What to do when your creative lightbulb goes out

Sep 04, 2019

On December 4, 2017, I launched my freelancing career in earnest. Since then, I have steadfastly and consistently shared and engaged with followers on my social media platforms. Advice, travails, highs, wins, reviews … I’ve shared what drives me in my business.

I’ve also created blogs, websites, and other content for various clients consistently through this year.

Producing content comes relatively easily for me. I sometimes wake at 4am to quickly make a note of something I’ve dreamt about. That phrase “Where did you dream that up?” has taken on a whole new meaning for me these days.

But last week, I needed a time out. Last week for the first time in a long while, I woke at 4am with no lightbulb going off. The dreaded block had crept in … and without warning, had curled its icy fingers around my brain, freezing out any original idea I believed was there.

Creative block

A creative block is a real condition where a person loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. It comes about for any number of reasons — stress, distractions, exhaustion … even love some say.

I can’t pinpoint what it is that causes my own sudden loss of creativity. All I know is I just could not find the motivation to create any content — for my clients or myself.

My alarm was palpable – if I can’t create I cannot earn a living. If I couldn't earn a living my family would starve! My cats would hate me and leave home for greener pastures! My gosh, we would have to leave home for the warm spot under the bridge down the road! Did I mention that I am a drama queen?

The situation was not that dire, but it was another sobering reality. Sometimes, the creative juices just dry up. Without warning. With no remorse.

The trick is how you deal with it. Do you curl up and accept your fate? Do you wait for the lightbulb to come back on?

Digging in my heels

Trying to force myself to do anything has never worked for me in the past. In fact, forcing or ordering me to do anything generally has the opposite effect. I dig in my heels and stubbornly refuse to — even if it’s good for me.

This time I embraced the slump. I considered posting a gone fishing pic on all my social media platforms and email responses, but even that just didn’t feel creative. So, I just didn’t create any content.

What did I do instead?

  • I read a fashion magazine — something I haven’t done in over three years.
  • I coached.
  • I slept in for a morning.
  • I chatted with my cat.
  • I went to a music evening.
  • I wrote a letter to my mum, who died two years ago.
  • I wrote a letter to my daughter — to be opened when I die (creativity can dry up, but the drama queen runs strong in these veins).
  • I wrote a letter to my son … same rules as above.
  • I wrote a letter to my partner … more of the same.

Mojo

By the third letter, this drama queen had found her mojo again! So letters to my dad, BFF and mentor will have to wait for the next creative slump — believe me, there will be more on this journey.

The thing is, my friends, I’ve learnt that creativity cannot be forced. Creativity, like life, is an ebb and flow of energy. Creative energy will be depleted with time and if we do not actively replenish it, we end up in a slump.

Last week, I did things that replenished that energy. Listening to youngsters sing, writing private letters, reading, even chatting to my cat — all these little actions helped restore my creative balance.

My approach is simple:

  • EMBRACE that creative block.
  • ACCEPT it.
  • REPLENISH your energy.
  • CREATE stuff you don’t have to create.
  • HARNESS that creativity for the things that matter.
This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Meneesha Govender

I am a freelance newbie who is still negotiating a space in the independent workforce. I love sharing my thoughts on this new journey.