Every artist has moments when the creative well runs dry. Where you thought you could cruise along indefinitely and never stop producing at a steady (perhaps even prolific) rate, it comes to a sudden, grinding halt. You’re at a standstill; you don’t know what to do. How do you beat these dry spells and get back to doing what you love?
When I was younger, I used to find I’d be at a loss for what to write about. I’d think and think, and think – but to no avail. Anytime this happened, I’d go for a walk. Back in those days, I’d eventually find myself in a local bar or at a friend’s house, trying desperately to get the wheels turning. They stalled, for what I worried would be forever.
So, I decided to abandon writing. A lot of people have their own techniques for beating the block, and mine turned out to be focusing my creative mind on other forms of art. Some take up knitting, while others venture out into painting. I had been playing the guitar for quite some time, and so I picked the six-string back up.
I began playing with a ferocious intensity I had never had before. I even adopted new techniques. I was a pretty huge devotee blues-rock at the time, and so I practised slide guitar. It’s that sound that gives the guitar the emotional quality of the human voice, and it often comes across like a moan (for anyone who doesn’t know what slide guitar is).
There are several benefits to using your time on other creative avenues. For one thing, it allows you to say that you aren’t just a writer or a painter, for example, but also a musician or a dancer. At the very least, there are bragging rights at stake here. Not everyone can claim to be good at more than one style of art, but by practising at other disciplines, you certainly should be able to prove you are.
I’ve known painters who also work in photography. They say it gives them a perspective that lends a fresh quality to their main passion. As a musician as well as a writer, I definitely agree. Different artistic avenues require you to work with different techniques, and there’s a good chance these techniques will bleed into one another, giving your primary creative outlet a more well-rounded feel.
Not only this but if you write in different veins, there’s a high degree of probability that you’ll be able to bring those different writing styles together. Obviously, poetry and songwriting are very similar. But they aren’t quite the same. If this were the case, poets would always make great lyricists – and vice versa.
Yet if you talk to those in either field or read any creative writing guides, you’ll soon learn this isn’t true. Poetry allows for meter, language and allusions that don’t often fit in most songs, whereas song lyrics tend to be a tad more simplistic than poems. There are always exceptions to the rule (a lot of rap is quite close to, and sometimes indistinguishable from, poetry), but in general, it’s tough to take a poem from the page and have it work in a song without altering a thing or two.
But, of course, writing uses elements that are completely different from, say, painting. What benefits are there to taking up this craft if you’re a painter?
It may not make sense at first but think of it like this: writing, especially poetry, is essentially painting with words. You have to impart a picture on a reader’s mind, and you don’t have visual tools to do this. Poets often add colour with colour words. A sky is a particular shade of grey, the grass is a kind of green, rivers are variants of blue – so on and so forth. Readers can see what a good poet describes with little effort, almost as easily as they could if they were looking at a painting of the scenic countryside. By writing, it’s hoped a painter could gain a fresh perspective on how to use colour in their work.
I wish the art wasn’t one of those things a person would ever be at a loss for how to indulge in. But it’s a fact of life: if you make anything creative, you most likely will come to a point where ideas just don’t flow. When this happens, consider what you’ve read here, and take the time to try something different. Once you feel ready to dive back in, hopefully, it’ll be headfirst into a pool that’s filled with plenty of interesting concepts and some new techniques.
And, hey, at the very least, you tried something you may not have necessarily attempted. That’s something to smile at.
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.