getting out of a creative slump

by | May 18, 2021 | Running a Business | 13 comments

If you drew out the first five years of my business on a graph, it would show a pretty consistent line that started at the bottom lefthand corner of the page and disappeared off the top right corner.  There was so much new, so much growth, and there really was nowhere to go but up.  But after those five years, things started to settle into a cycle that is much more typical for businesses and creative work.  It became cyclical…a straight line up morphed into a line that curves, loops, and zigzags.  I went from feeling like the wind was at my back to feeling like I didn’t know which way the wind would blow.  Sometimes it filled my sails and things were easy and other times, I was pushing with full force against a resistance I couldn’t see.  Sometimes that resistance even came from me. (Shaunna and I chatted about the wind being at our back recently and that’s stuck in my mind as I thought about this.)

But, I’ve learned that this is just normal.  As I dove into books and podcasts, seeking some advice, consolation, and even confirmation, I learned that it’s normal.  There is an ebb and flow to all things.  There is a time and a season for all things.  The trees bloom and are full and then they drop their leaves and rest.  The cycle feels familiar and comforting, yet terrifying at the same time.  If I release my leaves, will I bloom again?  

While I was working on my book last year, the wind was at my back.  When people asked me how things were going (a deeper question during this pandemic when people actually waited for an answer that was longer than “fine”), I would say that I was in my sweet spot.  I was really loving what I do.  I was in full bloom and it felt good.  But, even though we are physically going into spring a few weeks ago, it felt more like the leaves were falling and the branches were becoming bare metaphorically speaking.  I felt that slump that comes after a major project or event.  The necessary, but slightly uncomfortable lull that, for some odd reason, makes me want to make more lists.  It also makes me feel a little scattered.  There is plenty to do, but what should I do?  What is most worthy of my time and attention and focus?  What work will yield results immediately or in 6-12 months from now?  What does success specifically look like now that I finished the fill-in-the-blank?  

This is typically a time I go on a creative retreat.  I go somewhere rejuvenating for a few days, step away from the daily tasks, and give myself time and space.  But, I can’t fly down to Florida at the moment and, while our beach trip will be relaxing and restorative, it won’t be for the purpose of reading, listening to podcasts, and pouring my thoughts into a journal.  So, I’m having to build that creative retreat time into my everyday.  This is what that looks like…

art books | studio space | miss mustard seed

increase input

I almost always have intentional creative and intellectual input, but I really step it up when I’m in a lull.  This is usually when I start getting daily book deliveries from Amazon or I walk out of Barnes & Noble with a large stack of magazines and books.  I also put more podcasts in the listening queue, buy an audiobook or two, and I’ll take a new art class or revisit an old one.  I read, listen, and take notes.  I write down quotes, things I’ve learned, as well as my own thoughts and ideas.

The input is varied, so I’m hearing from a lot of different voices on several applicable topics.  I listen to things that will encourage but also challenge me.   I particularly look for input on creativity, business, design, and decorating.

If I’m a pond, the input is freshwater flowing in.

increase output

This seems counterintuitive if you’re feeling sparse and drained, but I have found it to be so beneficial to increase my creative output.  Going back to the pond analogy, letting some stagnant water out while adding in more freshwater will create flow.  Good things happen in the flow.

An increase in output for me shows up in several forms – I’ll write more in my journal, I sketch more, I paint more, I add more creative projects to my long-term goals, I’ll dive into some home projects. And I make sure to do some things that are just for fun or just for myself.  I play.  Increasing my volume of productivity prevents me from overanalyzing everything.  It prevents me from paying attention to things that are out of my sphere of influence.  It gives me momentum.

antique drafting box | art studio | miss mustard seed

increase space and margin

All of the inputting & outputting creates momentum, but I also get more intentional about allowing myself time and space to think and reflect.  Again, I prefer to do this on a trip where I can sit by the water with my thoughts and a notebook and ponder a few things, wrestle with questions, and develop ideas.  But, I close the door of my studio and put on some music or take a walk.  Even sitting out on the front steps, listening to the birds, can be beneficial.  I just need the unhurried time to marinate on a few things.

creative retreat | panama city beach | miss mustard seed

Inevitably, the blooms come and the wind shifts and things feel fun, easy, and exciting again for the next season.  Whatever your situation in life, whatever your work and hobbies are, whatever demands are on you, I hope you can take some time to do these things when you’re in those lulls, slumps, and valleys.  And, if you’re looking for some good books to include in your input, here are some of my favorites…

I’m working through Fishing for Elephants right now and it’s been excellent so far.

