I’ve been following seasonal and cyclical living for years now, and the more I understand about it, the more I have come to believe that we can also understand our creativity through the idea of seasons as well.
See, creativity isn’t fixed – it doesn’t stay the same for us all the time. It ebbs and flows, and moves through different phases. This is sometimes talked about as the creative cycle or the creative process, but for me these concepts focus too much on creativity as productivity, and don’t fully explore how our creativity manifests for us individually.
Thinking about creativity in seasons (and by this I mean 4 separate phases of spring, summer, autumn and winter, which I talk through in turn below) invites us to look to our own inner experience, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s formula. Although I’ve offered a frame of reference to explore in this post, this is simply based on my own experiences and conversations with others. I fully invite you to use this as a springboard to make your own observations about how creativity manifests for you.
Why it matters
The main reason I believe this is so worthwhile, is because it can help us break down the unhelpful beliefs and expectations that we might hold around our creativity. I have noticed that many people expect themselves to be at the height of their creative energy almost every day, and on days when creating is a struggle, they try to force themselves into it.
“If I just push through, I’ll reach my flow” you might tell yourself, but some days you just don’t ‘feel it’, and that ‘pushing through’ might leave you doubly exhausted.
It’s highly unlikely we will be creatively prolific every day. We are creative every day, yes, but creativity shows up in different ways in each creative season. That high energy of creativity that allows us to ‘make’ and ‘do the things’ is just once aspect of our creativity. When we stop viewing the ups and downs as hindrances and instead bring a gentle curiosity to our experiences, we can start to understand the gifts each creative season can hold for us.
The more I have explored this, and learned to lean into my creative seasons, the more creatively prolific, more creatively free, and more productive I have actually become. Ultimately, that’s what I hope the concept of creative seasons can offer you.
I hope that by exploring your own creative seasons, you will allow room for ideas when ideas want to come through, create at your strongest and rest when you need to. You might find, like me, that you start a creative revolution in your own inner world.
Before we get into it, I would like to say that I’m by no means the first person to consider the concept of creative seasons and seasonal/cyclical living, but this post is the exploration of my own thoughts on it. I fully expect this idea to evolve over time, so I might adapt the post in the spirit of a digital garden.
I would also absolutely love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so do leave a comment or drop me a message at the end if you want to add to the conversation!
Right, let’s look at those creative seasons:
SpringCreative spring is the time when our creativity is full of new life and fresh energy. You might recognise it as that time when you get a flurry of ideas, ‘aha’ moments when you have a problem to solve, or you get an infusion of energy and inspiration for an existing project that went on the back-burner. Creative spring often arrives after a period of rest (short or long), and it’s the perfect time for planting the seeds for future projects. You might have a lot of conversations and note down heaps of ideas, but you probably struggle to actually get new things off the ground at this point. We can get frustrated in our creative spring. As ideas bubble and things emerge, we can tell ourselves that we ‘should’ be ready to make things happen, and get irritated when we can’t find our full creative flow. Remember that seeds need time to grow, so be patient. Your summer will come…
Try nurturing your creativity in this time by:
Keeping an ideas journal. Try writing down your ideas when they come to you, and saving them for later. Experiment with not getting carried away on the wave of an idea, but allow yourself to let it out on paper and then put it aside. Remember that not every idea has to turn into something. Explore the joy of capturing ideas.
Infusing fresh energy into old projects. Look over a half-finished project or idea that went stale, and see if you can view it with fresh eyes. Can you see why you got bored of it? Is there a way you could make it better and more exciting again?
Our creative summer is the season we most often associate creativity with. It’s the height of ‘creative energy’; light, bright, full of excitement and vim for life, maybe outgoing, and full of colour. It’s the time when we are in our creative flow.
In this season, we might feel creatively prolific, and simply crack on and get things done. Words flow, brushes sweep, hands craft, minds solve… we can hit a creative high and easily make the things happen.
