Up until just recently, my times of creative inactivity were viewed as voids, making me very anxious. I worried that my desire to paint, to cut-and-paste, to simply create would not return. I have experienced years, literally, of the void, and I’m not eager to do that again.
Lately, however, I’ve come to see that not all periods of creative inactivity are, in fact, voids. Some are times of creative synthesis, of rest and rejuvenation. Thanks to Marilou Awiakta in The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McKeekin, I’ve come to see these periods as fallow times rather than voids. There is a difference; it’s not just a matter of semantics.
Void implies a certain darkness or emptiness, a stillness beyond normalcy. In my experience, voids are not purposeful. While there is much to learn from entering the hollowness, we rarely enter it with deliberation. When I think of the void in terms of my own creativity, I think of a time when nothing is happening, internally or externally. Not only am I not actively creating anything, but I am not growing creatively either. I am not continuing to fill the well, as Julia Cameron would say.
To lie fallow, on the other hand, is to purposefully lay idle in order to conserve or rejuvenate. Think of how farmers let a field lie dormant for a season in order to increase later productivity. I may not be actively expressing my creative side, but I’m still taking care of it. I’m nurturing my creative self. Instead of looking at this time of inactivity as a void, I’ve been trying to turn it into something useful.
To be in the void is to be stagnant, creatively. Not only do I find it difficult to express myself in new ways, I find it difficult to even revisit and rework old ideas. There just isn’t any motivation for creative endeavors. When I’m fallow, it may look similar to an outsider; however, it feels very different to me. This is when I catch up on my art reading, reading about new techniques and drooling over the eye candy. Perhaps I don’t have the creative energy or motivation to tackle a completely new project, so this may be a time when I approach a previous worked idea and tackle it anew. I may play with new products, simply following someone else’s directions to the letter, not really creating anything new. This may be a time for experimenting with a medium previously unexplored.
What I’m learning about myself is that by acknowledging these periods of inactivity as fallow times rather than assuming they are voids, they rarely make it that far. I’m able to stay a bit creative, if not fully expressive, and these periods don’t seem to last as long as they did when I saw them – and treated them – as voids.
Then, when the bright spots appear, I’m able to indulge myself! I certainly do celebrate them and create as long as I have the motivation to do so. I don’t have any children; I have a supportive husband and I don’t work, so I’m able to create with abandon, for as long as I have the energy to do. It’s not unusual for me to stay up all night, sleep for a couple of hours and then stay up all night again, a few nights in a row, when my creativity peaks. I know it’s especially unhealthy for me to live that way since I have bipolar disorder, but I seem incapable of restraining myself when the urge hits. I get lost in my creative process and time slips away. When I do try to force myself into bed, my mind is racing and my body is energized with the possibilities of what I’m creating that it’s difficult for me to just lie there long enough to sleep. The creative frenzy is such a delicious feeling that I don’t want to dismiss it for sleep.