When you are doing nothing, you are doing something

When I first finish a challenging creative project, I feel a sense of relief and euphoria.

That feeling may last for a little while.

But eventually it wears off…and I am left feeling exhausted.

The truth is, the project has caused me to put out an enormous amount of energy…and I now need a rest.

When I am tired I lose (temporarily) my ability to create, innovate, or think fresh thoughts.

And that makes me feel lost.

The fatigue separates me from the heady feeling of power, confidence and dynamism that was part of the creative mode I was in…and that I had grown attached to.

That electrifying sense of connection with what I was creating disappears and is replaced by a feeling of weakness, listlessness…sometimes actual depression.

I say things to myself like, how could I ever have accomplished what I just accomplished and then feel as empty as I’m feeling now?

I worked so hard, gave so much. Why don’t I feel happy now?

I rail against my tiredness, as if in so doing I will get the magic back.

It doesn’t work of course. I just feel even more empty and exhausted.

Then at a certain point it all bottoms out and I recognise that I am in a state of withdrawal.

I accept that I am tired, let go of trying to be dynamic and creative, adjust my mood and expectations and move on to other things.

After a lifetime of dealing with my creative cycles, I have learned that the magic always comes back.

An idea for new tune, an opportunity for a cool photograph, an insight for a blog post are all right around the corner.

The secret is to get away from the intense creative activity I’ve just spent so much time in, and do…well…nothing for a little while.

I ride my bike, take naps, stare into space, run household errands, fix things, read, cook, meditate, tidy my studio, take walks, catch up with friends, and generally do anything and everything that is not about the creative project I was just doing.

The Irish have a saying: “A change is as good as a rest.”

Actually, changing a pattern of behavior is a rest from that behavior and its associated activities.

Being creative is not just about the active, productive times.

It’s about the silences, the gaps, the pauses between creating, when it can seem there’s nothing going on and time is being wasted.

It’s not.

When nothing is going on in your conscious mind, there’s always something going on in your unconscious mind — where the development of the next idea, the next composition, the next project, the next solution to a problem begins.

Creativity is not just about manifestation.

It’s about gestation.

When you are doing “nothing”, you are doing something very important.

When the rechargeable battery in my electric beard-trimmer runs out, I plug it in. It takes about eight hours to fully recharge. During that time I don’t use it.

Next time you are feeling tired and disappointed in yourself, give yourself a break.

You are in the battery-charging part of a creative cycle.

Use this time to take care of the rest of yourself.

You’ll be back soon.

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15 Responses to When you are doing nothing, you are doing something

  1. Andrea Moutarde says:

    So true Preston.! have a good rest and enjoy Christmas and look forward to the New year!. Love, Andi (Andrea)

  2. Diane. says:

    I’m pleased to read this today. Overcome with depression, I will recharge over Christmas and look towards 2014 being a better year for so many people. I wish you, Cath and Freya the compliments of the season. Keep the faith.

    • fretgenie says:

      Thank you, Diane, for all the support you have given my creative output throughout 2013. Glad you enjoyed the post. Very best wishes to you for the holidays and 2014 :^)

  3. Ian K says:

    That’s great Preston! Thanks for this bit of advice. It is true that if you try too hard to be creative or innovate when you’re clearly not getting anywhere, maybe its time to take a break. You can burn out your creative fuse if you try too hard all the time! You need a break in between moments of greatness to recharge and take care of all the other things that support your moments of greatness. I’ll definitely remember this post when I’m feeling stuck or “running on empty” as you put it.

  4. Thanks Preston, it’s always interesting to get an insight into the creative process, both the ups and downs. I think at this time of year the stresses of the year (and season!) can catch up with people too. I’m feeling a bit empty in a creative sense at the moment, finding it hard to be inspired amongst the day to day responsibilities. I’ve been through redundancy this year (like so many) but count my blessings as I am now gainfully employed again. We have our summer break over Christmas here in New Zealand, so I’ll finally get a break and a chance to recharge, as you so aptly put it. Amongst all of life’s stresses, music always soothes my soul – yours as much as any other, Preston. Thanks for putting so much into your music – as a fan I can tell you it makes all the difference.

    • fretgenie says:

      Thank you, Mark. Glad you like the post and find it relevant to your situation, and glad to hear you have become employed again after redundancy. Yes, this is a difficult time of the year for many people. I hope you do get a rest and a recharge over the holidays.

  5. Frank says:

    Those are great and wise words Preston, hit right smack on the head of the nail! I love the analogies and what you say sounds so right, very uplifting, thanks!

  6. Well said! Sometimes when I reach the end of a creative outburst, I sometimes wonder if I’ve given all I have to give, and that the well has run dry. By recognizing the cyclic nature of creativity, we can let go of anxiety and be ready to take on the next inspiration!

  7. Thanks for an honest and personal insight Preston. This has been one of the most challenging and emotional years of my personal life. As I sit here and type, I am glowing from becoming a Grandpa today. My daughter just gave birth to a beautiful little boy, but in contrast saddened by the lost of my father from liver disease almost a year ago, my sons ongoing health concerns, and my continued hand problems.

    Its a strange way to feel, (but for me personally) the introspect and pause to reflect on such contrast in life events truly helps to refill that proverbial creative cup, by freeing up emotional energy and just letting yourself emote, changes everything.

    The physical has been taken care of, now for the spiritual. Thankfully there is a wood box and a few strings. 🙂

    I feel blessed everyday that I can still play guitar, having countless challenges, there has been many times when I feel disheartened, and void of creative energy. Sometimes I wonder what chance a “guitar playing blue collar plumber” from Maple Ridge actually has in making a statement with his music…especially at this stage of life, sheesh, I’m 42 years old been playing guitar for 35 years, and what? now I am finally chasing my dream???? seems a little late out of the the chute. But what do you do? better late than never. Its either I wreck my hands in the trades or save my music. Many times I have struggled with this, and have exhausted the thought.

    I could not agree more on your statement, stepping back and charging your batteries has to be the best thing to do for sure.

    In those “battery charging” moments that doubt disappears and hope resides.

    This is great advice, and fundamental to the core. And to read from your experiences means allot for those like myself who wants more than anything, to succeed in creating some sorta life with music.

    I am just a little fish, in a big pond, who wants to swim with big fish, I’ve got the scales for it 🙂 (Hahaha sorry for the lousy analogy)

    “Next time you are feeling tired and disappointed in yourself, give yourself a break.

    You are in the battery-charging part of a creative cycle.

    Use this time to take care of the rest of yourself.

    You’ll be back soon.”

    Nicely said Preston, gonna have to quote you on that one my friend. Thanks for always being inspirational and a straight up good guy. Wishing you and Cath a wonderful holiday. All the best, hope to meet soon some day. 2014 is looking to be a great year, maybe this year I can finally get out to Scotland, and visit. Just found out the “Livingston side of my family has a family castle there, woooo hooooo so regal. Lol

    Cheers

    Wayne Jansen

  8. L. Palmer says:

    This is a great, semi-poetic description of an essential part of the creative process. I like to call this a ‘fallow’ period, a point where you just let the field lie still and let nutrients return before digging in again.

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