Entrepreneurship: After The Big

Today’s my birthday. It’s a quiet sort of birthday, a bit of an anticlimactic one after months of heady and exhausting action. And instead of going out to a bar with friends, or a fancy dinner like we might normally do, we’re sneaking away for a few stolen hours of quiet in the mountains. It’s been interesting to remind myself that this is good too. It’s a different kind of good than getting drunk with fifteen of my dearest on juleps in New York City when I turned 24, or fancy dinner where we talked about the big year to come last year. But it’s still damn good. Quietly good. Which is about where my life is right now.

It’s strange, because the beginning of the year was so huge that I’m still getting used to trudging through the period of quiet after the (lovely) storm. When I got home from the book tour, of course I knew I needed to sleep for a week, and then catch up for, well, about a month. But then I had plans and projects! I figured I’d be back on my feet in five seconds, ready to knock out the next thing. (Have I mentioned that my work life tends to be lived at full tilt, in a super productive, never resting enough, mode?) Well, it turns out not so fast. First, life had other things in store. We were moving. I had business problems I had to solve. Nothing was going to happen right this second, APPARENTLY. The spring shaped up to be a very Slow And Steady Wins The Race around here, (which is not the kind of season that I’m naturally good at).

But then there was also my mind. It turns out it wasn’t ready to dive into something big again right away. I would give it jobs to do, and it would just sit and stare and the screen, tapping its toe, thinking about nothing in particular.

I want to say that all this was easy for me, and I sorted it out right away, and I have a pat and wise solution for times when you are going through the same thing. But I’ve got nothing. (Literally nothing. I just had to pull myself back from staring out the window a second ago.)

And it’s been emotionally tough for me. I expected to have some sort of meltdown last spring when I finished writing the book, and it never came. I thought, somehow, I’d been spared. But it turns out that when I was really done with the book—when I’d finished promoting it, I’d sent it out into the world, and I knew it was going to do very well without my help—that’s when the hard part came. And the hard part wasn’t a crying meltdown (something I would have had an easier time dealing with). The hard part was my brain deciding to take a break, whether I wanted it to or not. My brain took off, leaving me bored and a little lonely.

And it’s funny to feel bored and a little lonely when everything is going so well: the book is selling far better than I ever expected (thank you, all of you), we’re publishing work on APW that I’ve never been prouder of, and I’m lucky enough have plenty of future projects to tackle whenever I’m ready. But yet. Apparently I’m not ready. Apparently my brain wants to kick dirt for a bit. It wants to get through this move. It wants me to get my business-y ducks in a row (business ducks are adorable by the way, because they wear bow ties). It actually wants to be bored… no matter how much I hate it. And for all that I want to panic and worry that if my creative spark leaves the building EVEN FOR A MINUTE, it might never come back. My creative spark is completely determined to go kick some dirt and think things over. It says it will come back when it’s good and ready, and that I don’t get a vote. (Rude!)

So the best I can do is throw this out to the rest of you creative types. What does your downtime between projects look like? How to you remind yourself that you can’t push the creative spark when it needs to take a break? And how do you refill the well? How do you deal with a creative change of plans? Go!

PS. This is a brilliant time to watch, or re-watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity. It’s nice to be reminded that my Genius is just taking a nap right now, and there isn’t much I can do about it. (Except nudge at it with my toe. Though to be fair, it totally bites.)

Photo: Me with one of my advance copies of my book, by One Love Photo

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  • Happy Birthday!!

    PS Whenever I am creatively dry, I go back and review, relisten, and reread the classics…or sleep. Sleep and exercise seem to do remarkable things for my brain.

  • Victwa

    I think big projects are kind of like giving birth– all this lead-up, anticipation, preparation, work, work, work, and then the big event! And while I’m in the midst of the pregnancy part of it, one of the things people talk a lot about is post-partum depression, or even just let-down that happens, even if it doesn’t develop into serious PPD. Clearly birth is a more physical experience, and your body recovers from having all these hormones and such, and it seems very different from a big creative project… but I’m fairly convinced that big creative projects need some down time after them to let you and your creativeness recover.

    I’m also re-reading Gail Sher’s “The Intuitive Writer” and one of the quotes I read recently seems somewhat apropos: “A gap allows for essential me. (Anything produced without a gap or pause beforehand is by definition aggressive.) We need space to balance our fears so that we can hear them with our imagining ear. Without this space (a big wide gap to move around, stretch, figure things out), whatever we fear will show up in our writing as a blind spot.”

    You are moving around, stretching, figuring things out, recovering.

    • meg

      Mmmmm. That’s a brillant quote. I’ve been thinking about it like sending a kid off to college, but it’s probably a bit like birth as well.

    • “A gap allows for essential me.”


  • Lauren

    Happy Birthday! Enjoy the mountains :)

  • Happy birthday, Meg! We’re all better having you (and your fantastic work) in our lives. Here’s to you!

    • Yes, thank you, Meg! Your work and the APW community helped me be at this place (engaged) for all the right reasons. Thank you so much for creating this community of light :) And Happy Birthday!!! May this next year be full of the light you’ve shared with us!