It can feel uplifting and freeing, but creative summer also has shadow sides. When we are in our summer, it can feel hard to stop. We might get lost in what we are doing and forget to take breaks. I have heard some people even say they forget to eat or sleep. It’s easy to get lost in the high of creating, and give in to fears that if we stop we’ll ‘lose our creative flow’, but working relentlessly in this way can ultimately lead to burnout.
There is also a thin line between excitement and anxiety, and the energetic high of summer can easily turn to overwhelm. I have noticed that many people (myself included) can get hit with decision paralysis around this time as well. Summer often brings a whole host of creative possibilities, and you get drawn into wanting to ‘do all the things’, all at once. This can make it hard to choose which avenue to direct your creative energy down, and instead of being productive you get stuck.
Try nurturing your creativity in this time by:
Taking breaks. Give yourself permission to take breaks and rest when you need to. See what happens when you don’t over-push yourself.
Stopping work before you reach an end point. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang wrote in his book Rest: “Stopping work on a project when you can see the next point to make, or when you still have a little energy left, makes it easier to get started the next day”.
Going with the flow. Rather than pushing yourself to do what you think you should be creating in this time, try exploring what you feel excited to create… whether that’s art, crafts, solutions, new perspectives, life, new ways of living. Explore creativity in all its forms.
You might recognise creative autumn as the time self-doubt joins the party. In this season, creativity can seem to slow down – we might question the worth of our work and ourselves, and projects can grind to a halt as we lose interest and inspiration. Autumn however is a wonderful time for reflection. We might want to gather our metaphorical nuts and check our creative projects are still aligned for us. In the high of summer we can get lost in the flow, and sometimes waver off course from what’s really important to us. Now is a good time to step back to look over things we’ve created, and reflect on whether we’re moving in the direction we want to.
I find creativity often bubbles around in more gentle, practical ways in autumn. You might find yourself pulled to do some de-cluttering and organising, cooking some hearty meals, playing around with systems (e.g. creating templates), or finishing off creative tasks rather than starting something new (e.g. sewing up old clothes). It’s a good time to create for yourself, rather than creating for others, and to allow yourself to slow down if you feel pulled to do so.
Try nurturing your creativity in this time by:
Give yourself permission to put down creative projects. If you lose the flow, don’t beat yourself up! Trust that your creative summer will return, and bring a gentle curiosity to what other activities you feel drawn towards.
Journalling. Get your thoughts and negative self-talk out on the page. The more you notice self-doubts, the easier they become to let go of, and journalling is a really great tool for this. There’s no right or wrong way to journal, just get a notebook out and write!
Turning to more familiar creative activities. Easy, repetitive activities that don’t use a lot of mental energy are especially great – like mindful colouring books. Create for yourself, and create gently.
Winter is the creative season I notice people tend to struggle with the most, because it’s the season of rest. The season even, of almost non-creativity. Ideas stop coming. You might feel tired and sluggish, and struggle to get things going or solve problems. Creative winter tends to happen when our creative reserves have depleted, leaving us feeling unmotivated, uninspired and seemingly unable to make creativity happen. This can inspire a lot of fear, as it can feel like our creativity has vanished, and will never return, and in retaliation we can try to push ourselves to create anyway. Creating in our winter can feel like wading through treacle though, and if we do manage to force creative output, the result will probably lack our usual ‘spark’. The more you try to push through a winter, the more and more depleted you become – and the longer your winter will probably last.
The key to winter is to surrender to rest, and to have faith that it won’t last forever.
When you lean into creative winter, you may even come to see it as a beautiful time as I do. It’s a time for the self, to restore and replenish. Rest for you might mean completely switching off, but it might also mean seeking inspiration in the world for the sole purpose of filling up your creative reserves and feeling good.
