creativity block

September 13th, 2012


I haven’t been down in my studio for a good three months. Three months! You could call it creativity block or you could call it my own personal soul sucking, fear mongering, mental fog inducing, self-esteem deflating, psychosis making machine.  Not to put too fine a point on it or anything.

studio wall

I try not to ask myself why I tape flowers and leaves on the wall, or make my kids’ undies, or crochet cozies for our ottoman, because there is no satisfying answer. But questions do creep in: why not make something less ridiculous? why not make something that is actually profitable? why waste your time making silly things to show the internet? why do this when so many people do it better? why not use that expensive education of yours? Once the questions start, they don’t stop, and they become debilitating.  Soul sucking now seems a more appropriate term than creativity block, don’t you think?

fabric stacks

But making things, be it underwear, tools, flying suits, computer programs, or whatever, is what humans do. Our survival once depended on our ability to solve problems creatively. Now that drive is part of who we are and when the urge to make things goes unfulfilled we feel less human.

So I’m trying, trying to make things again, trying to feel human again. I know I hit these creative brick walls yearly and slam into them repeatedly until I find a ladder, but this time the ladder has been hard to find. I cleaned up my studio yesterday–even slapped some paint on the wall–hoping the ladder was there somewhere. Does this happen to you (hit a wall, let the sewing machine gather dust, avoid even thinking about making)? How do you get past it?


Posted in craft, the everyday.

73 Responses to creativity block

  1. anna says:

    yes. I know this feeling. I think it comes from putting pressure on yourself (and when I say that I mean, myself). If it starts to feel like work or not as fulfilling, it’s okay to take a break or sit back, or do something else. What I do know about you Meg just from reading your blog for a few years is that I love who you are (and not in a creepy stalking way), but I love the unique things you share. You truly are an inspiration, you may not feel like it right now, but it’s true! I think anything you share in this space really reflects a real person, and that quality is something one of a kind.

  2. I think we all get like this at times. I find that cleaning out my space can really help clean out my head too. And starting with a totally crazy project. Starting with undies never works, they’re boring. Sure we all need them (I make them too) but they’re no fun to sew. I also find a new craft can get you back into it. Try fabric painting, hand sewing, embroidery, baking cupcakes, anything creative, even painting your bathroom can help!

    • Anything but painting her bathroom! That room of hers is gorgeous! It’s what made me notice her blog in the first place and the story behind it is so awesomely similar to ours that I’m holding on to it for motivation! :) Great suggestions though and totally get what you mean! ;) For me it’s pottery keeps me sane from the pressure of illustration. I’m in a rut too. I love everybody’s comments on this post! What a great support group!

  3. Cindee says:

    When I’m blocked I try to start working in my sewing room about 1 a.m. I find my inner critic goes to sleep at a reasonable time and I do more fun, interesting and creative, OK, absurd stuff when I’m too tired to listen to the critical mom voice in my head.

    Read an interesting idea today which is to brainstorm and write down your best and worst idea for how to get to your goal. Then, throw out the best idea and ask yourself, how to turn the worst idea into a positive project. The idea is we think too much inside the box and starting with the worst, most outrageous idea and going on from there is more likely to get us to interesting and creative solutions. The book spoke about a group setting, but I plan to use this idea individually to help myself break out of safe (and boring) ruts.

    You do interesting creative work that inspires those of us who read your blog. The problem may be, unlike a visit over a cup of tea where we share our ideas and work, you don’t get that much creative input and feedback from the people with whom you are sharing. Sorry about that. When you blog your creations I often say “what fun! Why didn’t I think of that? and Her kids are so lucky to have such a thoughtful mom.” I don’t usually say these things loud enough for you to hear. So I’m saying them now. You have to go with the flow of your life. But, what you do matters. It matters to your kids. It matters to you. It matters to me. And it matters to all those moms you get moving, making fun things for their kids during the kids clothes weeks. My 22 year old son was just reminiscing about the cool purple corduroy harem pants and celestial gold and purple vest with large 1″ bright yellow buttons I made for him when he was six. At 22, he still remembered how much he loved it and how special he felt when he wore it, because I made it just for him using fabric he loved. That’s why we do these things. Soak up the sunshine, the fall breezes, the snuffles of the children, and breathe out. Creativity often comes from necessity, but it also comes from calm . . . and the flow of creativity builds the intensity until you feel pure bliss.