      …I take long showers, drink wine while reading mags with my sister, curl up with my fiancé to watch a show, or just take a walk to observe the city :)

  • Kate

    First, Happy Birthday!

    I’m not exactly a creative type, at least in the conventional sense (law student), so there is not a ton I can say. Usually my school-imposed deadlines are what get me to work. I think regardless of where one’s deadlines come from though, taking breaks is essential. No matter what.

    Also, going to the mountains sounds exactly perfect.

  • Stephanie B

    As a music major I can totally sympathize. Sometimes my brain would rather do anything than be productive or creative after I’ve completed a large assignment or performance. Its frustrating when you want to get things done but your brain would rather you sit staring at a wall.

    My contemporary guitar teacher has had me meditating recently for 10 minutes before I try to work. Clearing out all the excess thoughts really helps. In a way it’s like: why would you try to write an essay on a paper that has already been written on? By meditating you erase all those words and thoughts so you can channel the ones you really want. For the longest time I had snippets, pieces of songs, but just could not focus to finish them. After some time of meditating before I sat down to work, I felt ready.

    Last semester I encountered the same problem and I actually took a break. I focused my creative energy into creative writing and poetry. I still wrote music, but exploring another creative realm helped my gears start turning again. It made me excited to do music again because after doing so many music assignments because I had to, my brain decided it was tired of working like that. Changing it up really helped, as well as meditating. Hopefully both or either one will help you!

  • Not Sarah

    Happy Birthday, Meg!

    I’m not really much of a creative type, but my brain definitely doesn’t know how to deal with the lulls either. I had a quiet phase at work last year where we were between projects and it just drove me NUTS. We finally have something now and it’s awesome and was totally worth the wait, but that quiet phase last year sucked. I think I spent a lot of time reading the internet? But I was so the opposite of relaxed. I am way better at relaxing when I am crazy busy.

  • Kari

    Happy Birthday!

    I have felt eerily similar to what you are describing since our wedding last September. “My brain took off, leaving me bored and a little lonely.” And, like you, life really is good.

    I stayed in the job I had through the wedding planning, but I changed offices accompanied with my cross-country move after the wedding and a 6-month engagement and cross-country wedding planning. I am still getting good feedback about my performance at work, and I like my husband and so many things about our life together. But there’s still the boredom and loneliness that creep in around the edges. And very little spunk at work. For me, life is starting to round out again with new relationships with new friends in this new place. And, I get to travel back to my old home to see friends every few months, which really helps. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and the feelings don’t subside when you tell them to.

    Thanks, Meg, for your honest thoughts. They blessed me this morning.

    • Oh, Kari, I can relate so very much to what you are saying here. I should have just hit “exactly” but it didn’t seem like enough of a YES. That’s all, just so glad I’m not alone.

  • Happy birthday!

    When I’m dry, I spend a lot of time reading, researching, and walking. And when I’m dry and on a deadline, I spend a lot of time frantically cleaning in an effort to at least try to be productive.

    • Happy birthday Meg!

      And yeah, that’s also what I do when my brain refuses to function. I organize EVERYTHING. At least I feel productive, and my desk is neater at the end of the day.

    • Nothing like getting on your hands and knees and making that floor shine!

  • Happy Birthday Meg. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to Entrepreneurship posts. Just like you do with weddings, you talk about the hard stuff as well.

    People imagine self-employment (and blogging especially) is all drinking lattes and meeting friends with babies during the day. But actually, it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of self-doubt, and a decent amount of writers’ block, as you say.

    You need the down time right now. Wallow in it for a bit. That’s the only advice I can give you. Keep turning up and Do The Work (who did I learn that from?), but stick the stuff the -needs- to be done. The creative stuff with likely come once your mind is no longer clogged up with your Business To Do List. (which will never be empty, I know, but it at least might get a little more manageable).

  • Two thoughts from my improv teacher: 1) stay with the process. What you feel is what you feel, so don’t try to change it. Instead, observe yourself kindly and see what happens from there. 2) Creativity is like a cat (my teacher was the hippie type, can you tell? :D) You can’t *make* it do anything. Sometimes you just have to arrange your life to allow for it and wait patiently for it to come sidling into the room, into the corner of your eye again.

    Hope you’re having a lovely birthday. Enjoy the sunshine!

    • meg

      Mmm. I know, right? Finally sunshine. I’m going to do very little work today. It seems the wisest thing to do.

  • Claire
  • For me, when I hit a break that I don’t know what to do with, I turn my motivation and my can’t-stop-moving-or-I’ll-get-really-bored-ness towards something else. Creative entrepreneurial Jesse doesn’t know what to do with my time, fine, I’ll give my time to active exercise Jesse, or learning to cook Jesse or social Jesse (which is always funny when my friends who rarely see me start getting calls and I end up booking four catching-up dates in a week).
    Once all the other Jesse’s start making up for the time they lost, the creative part of me begins to slowly wake up and get ideas and get excited again.

    Also, I like this way of thinking about it in principle, but written out it is a little crazy, multiple personality, neurotic-ish…oh well

    My advice to you, take the break your brain is forcing on you, but you don’t have to be bored, you just have to fill your time with things that don’t require you to use so much creative brain. Reading your blog for a couple years now, I am going to go ahead and guarantee that you are in no danger of your creative spark not coming back.

