All posts by Abigail Cole

With spring around the corner for a new year, I begin to think about the rhythms of life gently shifting gears and things that might have been dormant for a little while, gradually waking up again. As I’m writing, spring is not quite here yet with all the lively energies awakened, it’s more that things are stirring, and that it feels like a time of transition. I often used to find these transition points a little unsettling. During the transition into spring, I can feel a restlessness that manifests in the smallest of day-to-day things, like not knowing what to wear from one day to the next (coat or no coat!?). In the autumn, there is the urge to get cosy and snuggle down, yet it’s such a busy time of year with everyone back to school and the rush into the festive season… but over many years of becoming more aware of this unsettled feeling that can accompany the cycles of seasonal change, I’ve slowly learned to think about the energy in a different way and realise that for me, it can also be useful to draw from my experience of the different cycles within the sphere of creativity, and the things I might do between projects, or at any given point in a creative cycle. There is often an overlap, and practical things, tools, strategies, little actions… that help ease or distract from that unsettled feeling that can arise at times of transition. 

Beginning, middle and end…

There are so many different phases within any given creative cycle, and sometimes there are lots of overlapping projects, each at a different stage in their own cycle, and all the projects are always situated within the larger, more external cycles such as the seasons of the year, or even just the rhythm of a day. It can be easy to get lost and a little disoriented when there are lots of projects and priorities coinciding at once, and I often find it useful to zoom out and remember that there is always, quite simply, the beginning, middle and the end…

Each phase has a distinct energy and often there are both things to enjoy as well as challenges. The beginning can be filled with excitement, but also impatience as it can take some time to gather materials, make preparations and lay the foundations. The middle can be absorbing and full of unexpected ideas emerging, experimentation, and the chance to settle into creative flow, but it can also be sticky, especially if it is taking a while for the project to resemble the original vision, and easy to lose momentum as the end still feels far away… and the end can be exhilarating as everything comes together, and a sense of pride and renewed excitement is emerging but it can also be tricky knowing when to stop and there are decisions to be made about final details, and possibly quite fiddly if there are more intricate and delicate finishing details to add.

There are a few things I’ve found useful to remember and handy to apply in other areas of life too:

Beginning – make the most of the excitement, the flow, the energy – just start, start small OR big, and don’t worry about things like finding a routine, getting the house in order, it’s easier to keep the motivation going if something is already started, however small. Enjoy the feelings of excitement, allow some mess, craft on your lap in front of the telly, or immediately after dinner before doing the washing up if you need to!

Middle – if things are feeling a little sticky, have a plan! A bit of routine and structure might help at this point, especially with quietening and bypassing the inner critic, even if it means simply setting the intention to commit to five minutes a day, or half an hour a week on your project. It might be enough to set the intention and know that you’ll find the time at some point in your day or week, but if it’s still tricky to stick at it, maybe plan it into your day or week and put it in your calendar. Be pleased if you managed to show up, and do a few steps, stitches or strokes, trying not to think too much about the end goal…

Finishing a project – as the project is drawing near completion and it’s starting to resemble your original vision, at this point energy and motivation often re-appear in abundance! It might be that you want to give yourself a little extra time for adding the details, seeing it all come together – let people around you know as well, if need be. It can be extra satisfying to visualise where your project will live once it is completed, and maybe take some beautiful pictures. It’s important, I think, to also take the time to reflect and feel proud, and enjoy and appreciate our efforts… it can be so tempting to move on to the next thing but part of the pleasure of creating is the satisfaction at the end of having created something from nothing and expressed whatever was in our imagination.

The moments in between

Whilst these beginning, middle and end points can be clear to visualise in connection to particular projects, there are often deeper cycles at play too. There are times when we’re not feeling particularly inspired, creative or energised – deeply fallow times – and also times where our energies are somewhere in the middle, between the fallow state and more inspired times.  

Even though it can often feel like I’ll never be able to create anything again, and strangely be able to forget everything I’ve ever made before, I personally find the fallow times useful, if I can recognise that I’m in such a phase. Allowing creative energies to lie dormant for a bit, gives the space to plant new seeds and let surprising ideas take root.

During fallow times: rest, and allow as many guilt-free moments of doing nothing goal, obligation or project related as realistically possible. Read books, magazines. Go for walks outside. Maybe save up clippings or postcards, or magazine cuttings (with no need to artfully arrange them!) even if you don’t know why… visit galleries, sit in a café by yourself and people-watch… cocoon, enjoy pots of tea and afternoons snuggling on the sofa in a sunny spot with a book, children or pets.

Mend, tend, fix, stitch… when our children were little and before life got busy, we had a ‘broken box’ for toys and household things that we loved that were broken and we would deliberately set time aside occasionally to mend them. I have to confess that once the children started school, the broken box was forgotten sometime into those years and so too our regular habit of mending. It’s not that we never fixed anything ever, just that we’d sort of lost the awareness and pride we once took in slowing down enough to regularly tend to our broken things as a way of life… but, after a recent spell of fixing, and as I was sewing a torn curtain, I remembered how soothing it can be to spend a while tending and mending. It’s so satisfying to see something restored, usually without having to spend a lot of money, or buy something new that might also need replacing again before too long. And it feels creative too. It’s not quite the same as creating something new that didn’t exist before – but almost! It’s a kind of low-key creative act that usually doesn’t require a big game-plan (although some mending projects can be complicated!) and is nourishing in a similar way.

It’s also true of decluttering, which I also sporadically enjoy between projects, often at transition points just before the spring and autumn. 

During creative energy times: don’t worry if you suddenly don’t have time to read books, sit in cafes or save magazine clippings! Just go with the flow 😊 don’t set time limits, if life permits…

These times can feel active, busy, engaged, outputting a lot – this stage seems to have a lifeforce of its own… It can feel quite effortless to create and produce, you can lose track of time, and emerge to look back and wonder where all those creations came from!

And then there are the spaces betwixt and between as well – where, you might not exactly be on fire, creatively speaking, but it’s not a fallow stage either. You might be waiting for inspiration, like waiting for spring to finally arrive, and sense that something is just around the corner…

For the times betwixt & between: research, journal, gather supplies, talk to others about your ideas (if they are ready to be shared), connect, tinker, potter, jump between ideas and projects if you want or need to or just feel like it – you can circle back later when feeling more energised, and in the zone, creatively speaking. A few minutes here and there on projects will do…

This, sometimes delicate, in-between time can also be the beginning before the actual beginning. It might come at the end of a project, but is often the seed of the next idea; there is always something that has gone before the actual beginning of a project and it often started somewhere in the betwixt & between!

Comfort and calm through embracing the cycles

Usually, there is no predetermined timescale to these cycles. They might not all be of equal length, and you might not be able to predict them either! It’s not necessarily the case that a fallow period follows the completion of one creative project… you might move on to the next and the next. A fallow period might strike in any season, be it during the winter months when you want to cocoon, or the summer days when you want to take it easy – or both, or perhaps you might have a creatively fallow period over the course of several seasonal cycles! Whenever it happens, it can be a chance for deep rest and take the pressure off of having to be on the go all the time.

For me, the key is in finding ways to enjoy and embrace the energies of each cycle and allow them to inform daily life outside of my projects too. When I know where to look, during each stage of a cycle, including the occasionally-unsettling transition points, there are always jewels and gems of inspiration and practical things that help me to stay in the moment… I hope the energies of spring are inspiring new beginnings and seeds of creativity within your own projects too, and wishing you many warm days happily crafting! 

© 2024 Abigail Cole

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