  4. Oh I do hope you can get back to that place of doing it just to have fun!! If crocheting undies does it for you, go for it! Enjoy creating for the sake of creating.

  5. Jacqui says:

    I too have a very expensive education, one that took me a long time to acquire and which reached the pinnacle of a PhD and then stopped and now I sew, learn to crochet, look after my daughter, do parent help in her class and half-heartedly renovate the house. I say silly things like “I’m just being a mum at the moment” when people ask me what I do. And yeah it does contribute to some dark nights of the soul sometimes and I feel like my life doesn’t have any real purpose. But on the other hand you’re right – I can do things that are valuable in other ways, that make my daughter feel secure and loved and make me feel fulfilled. Sometimes I get a bit creatively blocked and don’t feel like doing anything, but if I let it just sit and percolate and then somehow the interest comes back. I find with something like Instagram I get a bit blah with it all, and sometimes it takes a good challenge to get me back on the horse, or even just forcing myself to go out and take some photos when I don’t want to. But really you can’t force it, you can jolly it along, and give it little encouraging shoves, but sometimes I think it just needs a bit of time out. I know you’ll get back in the swing of things though, you seem too creative not to, even if it seems like it’s taking a long time!

  6. My creativity usually stems from a need. My block comes in when I try to take that basic need and force it to be a brilliant piece of art. What do you, your house, your kids need? When you start working on it, as utilitarian as it might be, some ‘Meg’ will undoubtedly come out in it and perhaps you’ll find your spark again. Chin up. I was watching the instructor bio videos on Creativebug yesterday, ready to climb the walls, I was so inspired, and I got to thinking about how you’re one of my biggest design influences. When I feel myself going overboard design-wise, which I tend to want to do, I imagine the Design Meg on my shoulder, shaking her head, making a face, or cheering. You make me a better artisan, Meg – me and everyone who knows you here in this space. Take all the time you need, but trust that you’ll get it back. You will.

    • I forgot the most important part: DRINK MORE COFFEE.

    • meg says:

      Well now I want to pitch a design show called “Design Meg” where I am super tiny and I show up on the shoulders of those having design quandaries. Ooo and maybe there will be a bad design Meg on one shoulder and a good design Meg on the other. And the show will hinge on which one the person listens too.
      Sadly, I feel like this show is perfect for hgtv.

  7. Mary says:

    Can I just say that this lull might be one of the reasons I love your blog? Unlike other creative-crafty blogs that are constantly feeding me new ideas (some better than others) to the point that it seems more like marketing, your space here seems so sincere! I love what you do, Meg, whenever you end up doing it. Usually, my own lulls are solved when the seasons change and our needs change. Hang in there.

  8. Ellen says:

    I wish there were “like” buttons here, so I’ll just say this – What Mary Jo said!
    I think cleaning your space is the first step. I’d say my second steps are to run from the fabric, the books, the whatever I already have and go take a walk. Go visit a museum, or go read a book outside by the lake. Grab a book from the library that seems inspired and new to you. But most of all, take a break from your family and summer – because i think August does that to everyone. It’s Fall!

  9. Maria says:

    I swear I could have written this post myself. I’m not a sewer though, I’m a photographer. I have a fantastic fine art degree from a respected university. When I graduated I won top graduating artist in my province that year. I was poised to take over the art world, but I had a baby just a few months after graduating and put everything aside to raise my girl(s). Occasionally, I feel a tinge of regret at not siezing the opportunity I had with my award, but I couldn’t do both well so I picked the more important one. Outside of school, which was both competitive and supportive making for a fantastic creativity filled environment, I find I mentally conceptualize a project, stage and shoot it in my head, critique it and decide it is total crap and never actually take a single photograph. I totally stop the evolution process which yields such amazing things. So frustrating. All that to say I know what you’re going through and I feel for you. I hope you find your ladder soon.