    • meg

      Oh, I think sometimes you DO have to be bored. That getting yourself busy doing something else might mean you miss the thing you really need. Stillness is not the enemy, right? (It just feels like it.)

      • But there is a huge difference between being still and being bored. I think bored implies a frustration with the situation. Taking time to relax, to do the basics and to zone out are all really awesome. When I am bored, restless, frustrated with the situation, then I think it is absolutely time to do something else, even if that something else is consciously deciding to do nothing but read trashy magazines today. I think the conscious decision to do whatever I am doing makes the difference for me between bored and still.
        No that everyone works the same way of course, but for me the boredom and the frustration eases when I feel that I am in control of the situation.

        • EM

          I totally agree. Sometimes, when I’m writing and really stuck with how to just punch through the wall, I invoke the 10 minute rule. If it’s about boredom, forcing myself into 10 full minutes of concerted effort with something is enough to get me over the hump. If it’s about needing stillness, I’ll still be having trouble focusing after 10 minutes, and it’s time to go for a run or read a book or kick some dirt.

  • Laurel

    Happy birthday! I’m an academic, not a creative type, but in some ways it’s the same thing: you have to have ideas and write them down and sometimes, you get something big done and then you just need a break. It’s part of the cycle. It’ll come back. Creative work is tiring; it’s fun, but it’s also labor, and most people need to rest after a big push.

    Also, the research on writing and creativity says that people who are assigned to write for a set amount of time every day have more ideas than people who only write once they get ideas: the process of writing seems to stimulate ideas on its own. Someday I’ll pay attention to the research. Maybe today!

  • Hmm I had this very same thing recently. I had work to do – but instead of doing it – I just sat at the computer … staring….. and couldn’t get any of it done! I was busy – but I was making NO progress. It was sooo frustrating. And as a result I just sat at my computer longer, and longer…. late into the night. (Not the answer to being unproductive, by the way.) So finally I gave in and did some other things. I started to hit the gym again, and sleep, and got out and spent time with loved ones and shot things just for me, just for fun. And boom! There it was – productivity and excitement were back and suddenly I was on the horse again. Thank goodness. Because, like you, I didn’t do well when I wasn’t ‘on it’. Enjoy your down time in the mountains. Soak in the quiet and you’ll be back at it in no time. I promise.

  • My downtime is usually proportional to the size of the project, frankly. And in between, I make lots of notes of things that seem vaguely interesting to return to, and spend time working in different media — for example, when the big project was staged photography, afterwards I spent time drawing from life (which keeps the artist muscles exercised but doesn’t require much in terms of artistic decisions) or shooting in a very random, uncontrolled way with a toy camera that didn’t allow me control and which had no goal to produce anything I would need to show anyone. No pressure doodling, in effect.

    Of course, since I also design professionally, there is no real option to have crash time between projects unless I want to take a pay cut. There if I’m feeling tapped out, the biggest thing that helps is to really jack up my self-care: more exercise, doing goofy projects with the kids, more dessert, more sleep….

    • meg

      Ha. Yeah. Well, obviously I can’t take a break creatively, exactly since I run APW (and not only have to run it editorially, but write for it). And in some sense, that’s probably slowing down the recovery process, because I can only take a break from the REALLY big stuff, not the small day to day stuff. And really I should just go lie on a beach somewhere for two weeks :)

      • I think you should probably go lie on a beach for two weeks too. But, in lieu of that, a weekend of quiet in the mountains would be good. And I’m all for meditation in whatever form you need it. And of course exercise, but you already do that.
        One thing my writing thesis professor told me for writer’s block (although I’m not sure this is the same thing) is to sit and copy out passages of your favorite book. Begin feeling language from someone else’s perspective (and peer editing is not the same thing at all). you should also read something escapist.

        And happy birthday!! I’m so glad to have you in my life (if only virtually)!

  • mimi

    happy birthday meg! i’m not a creative type, but i think this applies to anyone: take a break and relax. go for long walks. work out. plan your new garden. explore nature and enjoy spring. we have a cabin in northern michigan and just going up there for a couple days and sitting outside, relaxing, reading, drinking wine, etc, is amazingly refreshing.

    oh and “ducks in bow ties” is hilarious.

  • Grace

    I got a lot out of the book “War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield. He covers the drudgery of just getting creative work done…every day. I even apply it to my (patently uncreative) day job when I’m just not feeling it. Definitely check it out.

    PS – I just moved (ok 7 months ago) from Oakland to Newark. Oakland is wonderful and I hope you end up loving it as much as I did. Ping me if you need suggestions of restaurants, coffeeshops, cool people or whatever.

  • Jo

    Excellent topic and happy birthday!
    As a creative professional working for myself, my approach is to try to take a long-view look at success and productivity. Between our savings and my partner’s salary, we are able to budget on a yearly manner. This allows me to bring in $ in waves while having downtime to recoup creatively. To keep feeling emotionally productive and successful in periods where i’m lagging in my career productivity, I get ahead of household chores or social commitments. And then, sometimes, I don’t do either and just lurk on APW…

  • After I finished my thesis for grad school, I was tapped out. I couldn’t get motivation to get anything going — workout, apply for jobs, see friends. It was really tough and in a lot of ways feel like I wasted a summer being a loaf. But my brain and my body needed that apparently. So don’t fight it, the creativity and motivation will return.

