Before we dig into creative droughts and surges, let’s start with the basics: Creativity isn’t limited to a select few; it’s accessible to everyone. It’s part muscle, part mindset, and it’s innate. You can create an environment and circumstances that are more or less welcoming to creativity, and yes, when all the elements are in place, it can even feel a little bit like magic. (Read more about the definition of creativity and how we’re all creative here.)
Creativity can also be temperamental and unpredictable. It doesn’t always show up like we expect it to. Sometimes we leave the door wide open and it doesn’t show up at all (creative drought), and sometimes it storms through and breaks the door off its hinges (creative surge).
A creative drought feels like a block. It can feel like you will never again have a creative thought. (But that’s not true.) A surge feels like an abundance of ideas — almost too much to contain sometimes.
They both need to be managed in some way. So what do you do?
When you feel a Creative Drought
It’s frustrating. You need the ideas to come. (This might even be part of the problem.) You are staring down creativity hard, demanding something amazing. RIGHT. NOW.
But it’s not coming.
Do you keep pushing? Or do you take a break from it? It’s tough to know which approach to take.
A time limit on making the effort is helpful. If I’m actively trying to invoke creativity — either to solve a problem, brainstorm ideas, or write a song — and nothing of quality is resulting from it, I forge ahead for about half an hour. If I’m still stuck, I stop.
Have you ever heard someone say that an idea came to them in the shower? Or on a long drive? Or on a quiet walk? Ideas are able to come to us in these times partially because our minds aren’t straining so hard to force it to happen. Our imagination is able to wander freely, creating a perfect environment for creativity.
So take a break, go for a walk, or switch to another task. Essentially, stop thinking about the ideas you are trying to make happen.
The important thing is to realize that EVERYONE — even and especially people who you think of as highly creative — has these drought experiences and it doesn’t equal “I’m not creative.” It most certainly equals “This is how the creative process goes.” So go easy on yourself.
Get into a habit of summoning the creativity daily. If it’s idea brainstorming, maybe you set aside 30 minutes every morning. If it’s writing or art, maybe you start a journal of notes or sketches that you do every evening. The more you make it a habit, the less frustrated you’ll be by droughts and the less often they’ll occur. (Creativity is a muscle. Grab the mental dumbbells.)
When you feel a Creative Surge
My organized and orderly Capricorn brain feels a Creative Surge and sometimes fights it because I have other things to do. I need to get to the store. Bills need to be paid. Laundry is overflowing.
But surges don’t happen all the time. Now that I’m aware of them, I understand that I have to ride the wave when the wave comes. To the best of my ability.
I’ve noticed that about once every month, I get a rush of ideas. (For me, the surge equals a new perspective on a topic, it’s a writing flow, or musical ideas that just come more easily than usual.) It often happens in the morning, driving my kids to preschool. One of those days when we are listening to music that I happen to love and they are quietly in their own zone. (A rare feat in itself!) My mind has permission to wander and all the circumstances are right for imagination to flow.
The flood gates are propped open and I feel a euphoric sense of inspiration. On these days, if at all possible, I have learned to let myself go with it. I ignore the tasks that I can. Sometimes I make voice memos of ideas while I’m driving. (Whatever I can do hands-free.) I do a freezer meal for dinner. I stay up later than usual to capitalize on my ideas however they present themselves.
Obviously not everyone has the ability to disregard everything for a full day to follow a creative whim. I’m not suggesting you do. I’m encouraging you to be aware of peak creative times. Make small shifts if you can, to take advantage of the fresh ideas. And if all you can do is capture ideas in a notebook or a voice memo, then do it!
When it’s neither Drought nor Surge…
The most common place to be is in between a drought and a surge. Not a barren desert. Not a hurricane of ideas. We live life, we experience some creativity and some non-creativity.
What do we do in these times to encourage more surges and discourage the droughts?
We maintain and sustain, essentially. We can work towards boosting our creativity and strengthening the muscle. (Read the post on 10 Ways to Boost Creativity.) We can build a habit of practicing our creativity and establishing the mindset of creativity. Remember that human beings are inherently creative — we are ALL creative.
Be open and aware to creativity’s presence and work on building an optimal environment for creativity to thrive. Think about, surround yourself with, and take in what inspires you.
Tell us about your experience with droughts and surges in the comments below! And then get some more creative inspiration with this next post: The Ultimate Guide to Creativity for Moms.