If you are having a hard time finding your creative flow these days, you are in good company.
When 2020 started, the Philly-based neo-soul group Kindred the Family Soul was happy at work on its seventh album. Then the pandemic hit, followed by America’s racial reckoning, and the most contentious presidential election in modern history. Things were so overwhelming, Kindred’s get-up-and-go exited stage left.
“The creativity bug... She just wasn’t there,” said Aja Graydon-Dantzler half of the married, chart-topping duo. “Creativity flows when we aren’t thinking about [it]. But when the pandemic hit, all we did was think about it. When will we go back to work? How long can we sustain ourselves without working? Should we get a small business loan? All of these heavy things started going down. We weren’t in a space where we could have fun. I just couldn’t create.”
What does it take to feel creative?
If you’re also feeling like you’re in a rut, there’s good reason for it.
“When this pandemic first happened, it was beyond our conception. There were feelings of anxiety, fear, and doom and there was so much stress we were all focusing on how to survive,” said Heather Hersh, a clinical psychologist and founder of Philly-based consulting firm Thrive Well-Being.
“We were living from our sympathetic nervous system that controls our fight-or-flight response, so tapping into our joy and creative energy just wasn’t happening.” To be creative, our parasympathetic nervous systems need to be in balance, Hersh said. “In our parasympathetic state, we are relaxed and our thinking becomes open and flexible,” Hersh said.
Natalie Nixon, founder of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work, says creativity comes when you toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems and produce something of value.
During the pandemic, we have to find wonder in the space we have, and structure, which is the rigor we need to be creative, since we’ve lost so much of our daily routine. The key is building new rituals that help us get there.
Nixon’s pandemic ritual is this: She’s in bed every night by 10 p.m. so she can rise each morning at 6 a.m. In those early-morning hours, Nixon says, she meditates and spends 10 to 15 minutes stretching. “This time I take to center opens up space for new possibilities,” Nixon said.
Graydon-Dantzler and her husband, Fatim, released Kindred’s latest single, “Best Things” in November. What did she do to get her creative juices flowing again? She enrolled in three online classes at Howard University about Black cultural and political history. “I spent a lot of time studying and reading, and it took me out of the matrix,” Graydon-Dantzler said. “I got a chance to learn just for the sake of learning and I was able to step back, come back, and create.”
We asked local artists about staying creative. The struggle is real, they all agreed: Everyone interviewed went months without making anything. But the moment they decided to stop focusing on fear of the unknown and start a new habit — whether it was a daily prayer or practicing an instrument — they started to get out of their ruts and create again.
Here’s what worked for them:
Make your space beautiful
Make a ritual out of creative research
Go for a walk
Start your day with reflection
Learn one new thing every day
Learn a new skill
Follow your gut
Send inspiration to someone you appreciate
Emily Goodman, founder of Philadelphia-based Creative Intelligence Group
Heather Hersh, clinical psychologist and founder of Philly-based consulting firm Thrive Well-Being
Natalie Nixon, founder of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash the Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work