    And in the meantime, try to get other creative juices flowing than the ones you normally use for A Practical Wedding. Go to museums, go listen to some music, paint, draw, sew, embroider, etc. (even if you aren’t good at any one of those particular things). Sometimes stimulating other creative parts of the brain other than the ones we need to use for work can help wake those work parts back up.

    • Oh and I forgot to add, a big happy birthday!

    • This is exactly what I was going to suggest. Do something creative but uses a different part of your brain. Knit. Make jam. Cook elaborate meals. Play the piano. That way you’re still doing and creating, but the ‘can’t word anymore’ part of your brain gets a break.

  • Lturtle

    When I am stuck, especially creatively, that’s usually my brain telling me to walk away. Step back from whatever I am trying to work on and give it a rest. I always have multiple projects going though. If I need a break from writing, I will sew. If I need a break from sewing, I bake. If I need a break from cooking, I spend more time in the garden or paint or sometimes just hang out in the sunshine with my kid.
    The other thing that helps me is to seek out inspiration. If I am stuck with writing I will start reading more from the writers I admire, and seek out new ones. That, combined with walking away for a bit, seems to do the trick.

    Also, I hope you are having a very (quietly) happy birthday. :)

    • I agree! I always find shifting mediums helps me. And… long walks in the Sunshine and long soaks in the bathtub!

      Cheers to Quiet Birthdays!

  • I remember reading an article a while back about how vital rest days are to workout routines. Some people push themselves so hard every day and think that taking a day off is like taking a step backwards, when in reality it’s important to give your muscles time to recover so they can perform at their best when you are working them. I think your brain is forcing you to do the same, and I think it’s oh so vital to the process. Your creativity won’t disappear. Your brain just needs time to generate some energy so that you can tap that creativity.

    When I have those down times I read, I watch some TV and I spend hours perusing blogs and photos online. Productive me might think those things would get in the way of getting stuff done, but idle me loves doing them. So I think they’re right for my resting and replenishing periods.

  • Happy Birthday!

    I adore that talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. It may be one of my favorite TED talks. I am just beginning to work on cultivating my creativity but I do know from past events I’ve thrown I usually need down time afterward to process and just not be putting on that event. Another writer whose podcasts I follow said that whenever she finishes a book or passes a huge deadline her brain tends to shut down and force her to take a break. It seems this brain forcing a break on us is normal. :) Perhaps another method of our bodies telling us what they need.

  • Happy happy birthday Meg.

    I know exactly what you’re going through as I’m having a similar pre-wedding season malaise. For me it’s just been great to nurture my self I guess. I’ve been reading books & watching movies. Stuff that I really enjoy and haven’t had the time to do in years. I’ve been taking naps. It’s been wonderful. The creative energy does come back, it just needs a rest for awhile – and a chance to figure out what direction it’s taking. Yes?

    Hope you’re having a lovely time. xx

  • Airplane Rachel

    Woo to the hoo! Happy Birthday MEG! Mine was yesterday! Something about those folks with April birthdays… :)

    I don’t have much for advice but for some reason while reading this I was reminded a lot of your trapeze-learning post. When I try to determine why, this is what I come up with, based on how I remember that post and what I was thinking at the time. It seems the theme of said post was about broadening your horizons, embracing the feeling of being uncomfortable in a new situation and learning from it.

    Do something new and come back later. :) Something is probably knocking on the door waiting for you to notice it.

  • Tamara

    Yippie, first time commenting, even though i’m a long-time reader! Anyhoo: Like others have said, i find it healing to focus on something else for a while and let the creative side of my brain *rest* — you’re moving, so start thinking about painting walls, buying & replenishing some thrift store furniture; mosaic tiling your dining room table; be creative in your house! Flex your muscles in the kitchen: i have a fine arts degree but also a law degree. when i was in law school, i didn’t have time to fully invest myself in a new painting or texile piece, but i would stay up late making elaborate desserts that i would then take to school and pawn off on people; this was my creative outlet for several years & it was really rewarding. Also, take up some NEW SPORTS: now, 5 years out of law school, i sometimes still go months and months without painting or sewing and instead invest (all of) my energy and drive into mountain biking and rock climbing. creativity = expression, and that can happen in lots of different avenues, not just traditional artistic or written mediums. Finally, maintain a journal or sketch book, and when little ideas flitter through your head, jot them down and revisit them once you are motivated and able. My favorite painting professor always told us to EXTERNALIZE. our brains can only hold so many thoughts at once; get one out, there’s room for another. And finally, repeat like a mantra that your intelligence and creativity is not solely defined by the volume of product created. and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! i looove mountains, yay for you. xoxo – TM

    • Great idea! Nothing like a move to get the Creative Juices flowing. The one part I LOVE about moving is being forced to rearrange your furniture, hang your art-work and spend your energy on making it feel like HOME. (Since graduating High School 15 years ago, I’ve made 13 different places my HOME…so I’ve experienced this chance to be creative many, many times).

