What to do when your creative routine is disrupted
After returning from a holiday or, honestly, anything that disrupts creative flow, it is tempting to simply “dive in,” expecting that one will be able to pick up exactly where he has left off. For some, this works. For many (including me), it often does not. This can be a source of great discouragement, and can even lead to a self-reinforcing negative cycle. Arresting this cycle, I believe, requires an understanding of what is really going on within one’s mind.
Imagine a neighborhood cat. It does not come when called. It may not even acknowledge the existence of the one calling it. It will only come to you if it believes it will receive something it likes. For me, creativity is the act of befriending this feline: I try various musical ideas until I find one that inspires me, in much the same way in which one discovers the cat’s favorite treat. However, if one stops feeding this cat, it will stop coming.
Many creators simply try to force the process, but become discouraged when they learn that it cannot be forced. They attempt to pick up the cat against its will, only to be scratched, bitten, and hissed at. Creators often abandon the effort at this stage.
What have I learned to do? Simple: rediscover the cat’s favorite treat. I write simple motifs or play around with them in my mind. I improvise at the piano. I rearrange existing tunes. I listen to music and attempt to figure out how to play it. I hold out any “treat” that has a chance of attracting the cat’s attention.
Of course, this means that one will find many ideas that do not work. The cat will ignore its call or actively run away many times. Most of the musical ideas that I write during this process go unused, as it is with most freewriting. I have learned to accept this, even embrace it. After all, I only require one new good idea (or a return to an old, good one) to relaunch the process. I have never written an idea that I believed was truly exceptional without believing it to have been worth the effort.
Reigniting the process takes time. I know a composer who must rekindle it with each new project. I know of another composer who takes a two-week break between projects — presumably, to ensure that his next project does not sound too similar to it. I find that it is easier for me to simply have multiple projects going at the same time, but in different stages. This way, I maintain creative flow without “burning myself out.” If all else fails, and I find myself without a project to work on, I simply freewrite, rearrange an existing project, or plan another project. This way, I never lose the cat’s attention in the first place!
1. Have you ever had your creative routine disrupted? How did you regain your momentum?
2. How long does it typically take you to regain your creative flow?
3. Did this experience lead you to discover any new ideas that you would not have previously considered?