13 Comments

  1. jthorntonwilson

    Dear Marian, I have followed your blog and Insta for a long time, and just want you to know how much I appreciate your thoughtful, inspirational words (and visuals!). In a world that is a cacophony of noise and overstimulation, you continually point the way to meaningful self expression. As an artist, I appreciate your willingness to share your heart and thoughts. Thank you so much! Julia

    Reply
  2. Diane Orciuoli

    I come to your blog for creative for inspiration. Thank you for sharing your life, your struggles and your talents with us.

    Reply
    • Terry

      Diane I was going to say the exact same thing. Marian you have gotten me out of so many slumps!

      Reply
  3. Jane allen

    I am reading Created too Thrive by Matt Tommey and find it very beneficial. Thank you for all your inspiration and encouragement. It is nice to hear about another creatives journey.

    Reply
    • Teri

      Marian, how did you know, as I am sitting in my porch swing, that I needed to read every single word of this? I appreciate the time and energy you put into your blogs! Thank you!

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    Hi Marian, thanks for sharing. I love to learn from your thought processes. You are always inspiring. Excited to see where the wind shifts next.

    Reply
  5. Babs

    You have no idea how many of us you have inspired with your truthful admissions about some of the struggles you have faced with your art. Many of us have nodded in agreement as we are reading your heart-felt blog. During the lockdown I found myself not wanting to create anything but I knew that was not the answer. I would look back at some of your past works and feel invigorated and ready for a new challenge. I have stuck with my watercolors for almost two years now…small progress but progress none the less. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement.

    Reply
  6. Patricia Kasparian

    My daughter is a writer, and she told me a quote she’d read and finds inspiring: “Progress, not perfection.” Sometimes I rely on this quote to get me moving again.

    Reply
  7. Lucy Anthony

    For a decade at my day job in an insurance office I read blogs on furniture painting (and mor) on my lunch break. My company went through restructuring and my job was eliminated so I got another job, just part time, baking, something creative that I used to do, but this time it was for a non profit. Though I had painted furniture for myself, I had also started painting furniture to sell, and even sold a piece on Facebook Marketplace. Then Covid hit and I was laid off. I had furniture pieces I had purchased but not gotten around to yet so with a stay at home order, I painted and when I could I bought more pieces. I realized that market place was not the right vehicle for me and put my self on a wait list for a antique market that rents out booths. Something that I had dreamed about doing all those years ago during my lunch breaks at my office job as a CSR. Three months ago I got a call and a booth was available. I was able to fill a small booth with all that the pieces I had completed and continue to find new ones to maintain it. I love it. I just signed a 3 year contract to continue on as my trial period was done. I am living my dream at age 64. You Marian and your community of bloggers, (furniture) painters and artists, designers and antique dealers and vintage lovers inspired my dream and I chose to make it a reality. Someone I deeply admired once told me she did not mind getting older, that her concern was that she would run out of time (and energy or ability) to do all the things she dreamed about. I only realized what that meant when I turned 60. Thank you for your inspiration.

    Reply
    • Kristine

      Lucy – I loved reading this comment. Your story is inspiring and uplifting. I wish you all the success and happiness !

      Reply
    • Kim

      Yes, very inspirational!

      Reply
  8. Cheri

    Friend, this was sooo good to read! And re-read. I need space in my life. Margins. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Reply
  9. Darlene Ungaro

    This blog post is impeccably timely for me as I am in a creative slump trying to balance home caring and my upcycled furniture & home goods store. I just arrived in Charleston and I see you were here as well. Husband is spending the day with my son at the PGA in Kiawah island and I have the day to myself in this awesome city. First stop, a bookstore for inspiration and a new journal, coffee shop and a great walk. Thank you for your constant inspiration.

    Reply

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  1. Saturday Seven 182: Lifestyle + Inspiration for Quilters | A Quilting Life - […] Do you ever have creativity slumps? When I do, my best practice is to sew or quilt something just…

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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