  • I just saw an interview with Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. He talked about how our most creative inspirations come when we’re relaxed. His point was that you have to put in the work to get to that point but once you’ve done that, the best thing you can do for your creativity is to take a break and let your brain relax. Sounds like your brain is ready to do just that. You never know – this little mental break might turn out to be one of your most creative periods!

  • Happy Birthday Meg! Your brain will get there. Just be patient! Right? Somehow?!

  • carrie

    Happy birthday, Meg! I’m pretty good at surrendering to the brain vacations, which is funny, because I’m impatient with so many other things. Enjoy your birthday and your vacay…well, at least don’t panic. :-)

  • SarahCruz

    Oh, Meg. First, Happy Birthday!
    Second, I’m not really a creative, so I don’t have too much to offer on this issue.

    Third, I wish we were friends IRL because I would totally invite you to come down to my place for the weekend and walk in the redwoods or along the cliffs and just breathe in some saltwater-y air (seriously, I do this for my ladies who are in grad school and all burnt out, and it’s aweseome!). And maybe I would tell you about my marriage, which is beautiful and difficult, as all good things are, and maybe through the listening and the sea-watching, something would settle in your unconcious. Then later, maybe when you were packing or unpacking, or painting or sanding, or standing in your new garden enjoying the sunshine, the spark would fire and all the stories that you’d poured in from all the different places you gather them would suddenly snap into formation and add up to The Next Big Thing.

    You must have someplace that you can go, that’s not too far but worlds away, right? Or maybe the move will be just the palate cleanser you need! The East Bay is beautiful this time of year!!

    Sending you lots of love and patience.

  • Amy

    I recently attended an excellent talk by Jonah Lehrer where he spoke about creativity and boredom and the relationship between the two, among other things. He has a new book out called Imagine: How Creativity Works that sounds fascinating. Not a solution to your situation, but maybe an interesting diversion!

  • efletch

    Happy Birthday!
    Something my lovely fiance reminded me of the other day was that it’s okay to relax and not feel guilty about it. I tend to panic and get a guilt complex if I’m not feeling productive, but sometimes my brain just shuts off. The one thing that I do that works pretty well is I go to a place that encourages relaxation somewhere that there is nothing for me to work on. I get away from my desk, and my kitchen table littered in craft projects and go to the beach or to the park. Sometimes I take a book, but usually I find myself just staring into space. I think we place a lot of self worth on how efficient or productive we are, and we forget that we need space and time to refuel.
    I try to think of it like gardening, you won’t grow flowers unless you plant seeds and then give them time and room to grown. Sometimes the most beautiful plants are the ones that hibernate through the winter. I hope you have a fantastic time at the mountain!

    • HH

      Oh. Oh, this:

      Sometimes the most beautiful plants are the ones that hibernate through the winter.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    As a fellow creatively-thrives-when-it’s-busy person, I get through my “lull’ phases by trying not to give myself artificial deadlines, like “I must be creative by May 15th.” Because, I find the pressure to be smart and interesting and creative is actually a counterproductive thing. Generally, I just keep going with what I’m working on, being content with its averageness, and I know that someday the spark will hit, and I’ll be back in busypressureville. During boringville episodes, I also try to work reasonable hours so that I can clean my apartment, eat non-takeout food, and spend meaningful time with my husband. I dunno, i just feel like letting myself be dull for a while is totally ok, because I know myself well enough to know that the fun-creative phase wasn’t a phase, it’s just not sustainable day in and day out. But everyone’s different.

  • Heather L

    Another academic (PhD student) speaking up here! I find I have the same issue-I’ll finish things and just need to tune out by reading or playing video games for awhile. Of course, this can be a problem because in academia, there are always things waiting to be done! I’m actually having this problem right now: my brain wants to take a break because I just finished classes, forever. Yay! But I have a grant due for my qualifying exam in two weeks, and I’ve been fighting with my self to write it, because my brain is seriously like “Internet! Forever…” Pretty sure when I’m done with this thing I’m gonna need a week off for naptime and margaritas.

    Anyway, it’ll come back to you. And Happy Birthday.

  • I feel like the downtime between projects is all a part of the process. It’s like winter…all sorts of living things go dormant in an attempt to rest up before breaking through new ground. You get to recover, and you get to figure out where you’re heading next. You might feel like not a whole lot is going on at the time, but in reality you’re mustering up the strength for the next thing on the list, for the rebirth, for the spring.

    Happy Birthday!

  • Meredith

    Happy Birthday!

    As mentioned above, I think a good break is in order here. This may not be analogous, but certainly similar. I’m a competitive gymnast and at the end of competition season, after the last big meet, I feel… a bit burned out, one could say. The months of preparation, competing, being ‘on’/ in the zone, while exciting and awesome, are also exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally exhausting as well. Every workout is important, even the easy ones. Every meet is important. Unscheduled rest days are few and far between. When it comes to our last and biggest meet of the season, we’re excited and prepared and confident but we’re also thinking “well thank god this is almost over because I need a freaking break.”