  10. meg says:

    Yes! I was totally suffering from this over the summer. I think the key is to just jump over the wall and into…something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be clever or commercially viable or anything but totally basic, but just do something. Make something! One thing leads to another.
    Cleaning is a great first step, by the way. I had to at least clear enough stuff off of the cutting table in order to potentially cut anything on it. Before that, I would come in, sit down at the sewing machine to think, and then leave again.
    Good luck to you — you can do this!

  11. To be honest I find you to be one of the most inspiring, creative, woman out there! So many people are not solving problems, they are making goods for their etsy stores, continuously showing new versions of the same things over and over again. I like that you are always making something useful, that solves a need in your house. Keep doing what you do- you’re inspiring us all out here!

  12. paula says:

    One thing at a time. Most important thing first. Start now.

  13. Liana says:

    I get in creative ruts all the time, and I think one way to come out of it is to not worry so much about being “creative” for a while. If it’s cooking, just try to follow a real, published recipe for once—or use recipes for a whole week even! If it’s sewing or something like knitting or crocheting, just make the damn thing just as the pattern tells you to (don’t add those sleeves, or put pleats instead of gathers, don’t change the neckline). If it’s photography, just start taking straight-ahead pictures that document something concrete, and close Photoshop for a while. Or find a craft project in a book and methodically follow the instructions. Sometimes we forget that not everything we make has to be sui generis. And letting the making take over for a while and giving the “creating” a break can be very helpful—and instructive.

  14. I can so relate I could cry. You don’t know me but I would like to give you a hug. I’m not the creepy stalker type ;) just someone who fell in love with your site a couple of years ago and who keeps visiting for uplifting real life inspiration. You provide that believe it or not. I’m an Illustrator but I’m also in a BIG rut myself. Not just on a professional level but in my personal life as well. Things have been a little stagnant all summer and with fall coming I feel the pressure to make change. Usually it’s easy but with a busy 2 yrs old to entertain, a 5 yrs old who just started school and changed our routine, a 22 yrs old who’s leaving the nest and a fixer upper of a house that needs love and attention… I feel lost and a bit spent. I was visiting your site today in case I would get lucky and get a boost. It makes me sad when I read this coming from a wonderful person (blogger) as you but being in the same boat, I totally understand. I’m just an illustrator who is more busy being a mom and a homemaker lately and that definitely can trigger big self-doubt questions!! I noticed the quiet on your site for a while. Even though I was curious, the thought that you could be having a similar struggle never crossed my mind. I figured you were too busy to spend time on your blog. We usually assume that everybody else is blooming with creativity and juggle life with great gusto. Some blogs sell that illusion very well and I hate letting myself get fooled by it. Life is like a roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs, some bigger than others, a few harsh turns and scary loops and sometimes things even go backwards! I think I found the glimpse of a ladder myself. It’s in my basement waiting to be turned into a little studio.

    To answer the question: Yes, it happens a lot. I give myself time, self love, I don’t force things but I don’t quit either. To keep my creative juices active I do pottery on the wheel. It keeps pressure off illustration but the funny thing is that I illustrate on my little pots. So in a way I trick myself? :) It’s a class that I go to once a week. Been doing it for 2 yrs. It. Keeps. Me. Sane.

