We all go through hard times once in a while, from bereavements to break-ups, family crises to financial hardship. How do you keep working creatively through such challenging situations? Writer and editor Kirsty Logan investigates…
When you’re struggling with internal forces such as depression or grief, or external forces such as caring for a child or dependent adult, it can seem impossible to focus on creative work. So sit down, take a deep breath, and let four creative people share their experiences on working through difficult times.
It’s OK to take a break
“My sister was seriously ill, and my concentration was just shot,” says author Valerie O’Riordan. Rather than getting stressed, Valerie advises taking some time out. “When I didn’t get any writing done on a given day, I told myself to relax – the world wasn’t going to crash to a halt and I could always work tomorrow.”
“If I really can’t work, I stop,” says Beatrice Colin, author of four novels including The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (John Murray, 2008). “I go to bed, read or go for a swim. Creativity has to be nurtured.”
Change your methods or expectations
Valerie, who is a new mother as well as a prize-winning writer, suggests grabbing short bursts of time whenever possible. “In the past, I was able to write for hours, but now days go by where I get very little done. Everything slows. But you just have to push on through regardless.”
After a family tragedy, writer and editor Mercedes Yardley found it almost impossible to work. “I was pregnant with triplets and lost two of the babies. The grief seemed enormous.” Mercedes advises being kind to yourself. “When I realised how much I was struggling, I asked for extensions on my deadlines. Writing still isn’t coming easily, but I’m chipping away at it.”
Take small steps
“Forget about the big picture,” says artist Michael Nobbs, author of Sustainably Creative, a blog and mailing list about how to keep working creatively despite extremely low energy. (Michael suffers from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.) “We all need a goal, but once we know what it is, it’s better to stop thinking about how to get there. Drawing my breakfast yesterday, I just thought about the next poppy seed – drawing a whole bagel just felt too much!”
Learn from the experience
“It may not feel like it at the time, but an experience like losing someone you love makes you see the world, and everyone in it, in a slightly different way,” says Beatrice. “I lost my brother and, looking back, there are a lot of invisible, but loved, people in my work. I wouldn’t choose it but it had, for me at least, a positive effect.”
Mercedes agrees. “Despite it all, I am a writer. It’s how I process. If I gave it up completely during the difficult times, I’d be robbing myself of my most effective coping mechanism. No matter how gruelling the situation, remember that you are an artist. It’s who you are. Allow the gift of creativity to help you through the difficult times. Sometimes the only way out is through.”
Work at your own pace
“There’s nothing wrong with taking a rest,” says Valerie. “If you’re at the start of your career – whatever your age – remember that it’s not a race. You’ve got decades ahead of you. Keep healthy. Keep strong. You’ll get back into it. Your creativity isn’t going anywhere.”
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Image: Writing by Mullenkedheim, under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.