    After that meet, I often lose my motivation. I want to continue working out and improving but I just can’t get my mind or body to really buy in to it. So.. I take a break. If I feel like working out, I do, but I make sure I do FUN things. If I don’t feel like working out, I don’t. No big deal. I don’t beat myself up over it. But, I do get a lot accomplished in this off time.

    I set new goals (but don’t start working towards them). I explore other parts of my life that I enjoy, but hadn’t had time to really dedicate. Right now, that’s cooking. I just bought an awesome cookbook that I’m excited to work through and of course, farmers market season is rapidly approaching. It can be whatever you want though, as long as it’s fun and there’s no pressure.

    I find that in a few weeks, sometimes a month +, my mojo is back and I’m ready to start tackling those goals I made. I start setting timelines and plan workouts. I’m mentally and physically ready to throw myself back into training. You can’t be 100% all the time, it’s always leads to burnout and that probably goes for anything in life. Even if you love it.

  • first milk

    Bliss stations. Stick-kicking.

    Happy birthday, Meggy Moo.

    • meg


  • Well, being a happy corporate type who just popped out a baby and thus have neither free time nor energy for much beyond day to day maintenance, I have no advice at all, but do send happy birthday wishes.

  • I don’t have any sage advice but I wanted to wish you a very Happy Birthday!

  • I just watched Neil Pasricha’s TED talk about Awesome. It’s a good one for all kinds of situations.

    When I am between projects I fill my brain with other people’s stories. I watch lots and lots of good movies and TV shows, read lots of books that have nothing to do with anything I have ever worked on. I listen to This American Life and Radio Lab episodes while I walk on the beach. Most creative projects are about telling stories, and I get sick of my own stories after a bit. Hearing other stories has a way of reigniting the spark. It forces me to see connections that I might have otherwise missed.

  • Amanda L.

    Things I’m learning from “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer right now. 1. A relaxed state of mind brings about insight. 2. Conscious daydreaming can give us great ideas 3. Working with the right people is important. Specifically having a mix of both old and new people and working with people outside of your field but related to it. 4. Being an outsider can spark creativity, travel. 5. Bumping into people outside of your normal sphere allows for knowledge spillover. thats it so far! I haven’t finished reading the book yet but it’s definitely got me inspired and working again after a slump!

    • I just watched an interview with him on The Colbert Report yesterday! Very funny and timely to this conversation.


      And to Meg, Happy Birthday! I went through a big creative shift a few years ago after some major life changes: used to be a writer and editor, turned out I hated having to do it for my job, and picked up a camera for fun instead. Now I’m doing something else (totally not creative) for my job, and thinking about how to find some middle ground.

      Here’s to a break, a pause, and a deep breath.

  • Laura K.

    First of all…happy birthday! May the coming year be a good one.

    Secondly, I find that when I’m feeling spent, I need make up something in the kitchen, or I’ll wander around a bookstore and buy the first book that intrigues me. I think better when I read more.

  • A very Happy birthday!

    Sometimes it feels like a low-key celebration is necessary after spending quite a bit of time in planning and arranging and creating. One less thing to plan.

    When I’ve had bouts of lazy mind, I just sit down and absorb stuff. I’ll decide that my mind is like one of those old fashioned air bellows, where you’d have to open it to bring in air before you can bring your hands together and push it all out. Maybe our minds after producing so much, need to have that moment when the air comes rushing in, in the shape of new ideas, new experiences, watching movies, reading non-work-related books, talking to people, walking. We wouldn’t consider that a bellow is slacking about because it is bringing air in instead of pushing it out, it is just how a bellow works, without one you wouldn’t have the other. If it is hard to stomach the fact that nothing is in production, perhaps thinking that this is also creative work, but of a less showy kind. The respite is how the brain refuels and gets reinspired in order to get in a new cycle of creating production.

    Tomorrow is my birthday, and I’ll also have a non-celebration. It will be a birthday where I just get to enjoy the life that I have: I have the people I care about near me, life is good and I don’t need to go out of my way to make it special. It will be special because right now I’m at a good place and that is celebration enough for me.
    Although there WILL be cake.

  • Happy birthday to a fellow aries! Good luck with the recovery process from the book. Creative depletion is no joke. I find sometimes the best course of action is inaction. I don’t force the ideas out of myself, but instead I go outside, go to the gym, take a walk, nap, go to a museum, or take care of my window garden. I do whatever I think I need to get the respite, and possible inspiration, my brain and body are craving.

  • I like to try something new, even if it’s not productive. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll discover :)

  • I’m an artsy type, but also athletic, and I’m noticing some funny correlations between the two worlds lately. With weight-training, rest and recovery are an active and intentional process. It’s not just a day off – stuff is happening in your body while you aren’t lifting; in fact, you are building strength as you rest (as muscles regenerate and grow stronger) but not while you’re actually working out.

    Maybe art is the same: time off is necessary, productive, heathy, & good. Nonstop creating will burn us out. And, perhaps, as one steps away from the active creating process (or one’s brain simply decides to do that!), there is actually important transformational work taking place behind the scenes.

    Many happy returns of the day!