It may help to remember that as a human you are innately creative. We are creative beings, and creative every day. Our creativity never completely goes away, but in our winter, this creativity may simply manifest in a different way than you associate with your creative summer. I find my creativity in this time is quieter and gentler. I turn to simple, easy activities that don’t require any brain power at all (like knitting a straight line of stocking stitch in one colour), and I choose simple, easy meals to cook.
Try nurturing your creativity in this time by:
Filling up your creative cup. Make time for things that replenish you, and fill up your inspiration reserves. You could go walking in nature, buy a nice magazine, take yourself for coffee and watch the world go by, visit a gallery, watch some cosy tv… whatever feels good to you.
Giving yourself permission to NOT create. Your creativity isn’t going anywhere, so don’t be afraid to take time off and really lean into rest – however that looks for you.
Seeking joy. Explore simple, low energy ways to create just for the sheer fun of it. Return to activities you played as a child. Try stimulating your senses – seek out things to see, hear, taste, touch & smell that make you feel good and really notice the world around you.
Is creative winter just burnout?
It’s an interesting question that I’m not sure I have the full answer to, but I would argue no. Creative winter is an inevitable part of creativity. Burnout is not inevitable. Burnout is a state of physical or mental exhaustion usually the result of prolonged stress, over-work or overwhelm, and can take weeks, months or perhaps years to recover from. Creative winter however is a natural part of the creative cycle – a request from inside to look after yourself and top up your well – which does not come with the same level of physical and mental depletion as burnout.
Creative winter can be or become burnout, but creative winter is a generally much gentler experience. For example, my creative winters usually last for several days or a week or two, and in this time I might struggle to create much, but I can still happily continue with other things in my life and it isn’t long before I move into a different season. If you are finding yourself in a prolonged state of non-creation, exhaustion and depletion, you may want to seek support.
Do the creative seasons happen in order?They can, but they may not. My experience from noticing and living my creative seasons over the last few years is that they bounce around all over the place, generally not in order. This is one reason why I find it more helpful to think about creativity as seasons, rather than as a cycle. One season doesn’t necessarily lead into the next.
The influence of other seasons
Creative seasons can be influenced by other cycles in our lives – for example, the lunar cycle, menstrual cycle and natures own seasons. They can create a complex interplay, mirroring each others seasons or clashing against each other. For example, you could be in a creative winter in the middle of nature’s summer, whilst also in your menstrual spring. This can create confusing inconsistency within ourselves, but it can also create some incredible synergy. You might find some synchronicity between the different seasons and cycles in your life however – the only way to understand this is to bring a gentle awareness to your inner self.
If you’re completely new to the concept of cycles, my advice is to start small and simple. Begin by noticing or tracking one type of season or cycle, and add others over time. Jen Wright has some excellent posts to get started with – I’d recommend exploring her Menstrual Cycle Awareness 101 and her Lunar Living posts.
How long do creative seasons last?
There’s no single answer to this, because it can be different for each of us. You might swing through all four seasons in one day (there’s a soundtrack for that), be in a different season each day, stay in one season for a month, months or even years at a time. My creative summers are often fleeting, rarely longer than a week, offering me short bursts of productivity, and every so often I’ll hit a creative winter that will last for a month or two.
The only way to understand your own inner rhythms is by trying out cycle/season tracking, which leads me to…
Tracking your cycle
Tracking your creative seasons doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as asking yourself:
“What creative season do I feel I’m in today?”
You could leave it there, and simply take notice day to day, or you could mark the season down in your diary, journal or a notebook using a single word, a colour mark or a sticker. Find a way to fit it in with your existing daily rituals and planners if you can, as you’ll find it much easier that way.
To take this a step further you could then ask yourself:
“How can I nurture my creativity right now?”
And see what answers come to you. If you’re unsure, you can use the prompts in the season descriptions above to guide you.
You don’t have to do any written tracking at all if you’d rather not though – if all you take away from this post is a new or renewed awareness of how creative seasons might play out for you, that is absolutely enough. The seed of that awareness might grow on its own over time… try it and see.