How to Get Back into Creating After a Long Break

It’s been a while since I wrote an article for this blog. In the past few months, I have been busy, mentally and emotionally, searching for a job when I lost mine in March, then getting used to a new rhythm and a new industry. So I took a break.

Writing was not at the top of my list of priorities. Between March and June, I barely wrote a line. My second book, Happy, Not Tortured, came out, but I was so stressed with the lack of money and the whole pandemic situation that I barely registered what should have been a really happy moment.

You might be in the exact same situation. This year has turned out to be extremely cruel for many people, and in particular artists. Some of you might have lost relatives, a job, or just found that art was less pressing and urgent than other concerns. 

At the beginning of the lockdown, I wrote an article with tips to help you during the crisis. Today, I want to write about going back to your art, now that some things are going back to normal. Whether you stopped creating because of the coronavirus or because of other factors, I hope that this will help you!

Step 1: Acceptance

2020 is a rotten year. We all know it. But somehow, what I see on social media doesn’t really reflect how difficult it is for many artists. I see a lot of people pining for their productivity gone, lamenting because they have lost the drive, motivation and will to create anything. If this is your case, you need to recognise how exceptional these past few months have been.

Accepting what has happened is important to avoid feeling guilty. If you are in any way like me, you probably didn’t use the lockdown to write more, draw more, compose more. You were maybe stressed, anxious for the future, fighting to keep your job or your health. For many of us, the past months have been a battle to keep our mental health intact despite the darkness around.

And if you stopped creating because of other reasons than the coronavirus, this is an even more important step. Long before 2020, I completely stopped writing fiction stories. My first novel, Healers, had been so gruelling to write and rewrite and rewrite even more, that I took a break from writing any fiction. That was in 2018. The short break became two years of only writing non-fiction. Every time I thought about writing a story, I felt guilty. Guilty that I didn’t try more, guilty that I gave so much time to The Part-Time Artist at the expense of my stories.

All of this has an impact on your art. The sooner you accept whatever happened that caused the long break, the sooner you will leave any guilt or resentment towards yourself behind. You did the best you could.

Step 2: Rediscovery

You might have one or more unfinished projects, or ideas jotted down on a notebook, things you wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the year, that have laid dormant for too many months.

When you decide that it’s time for you to go back to your art, give yourself time to rediscover the projects and the artist you were before this all started. Read old stories, go back to old pieces, listen to old inspirations. You are a scientist trying to understand who was that person pre-break.

This step is all about remembering who you were before the big break, but also decide if you want to go in the same direction. Your break might have lasted months, but it might have also lasted years. You are not the same person anymore, which means that you might want to take your art or a specific project in a different direction. So it’s important to give yourself the time and space to do exactly that.

I started writing fiction again in June, but I didn’t start with the project I thought of originally. I read back old stories, old things that I had started and not finished, and realised that there was one story that I really wanted to finish first. This was something that I hadn’t touched in over five years, but I knew it was the right project for me right now.

Don’t just go back to your art, rediscover it.

Step 3: Patience

Before the break, you might have been a really productive artist. If you followed my method from the Part-Time Artist book, you might have had creative sessions every day, or very regularly. You might have been able to write a certain amount of words per day/week/months (or the equivalent in your line of work).

I want to urge you to forget all of that. You will not be as productive as you were before. It will take time, motivation and rebuilding your confidence before you can go back to your old levels of productivity. It’s exactly the same as exercising: before the lockdown, I was very active and I had reached exciting fitness goals. After four months of mainly coach-potatoeing and a shoulder injury, I can’t do the same exercises at the same level.

Think of your art as a fitness routine that you need to get back into. You are your own fitness instructor and you know that if you push yourself too much, you risk an injury. The “injury” in this case is to produce something that you hate or stop a project in the middle because you went in the wrong direction. Like any injury, this can lead to you having to take a longer break or being completing put off your art for a long time.

Start as if you hadn’t been this productive machine before. If possible, don’t undergo a complex project from the get-go; instead start with something easy. Give yourself realistic goals, and celebrate every little victory. Be gentle with yourself, the same way you would be if you were recovering from a physical injury. One step at the time.

Step 4: Joy

Once you are back in the groove of creating, there is one more step that I think is important. You need to appreciate yourself, your art and the long way it took for you to get back into it.

It’s easy to just keep moving forward and forget what an epic mountain you just climbed. Find a way to reward yourself for all the work you’ve accomplished. You might have fought against illness to get there, or financial uncertainty. You might have broken through mental barriers or gotten past criticisms that hurt you.

And keep in mind the reasons why you wanted to go back to your art in the first place. Why it was so important to you that you were ready to make all these efforts to continue creating.

In Conclusion

In your artistic career, you will most certainly face periods when you can’t create. Sometimes, the cause will be external, such as this coronavirus crisis. Sometimes, it will be internal, such as a crisis of confidence or a loss of inspiration.

Being an artist means being able to go back to creating every time, no matter how long it takes. It’s climbing back up every time you fall down. It’s being able to draw from past hurdles to jump a new one.

If you are currently trying to go back to creating or if you have completely stopped and don’t know how to get back into it, don’t hesitate to comment below!

And if you are suffering from a creative block instead, check out my article on the subject here.

4 thoughts on “How to Get Back into Creating After a Long Break

  1. Thank you for this. I lost access to my studio space when the pandemic hit, and stopped working on a film project I had been in production for for almost a year. I had to rewrite everything and start from the beginning, scrap the things I’d built & try to work from home. And then I stopped completely, because I had to take over financially supporting my family…then went through a divorce…depression…health issues… etc. I was so close to being done, but stopped before I could cross the finish line & now it seems like the distance to the end has multiplied tenfold.

    I’m finally in a position to be getting back to this project, and had extended its deadline which is now suddenly approaching. I’ve started a bunch of unrelated projects when inspiration hits, but know that it’s just me procrastinating, which makes me feel guilty and stop doing anything creative. I keep sitting down to start again, expecting myself to churn out work like a machine. But I’m a person, and I’m not the same person I was a year ago or even 2 months ago. I’m so burnt out, but not being able to finish this project has made my inner voice extremely harsh and unforgiving.

    Your article is reminding me to be patient, be kind with myself, and to try and approach this old work with fresh eyes. I hope that I can finish it, but I also want to accept that everything I’ve been through this year is more than enough reason to be understanding of myself if I cannot do what I set out to do. That it’s okay for the person I am now to be unable to accomplish what the person I was before would have. Thanks.

    1. Hi Adrian, thank you for your message. I’m sorry to see that last year was so difficult for you, but I’m happy that you are slowly going back up. Good luck with going back to your project, take it one day at a time and as you say, be kind to yourself 🙂

  2. Thank you for this post. It’s April 2021 and my toddler will be enrolled in daycare along with his preschool brother. Now that I finally get to shed being a full time mom, I’m eager to do something I have some mastery over. I see an oil painting class at the local art school. But the anxiety is real (what about finances, setup/breakdown time commitment, if the kids need me because they’re sick, what if I get a job offer, what if I turn out to be allergic to linseed oil, what if…). Plus it’s been decades since I oil painted. Trying to be gentle with myself and this article helped.

    1. Hi Susan, thank you for your comment! I’m really glad my article helped you, I’m really excited that you are going to start painting again! There will be an article posted this week about specifically parenting, and how to keep creating after having kids. I think it might help you too 🙂

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