  • Happy birthday ! And I hope some creativity comes your way… not really a creative person myself, but maybe you need this time to recharge your batteries ?
    And maybe after a while it will all come flowing soon again….

  • Class of 1980

    What is this word “guilt” I keep seeing? I seem to have been born without any. ;)

    Well, Meg, you could take a page out of the “Quiet” book about introverts, because some of it applies to everyone. Creativity thrives in quiet and solitude. While extroverts like you are energized by lots of human contact, even they have an off switch. You just found yours.

    You know how modern corporations tend to believe that working in teams and groups makes people more creative and productive? Well, further research is proving that they couldn’t possibly be more wrong. There are more and more studies that show that creativity rises in the individual when they are alone and quiet, and declines within a group.

    Meg, you are the engine that drives APW, and though APW is meant to be a very social medium, the initial inspiration came from you alone. You just came off of an INTENSELY socially interactive period. You need peace and quiet to cultivate the fire of inspiration, and taking this time will only make your inspiration that much better. Once the fire is burning brightly again, you will be ready to spring into action and work with others that will help bring your private vision to life.

    No guilt required. Go to the mountains, grasshopper. ;)

    • Class of 1980



    2. I have to force myself to hike in remote locations to have gaps and downtime that I don’t feel guilty about.

    But lately… I’ve been obsessed with finding alignment. Not balance, necessarily – but alignment. I imagine walking on a tightrope in space – the forward movement keeps me stable. And the pauses – the gaps – are the moments when I lie down on the rope and feel the stars around me. And sometimes the rope is wobbly but lately I’ve been feeling secure enough to know I won’t fall. And that if I do I’ll just be floating around in space until I can find my footing again. That it’s not the end of the world.

    (P.S. I’m not on drugs.)

  • First, Happy Birthday Ms. Keene! You are one year more awesomer.

    I relish in the stillness. But then again I am a big nap-taker too. Both are like force-reboots for me… I wake up and my programs all run a little faster.

  • Emily

    As a dancer and a choreographer, I spend a lot of time working on and thinking about any dance I create. It’s easy to identify with you, Meg, when you say you thought your were done when the book was written. After the dance is done, we still rehearse, and then it gets performed. A lot (hopefully). When it’s over and done with, I like to organize and pack the dance and everything that came with it – notes, costumes, videos – away. I enjoy that process, because I allow myself to reminisce and walk down memory lane. I’ll pull out the video and watch it, but then it all gets neatly packed away, and I make space (mental and physical) for the next project. All of this lets me reflect on the long process and the product, and seems to let me recover and get ready (get ready, that’s key – not necessarily begin again right away) to move on.

    On another note – so excited that others are talking about Jonah Lehrer’s new book!

    Happy Birthday, Meg!

  • Liz

    Exercise! A good run, or go rock climbing, or whatever you like.

    And Happy Birthday!

  • I find that recharging through physical activity works well for me. After I finish a big project, I like to spend lots of time outdoors exercising the fun way.

    And, happy birthday to you!!

  • HeatherM

    Happy Birthday!
    I think that as a true writer, you alternate between living life, and then making work based off of your observations and experiences. There’s a natural cycle or rhythm to it. It’s almost like your brain’s way of keeping your feet on the ground, so you can continue to have great things to write about. And like you said, the projects will be there when you’re ready.

  • My downtime between projects is at first awkward. I sit around and think, “What is it I needed to be doing?” And then I might nag people unknowingly because I need to be entertained. And then this magical thing happens where I have space for the things I didn’t realize I didn’t have space for before. I walk my dog more. I go to yoga more. I schedule loooong phone dates with friends. I do minor project at home.

    And I just sit, sometimes in quiet. And sometimes just sit and listen to music, not like in the background. I just sit and listen to it, like I used to do as a teenager.

    Oh, and I read a ton. Lots and lots and lots. Sometimes I do nothing but sit around all day and read, kind of like I did as a kid.

    And then after a while I think, “OK, enough of this!” But then usually by then I have a different (and usually better) way of approaching The Next Big Thing.

    Happiest of birthdays to you Meg! Enjoy the quiet mountain air.

  • Katy

    Happy birthday, Meg! Thank you for being you!

  • Happy birthday. Let the mountains be your gift.

  • Meg, when I first saw that you were planning on napping a week and then jumping back into the game full-force, I remember reading that and pausing. And wondering. But given your super-hero abilities to accomplish stuff, I decided that you could indeed to that! :)

    I have no advice, but I will say I have encountered that same thing after major, intense long-term creative projects. Ones with very high emotional investment. The first time I encountered this feeling was right after my first experience self-producing a play I directed and wrote. I thought I would take a short break of a week or two then figure out how to tour the thing. Well…..it was more like a quiet season. A few months of rest.

    Somehow my body and soul just wasn’t ready to launch out into a new MAJOR endeavor. So I rested. And this has happened a couple times since after an intense period.

    I kind of look at it as seasonal. Things burst forth in spring and come into full development in summer. Then comes fall and winter, where one stage ends and then life is regenerated beneath the surface in subtle, quiet ways.

    But spring always comes again.

