me some of the most creative answers.
    We all need the same. Just a word of appreciation may be enough to help us get up. Loved this post.

  21. well said 🙂 That post could be a day in my life and it was nice to hear someone put it out there. Although I know better, sometimes I think I am the only one who has days like that…running full steam and then staring at a wall…I guess I am not around enough creative individuals 😉

    1. Usually it seems like you don’t need to get your creative juices stirred, but I am glad if my words could be of some inspiration. 🙂

  22. What excellent insights here about fostering creativity. I love the idea of luring — you’re spot on that our creative souls need nurturing and maybe a bit of bribery. 🙂 Thank you for offering encouragement on creativity and thank you so much for checking out Travel Oops! Cheers, Steph

  23. I’m always trying to bargain with myself and work out deals in return for getting what I need to do done. Too often my creative self is colliding with my responsible self, who tends to take up more than its share of my time, which in turn pushes my creative self into a slump. It’s a vicous cycle! Great post!!

    1. Thank you Barbara. The creative self and the responsible self is often in conflict with each other, aren’t they, but as long as the former a least get a chance once in a while, we are all good.

  24. I know just what you mean about feeling drained in the cityscape while travelling. I have always used my eyes to capture images rather than a camera. No matter what tool you are using, the exposure comes at a cost, you become drained from the filth, the poverty, the noise, the space, the heat, the cold, the crowding. One day all of these things creates an exciting atmosphere and the next day our brains change focus, they shut down. Is that really a mind that is completely empty of creativity or is it just your senses being muffled by sensory overload? The reality of what we see when we venture out in the world can sometimes be too much for any of us to cope with.

  25. I think all people create in order to build a bridge to the world. That’s the sweetness we’re after: to express an authentic aspect of our experience – and to have it resonate with another, with multiple others. That’s the carrot that will keep this old donkey lumbering over the bridge forever.

    You run a very nice blog here, mister. I’m sorry I haven’t spent time here before. I want to thank you for visiting me, even when I take off for awhile. I value that, and will pay you another visit soon.

    1. You are right, we all want to express an authentic aspect of our experience. Thank you for a very poignant comment – and thank you for revisiting my blog, Claire Marie.

  26. Yes, there are days and days, we cannot always be in our best creative shape. What I do in these cases is a combination of relaxing myself doing something very different (preparing a cake is a good option) and walking (with my i.pod earphones and some special music, of course) without thinking about photography. This helps to free the blocked part of my brain.
    PS: chocolate helps as well…

  27. There are no coincidences. . . clearly this is the post I was to read today as I am struggling with my own photography which is feeling tired. A good reminder that sometimes the well can run low and it is up to me to find a way to replenish it-whether through a book, a class or maybe even trying something different that I shied away from before. Thank you!

  28. Love the photo. Would so love to mee that little donkey in my part of the Sonoran Desert! And I love what you say about creative inspiration. Always a good reminder to be grateful when the creative force is a constant companion. Very grateful!

  29. As usual you describe a situation most (all?) of us experience at some time or another and provide enough pointers and suggestions to help us review our practices.

  30. I always enjoy these posts of yours on creativity. They are philosophical and practical and inspirational, all rolled up in one. I like and have utilized all four of your strategies at different times.
    Your photo reminded me of a trip we took through Death Valley years ago. We came across a small herd of wild burros and stopped the car to try to catch a quick photo before they fled. To our surprise, they immediately came over to us and stuck their heads right into the car windows!

  31. Beautiful. I must say that the time I took off from blogging this month has been a blessed one. There were so many demands on my time offline that I felt torn and worried that all would be lost if I didn’t make a decision that was healthy and healing. I did and I’m grateful for it. Sometimes, we need to pause and replenish ourselves like you said and take care of family and others. I’m glad I did and I thank you for staying connected with me in my absence. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Yes, blogging can be very demanding. Good to hear that taking time off blogging, has helped getting in touch with the muse again. Thank you for the comment. 🙂

  32. Firstly, Otto, I must say what a wonderful image that is! The wide angle approach has made the donkey even more inquisitive looking, and heightens the humour. Love that complementary background, too.

    OK… That’s it… Your photograph here has me totally replenished already! Thanks for the thoughtful text, too…

  33. Great post as usual!
    When I get into a creative slump, or “brain cramp,” I have to give it a rest. If I force myself to come up with something creative, it isn’t enjoyable, and the creative juices remain more resistant to flowing. I had to take a few weeks off from blogging and creating recently. With mounting health issues and setbacks, I was exhausted and the creativity and motivation just weren’t there. During that time, though, a few ideas came to me that I hadn’t tried before, and now I’m exploring and experimenting to see what develops.

    Creativity, primarily photography, is therapeutic and healing for me, but only if it isn’t forced.

  34. Otto, you are such a great coach! Your gift of words rivals that of your photography. Thanks for all the creative nudges you have sent my way by way of visiting my blog. Please keep up these inspiring “talks”!

  35. Thank you likewise Karen Ann. And thank you for those wonderful words. They are certainly an inspiration to keep writing and blogging.

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