It’s always a comfort to know you’re not alone in your feelings. That’s been especially true as we’ve trudged through the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic dug in across America, dramatically altering the routine of our lives and compounding that with isolation, I’ve wondered how many artists were struggling with creative inspiration and motivation like I have been.

For more than a year now, I’ve been deprived of the activities that feed me creatively — participation in art walks, festivals and other art events or spending time with fellow artists, exchanging ideas and recommendations, or simply bonding as friends. We’ve done it virtually, but that true human connection has been missing.

Gradually, that’s eroded the flow of my creative juices. I have little inspiration or motivation to create, and my art has moved to a near standstill.

I knew I wasn’t entirely alone in these feelings. But I didn’t realize that there were enough artists sharing the feelings that Spiva Center for the Arts offered a workshop on the issue.

Spiva partnered with Ann Leach, a local small business and life coach, to present the virtual workshop. Ann is involved in the local art community and incorporates art journaling and doodling into her work as a life coach.

For me, Ann’s greatest advice for overcoming pandemic-induced creative lethargy was quite simple. Get back to creating for the joy of it. Forget about creating for future exhibits or festivals or to earn some extra money in lean times. Remember why you originally started creating and concentrate on the basic joy of creating.

For those who still have an inkling of motivation or inspiration and it just needs a kick start, Ann offered a variety suggestions.

Topping her list was establishment of a routine, overcoming distractions, and breaking down creative work into small actions.

The pandemic has stripped us of life’s normalcy, and that can be a hurdle for getting creatively motivated. Many of us are working from home or our professional or personal engagements have become limited, so we’ve lost the structure of our days. We need such routine for disciplining our minds for work, said Ann. Something as simple as reading or taking a walk at a certain time each day can train the brain to acknowledge when it’s time to kick into gear.

“If we’re feeling like things have been turned upside down, then it’s helpful to give ourselves as much manmade structure as possible,” Ann said.

Without routine, it’s also easy to succumb to distractions. We think that if we can just get that load of laundry done or get those bills written, then we’ll start our creative work. Ann describes such distractions as the “shiny object syndrome.”

“When left to our own devices, it’s very easy to allow distractions and to use them as justification for procrastination,” she said.

Those distractions can be reduced by allowing a set amount of time for them, even using a timer to let us know when it’s time to move to our other projects.

Whenever there is a creative stall, Ann recommended breaking down creative actions into small steps, not worrying about the finished work at the moment.

“When there are days of low energy, it becomes an effort to move forward on anything,” she said. “That’s when its time to break down the work into micro-sized pieces. A simple to-do, like gathering supplies for my new project, suddenly turns into a number of smaller tasks, like selecting three main colors for my paint palette or pick three brushes to use on this painting or cut clay slabs.”

She said it’s important to celebrate those small steps toward completion of a creative project.

Ann is a big proponent of personal mapping in life skills counseling. For creatives, she follows a model developed by creative entrepreneur Lisa Sonora Beam. Basically, it considers that creativity operates in cycles, not unlike seasons. We have cycles when we develop our creative ideas, followed by a cycle of starting the work and refining it. The next cycle involves completion and evaluation of the work, and next is about resting and receiving the inspiration for new work. She suggested development of a map that outlines our personal creative cycle, recognizing what cycle we’re in now.

“Being able to recognize what season you’re in at any time helps give you permission to just feel the feelings and take the small daily actions to move into the next one,” she said.

If the creativity still isn’t there after considering these various approaches, then perhaps it’s time to just focus on marketing strategies, she said. Use the time to work on photographing your artwork, researching new galleries or techniques, or working on social media marketing. It might even be a time to consider new creative goals.

“Even creatives get comfortable and need to continually press themselves to grow,” Ann said.

At this time, I’m unsure whether I can drum up the discipline for some of Ann’s suggestions. But I’m reassessing my goals and considering what I really want to do creatively. That forces me to assess what brought me joy when I originally started creating and how to recapture that.

If you’re interested in tapping more of Ann’s business and life skills coaching, she has a course, The Art of Business, planned for this spring. It will focus on helping creatives and entrepreneurs plan a profitable business. For more information, email ann@AnnLeach.com.

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Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.