    Wishing you a quietly productive time of rest. Because quiet and rest is necessary after monumental accomplishments, and it is productive because it is a part of the creative life cycle.

    AND….happy birthday! I wish you all the best in this new year!

  • Kess

    Well, according to most of the world, I’m not really a ‘creative type’, but damn it! Engineering is creative!

    I’m going though this right now. I’m a student, but I’m working on a real industry project and I’m really not feeling it. I don’t want to poke around in the computer simulation program and find out what else I could possibly do to calculate those reaction forces. I don’t want to finish the paper and decide what calculations really need to be done.

    But of course, it’s due in three days…. and all I can do is surf the internet because I just can’t come up with anything else.

    When I don’t have as imminent of a deadline, I like to sleep. For me, lack of motivation often is directly correlated with lack of sleep (which, as a student is something that happens often). Only when I start getting enough sleep can I really start being creative again.

  • I have this problem, I’ll have ideas and go to start creating them and nothing, it takes me ages to do anything and once its done I feel nothing and I never feel nothing about anything.
    To get past it I sleep 1st, than I watch a sun rise or a storm roll in, eat amazing food on ridiculously long lunches, I read books and walk on the beach, ride a bike or hike. Then at some point I’ll feel a need to work to create, by brain stops holding back all the ideas and I can’t help but work, when I’m not working I’m thinking about it.
    I also feel likes its my brain trying to get me to find balance and remind me of all the other things I love.

  • Aims

    Happy birthday Meg!

    Also, thanks for writing an awesome article (or at least posting it) on your birthday. You’re hardcore lady.

  • Happy Bday, lady.

    I work wonders under pressure… but this whole hurry up and wait game that we have been playing for the past month has been KILLER on my motivational drive. We are just… waiting… for a time in which we can get shit rolling. And, yeah, I could be super motivated and get it done early, but, hi, I’m a procrastinator, too, oh, look, trees! Suffice to say, I just can’t it up for planning. I’ve got nothin’… only my brain isn’t kicking dirt, it’s whining because it is worrying about all this shit I could be doing but won’t, because, look, trees!

  • Alexandra Jackson-Hughes

    I hate to say it – but I often don’t get the opportunity for down time between projects.

    As an Architect, a big project goes out, often late at night, you then get up the next day to start on the next project. A very practical way to deal with this is to

    Do The Filing. . . . start slow. . .set up the folders on the new job, file away old papers from the last job etc.

    Next step – research into precedents that match your brief’s criteria or styles that you are keen on etc etc. Projects completed by your peers – very good inspiration.

    Then everyone involved on the job, sits down and brainstorms solutions / designs and we all get each other excited about the possibilities.

    That’s it – back on track. Simple. (ish)

  • Happy birthday, Meg! (Also, the image of cute row of fuzzy little yellow duckies wearing bowties? Thank you for that! Heheh.)

  • MDBethann

    Happy belated Birthday!

    I missed this post somehow yesterday afternoon, but I thought I’d chime in a day late. I hope you had a wonderful day in the mountains, recharging and enjoying the quiet.

    I work for the government and not in a creative field, but I do research, go to meetings, and have to write a lot and periodically I feel burned out. I realized, particularly my first year or so in the work force when I didn’t have spring break anymore, that I have to step away from work and clear my head, even if it is only a 3-4 day weekend to visit my parents in PA or my sister in Boston. I also try to take 1-2 week vacations during the spring or summer, and then a week at Christmas. I find that planned time off is both a motivator when I’m stressed (my honeymoon in a month is looking so wonderful!) and it gives me some much needed “me time” to relax, clear my head, and think about things other than work (preferably fun things like food, books, movies, or interesting activities). When I come back, I may be bummed that vacation is over, but I usually have a lot more energy to dive back into whatever project is awaiting me at work.

    Some of this might be our culture though. A friend recently shared an interesting article with me – http://www.alternet.org/visions/154518/why_we_have_to_go_back_to_a_40-hour_work_week_to_keep_our_sanity?page=entire – that talks about how much of the Western world treats vacation time and reasonable work hours much differently than we Americans do – working more than 40 hours a week is so common for us, as is forgetting to take time off to find the right work-life balance. I am lucky that I’ve found a job that gives me both fulfillment and a healthy work-life balance, but if I am not careful, I can easily slip into 40+ hour work weeks sometimes, and then I can feel my health and my sanity start to slide.

    Good luck in getting your creative juices going and for inspiration to strike during your down time!

  • Hey, yesterday was my birthday too!!! Go Aries!!! YAY!

  • Jo

    I have no idea if this applies to you or not, but in watching some amazing, individual-run startup passion businesses evolve, those that add too much too fast burn out/overreach/lose quality, etc. You are NOT there at all, that’s not why I’m saying this, but I’m saying this because perhaps the slowing down is to just keep doing what you’re doing well. Maybe you don’t need to add anything else right now. Maybe this is enough. In other words, while your personal self/mind may want, and even benefit from, coming up with new projects and tackling them right now, your business may need a break in the short run from expanding ever outwards.

    Also, hope you had a magical birthday!

  • My comment got too long, so I posted it here: http://offbeatempire.com/2012/04/crushing-silence

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