One of my most favorite openings for a novel comes from Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, “The world has teeth and it can bite you with them any time it wants.” How true. Incidents of family trauma or extreme stress will leap out and sink their fangs into you. Life doesn’t care about your creative production schedule.
When this happens, we have no choice but to buckle down and put our creative notions on hiatus. This can feel frustrating. Especially for someone like me who needs to be active on some sort of project all the time. Yet this fallow time actually can be quite rewarding.
Even if you are not actively producing new material, your creative mind never truly shuts off. This is the time to read, ponder, explore. I find myself taking copious notes and mentally rearranging story elements in my head. With the pressure to produce gone, my thoughts are free to wander in new directions.
Maybe you were fruitful and productive before, but what if you were moving in the wrong direction? Building a rocket ship is all fine and good, but if you fire it with the wrong trajectory, it will miss its target.
A good example of this comes with the Duffer Brothers and Stranger Things. The pandemic halted their fourth season, just like every other television show. Yet instead of waiting and growing frustrated, the brothers re-examined the series. Now the fourth season won’t be the last as they were able to see a path forward that wasn’t there before.
We also have to consider the quality of work generated under duress. If stress overwhelms you, then the material created will reflect that. Ultimately, art should nourish your soul. Negativity only poisons this.
Consider John Lennon and his “retirement” from music. After his lost weekend (actually 18 months) binging on alcohol and drugs, he settled down with Yoko Ono after the birth of their son Sean. He claimed to have not thought at all about music for five years. Except, we know the artistic brain never shuts down.
Most of the songs for his 1980 Double Fantasy album came from these retired years. He was also tossing around ideas for some musicals. Once the pressure to produce was removed, he was free to delve into new ideas.
So how do we know when to pick up the proverbial pen again and get writing? The answer has to do with your mood. Are you still creating from a place of negativity and stress? If so, then the art will serve as therapy. However, if you feel genuine joy and an urge to create, then it may be time to step back into the limelight and share your ideas with the world at large.
Whatever the reason for your own personal creative hibernation, just know that spring will come and the ice eventually thaws.