    You did and still do an amazing job so pat yourself on the back and let go of the pressure. Take a break from the net, go out, take pleasure from little things and when you feel up to it, take on a challenge. In your own time. Doubting is a very natural thing to do. Do you know that Renoir burned some of his paintings? He was doubting himself so much that he was going to quit. Friends like Degas believed in him though and encouraged him to continue. He was blinded by doubt. Most talented people go through this process. My husband who I admire as an illustrator and musician is often going through a phase too. He shared this quote with me that helped him out and that I hope will help me too. “Great doubt comes with great talent and the ones who don’t have it compensate with self confidence” Ok, it doesn’t go that way but I like the message! :D

    Whoa the comments tripled since the last time I checked! All of them are great!!! I hope you get a boost from it and cut yourself some slack. I will! This is like a self-help group! ;) I will also keep coming here, hoping to read more. Even if things are slow. You are that likeable.
    Take care! Hang in there and keep doing what makes you happy!

    • About Renoir I can’t find the biography book that mentioned that but it was a relief for me to read it during one of my early blocks. I can’t say for sure if he wanted to burn them but destroying them yes. So I’ll change my statement to that. I also feel very foolish for saying Degas when I meant Monet… Long day! :)

  15. Oh I’m sorry for this long one. I have editing issues! ;)

  16. Lauren says:

    Happens to me all the time. I don’t have any real solution, but I have made a short list of things that help me shake off the funk. Here’s my list — it is taped to my studio wall (and it’s not written on pretty paper with scrapbook ink.)
    * Finish — or get rid of — one thing from the “unfinished” bin.
    * Stop thinking about how things will look on “the blog.” No one else’s creativity hinges on it, so stop stressing about it. (I never update mine, so this applies to me more than you!)
    * Make some burp cloths. They’re fast, cute, and there’s always someone who would be happy to have them.
    * Creative people have lots of ideas — you aren’t expected to complete them all!
    * Stop checking Pinterest and clean up the studio! You’ll feel better.
    * You picked the kids over the job for good reason. Crafting is your outlet, not your burden.
    * Make something for Mom or the girls. You are your worst critic, and they think everything you make is awesome.

    Good luck, Meg! I always feel more inspired (ambitious?) in the Fall, so hopefully, the change of season will help you too.

  17. Is there a Fall KCWC in the works to jump-start it? Without the need for you to perform it every day in advance for the blog?

  18. I’m right in the middle of one myself and I wish I knew the answer. I haven’t sewn, or painted for a good 4 months. I think I just got burned out. Trying to make and do everything. And I just can’t. If I find out the answer to get over this block, I’ll let you know.

  19. Liz says:

    I try to plunge. Do what i don’t want to do. I leave my projects, look at my kids and how easily they create. I find inspiration from weather changes, different voices, books, walks, drinks. I think you are an awesome person and i’ve been following your blog for quite some time. Sometimes i wonder why i haven’t seen you posting more but then i remember that your blog reflects your personality in pretty specific ways. You are very honest but maybe too honest with yourself. Let yourself get away with more.

  20. Sascha says:


  21. Ane says:

    Oh i do hate that feeling… I get into it alot.
    For me it’s deadlines – the night before the Market (or show or whatever) I suddenly get productive and yes – creative – I come up with all these new Ideas I want to try and I write them down to have something to start from in the next BLOCK….
    and that helps a little bit…

  22. stacy says:

    When I’m blocked I pick up a class at my LQS or fabric store. Most of my friends are not sewists, so I’m pretty much on my own and it’s easy to get lost when you’re the only one on the path.

    My other spur is to teach. My 5 year old (almost 6) loves to sew on my old Elna. She talks to it, plays with fabrics and loves the experience. She plays with sewing, and it ramps up my creativity, too.

  23. […] you for all your lovely comments on my last post. I encourage you to go look at people's stories of creative block and their cures […]

  24. Jessica says:

    yes. Thank you for this honest post. I loved it. It’s all of us.

  25. Carla says:

    Ohh lady, I feel you. Is my time really best spent sewing pjs that will fit for a few months? Shouldn’t I be doing more? But what? You are such an amazing inspiration and possess talent in spades. I am so sorry that I can’t offer much more that empathy. Perhaps it’s time for a new hobby. Sometimes making in a new way brings back my mojo. Keep your chin up. You rule.