Sometimes the best thing to do when working so hard on a project that is not coming together is just walking away from it all. Yes, walk away from your creative project. It’s absolutely the best thing you can do for it. It can be the difference between doing something really creative and something which is just meh (for the lack of a better word).
This week’s project – titled “Fractured” – was a tough one for me to work on. I was excited last week when I came up with the creative technique of making a crazy quilt block with no sewing. Yes, absolutely no sewing. Not even one stitch was involved in creating that patchwork quilt. And I felt so g-o-o-d about the technique.
But then this week, when it came to pushing that idea further and stacking some more ideas on top of that foundation, it became a challenge. Each time I’ll stack ideas on top of ideas, they’ll all come crumbling down. I’ll pick them up, rearrange them in a presumably superior order and somehow, they’ll all come tumbling down again. It kept happening time and time again.
Why You Should Walk Away From Your Creative Project
After working on my project for several hours – longer than a typical 8-hour work day, I knew it was time to change course. I was not making any progress – I was just wearing myself out. And I was getting low on brain energy. I was experiencing decision fatigue. Often making the decision to walk away is a critical part of the creative process.
Walking away allows your brain to connect the dots. It’s called the incubation period. And it’s the reason lots of ideas come together ( light-bulb-moments) in the shower or on long walks.
When you get to the point where you’re not making progress, just walk away from it all for a while.
Our brains need the space to wander and to do their own thing in order to bring our ideas together. Usually, we creatives don’t have the patience to allow this to naturally occur. I’ll be the first to raise my hand up to that charge. When you get to the point when you’re not making progress, though, you need to walk away from your creative project.
How to Walk Away From Your Creative Project
Walking way from your creative project can literally mean
- going for a walk,
- taking a shower,
- sleeping on it
- getting yourself a cup of tea (my personal fave)
- going for a long drive
It means engaging in a totally unrelated activity that allows your subconscious mind the space to keep working things out while you’re no longer actively thinking about it. Eventually, when I came to the realization, it was time to walk away from my creative project, I decided to call it a day and go sleep.
Burning the midnight oil is not always the smartest thing to do. Getting a good night sleep is smarter.
However, I totally understand that when you’re working towards a deadline, it’s tempting to overlook or underestimate the importance of an incubation period. That was what was happening in this case.
I needed to produce the video for this weeks’s episode. And that takes several hours to do. So I was pushing myself to come up with the ideas for finishing the project as fast as I could. But the best thing I did for the project was to go to bed. It’s as simple as that. The next morning when I went back to work on it, it was much easier to make progress.
The French mathematician Henri Poincaré put it this way:
Often when one works at a hard question, nothing good is accomplished at the first attack. Then one takes a rest, longer or shorter, and sits down anew to the work. During the first half-hour, as before, nothing is found, and then all of a sudden the decisive idea presents itself to the mind.
Do you ever walk away from your creative project to regroup? Do share your experiences below.
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Janey Crook says
This is so true – I find that I get completely bamboozeled sometimes and (my favourite) have to go for a run, I think so clearly when running. Everything sort of slots into place to easily, important to take the time so think and figure out.
Clara Nartey says
Thanks Janey. You’re right “thinking time” is important. I also find that changing locations – Just moving from one room to another is sometimes all I need. “Go for a run” is a good one to add to the list.
Mickie Rader says
I seem to get stymied often about embellishing. The art quilt is “okay”, but needs more. Sometimes I quilt around the elements then, but I know I am just putting off the embellishment process. The poor thing may hang for days until I get inspired and realize what it needs. I don’t start another project because that brings the UFO DEMON and I hate that. Eventually I figure it out and finish it.
I love two things you mentioned – “The UFO demon” and “eventually I figure it out and finish it”.
Your attitude towards getting work finished is great.
And the time it takes for you to be inspired to finish the work is the incubation period for your idea.
Great post. I’m not much of a creative person but walking away from something and coming back to it can.be applied to many other things in life – like solving a business question or developing a system.
Thanks Elle for your insight. You’re absolutely right.
In a survey of CEOs, those surveyed said the most important skill for getting the job done is creativity.
So yes, creative skills apply to business as well as all parts of our lives.
Great piece! Applies to every aspect of life/work, I think. I find that when I get bogged down by a difficult case, I do better thinking through it if I give myself a break by doing other things before coming back to tackle it.
Thanks for your insight!
Clara Nartey says
Thanks, Aretha. As I like to say “creativity is a life skill”. It surely applies to every aspect of our lives/work.
Lorrie Baudouin says
I frequently walk away, but more often when I get frustrated with the way something is going. I turn off everything in my studio and leave. Returning the next day refreshed, the ‘whatever’ can typically return. The longest bout is a mixed media bag I call Mom Cat. I walked away so many times; agitated about not being able to make a decision about design, that I finally rolled it up, but it in a bag, and there it still rests in a prominent spot in the fabric closet …. perhaps out of sight, but not out of mind.
Lorrie, something wonderful happens when you walk into your studio and see your work in progress on your design wall.
You see it with “fresh eyes” and you’re able to see new ways to bring it together.
So I’ll encourage you to bring the work out of the bag and just leave it pinned to your wall. Over time, you’ll be surprised at the new ideas you’ll get for finishing it.