Even after 10 years of living in the Southern Hemisphere, I find it strange to be in the middle of Winter in July. July for me is synonymous with my birthday, with evenings that stretch well past our usual bedtime, with the long-awaited Summer school holidays and eating raspberries out of a little wooden punnet in the shade of a market stall. It smells of lavender and sounds like cicadas working overtime. I think that’s why my birthday has been taking me by surprise ever since moving here. My body doesn’t get the seasonal cues that I’m approaching a new trip ’round the sun.
So last weekend, instead of wishing for a mid-Summer French dream, we leaned into Winter a little deeper by feasting on heart-warming pots of homemade soups with a loud and lively bunch of friends in Yule-like improvised celebrations.
Winter is particularly dramatic in Cape Town. It is Grey and wet, covers the mountains in thick white clouds and gives the ocean a palette of moody colours. It wakes howling winds à la Wuthering Heights, which make the rain pirouette in waves, beating against the windows in what sounds like Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance in my head:
Saturday was just one of those days. The was sky dark and the air wet. But the hearty smells, belly laughs and excellent company turned a gloomy day into a warm embrace.
In a country with 8 months of Summer, Winter doesn’t come without some sort of resistance. We delay the moment we have to start putting our jackets on to go out for dinner as if our vestimentary audacity could somehow influence the weather.
But I think what we really fight in this change of season, is slowing down. Our linear and competitive society doesn’t leave much space for rest and following our inner cycles, and any kind of creative slump or block tends to be met with resentment and frustration. But if you think of your creativity in terms of seasons, you realise that each one of them plays a part in your self-exploration and self-expression journey.
There is indeed much wisdom and potential for growth to be found in a slower and more inward facing season.
You may be in the peak of Summer when you’re reading this, but chances are some of you may be going through a creative Winter.
And it may feel icky. Slowing down doesn’t come naturally to me either, trust me. But just like the land needs to rest between crops, our creativity needs dormancy before it can blossom again.
Gail McMeekin describes this beautifully: “In the creative cycles of birth and death and rebirth, there are times when we are empty of ideas, adrift in a sea of ambiguity and nothingness. (…) These times are part of the creative cycle, and wise women accept them and trust that when it’s time, their inspiration will percolate again, This void beckons like a doorway to transformation and new beginnings.”
I have experienced that such times, as challenging as they may be, can also be the most transformative ones if we only get out of the way and let them do their deep work below the surface.
Surviving creative Winter
It took me a long time to accept this concept of seasonal creativity. Here are some of the things that I have turned to make the most of the downtime.
1. Do not fight it
Fighting is futile. I’ve learnt this the hard way. I usually resist creative slumps and try to bulldoze my way through them until my body gives me a hint by rewarding my efforts with flu. Not recommended. The first step to making it to the other side is to accept this natural part of the creative cycle without judgment, and let go of our need for control.
2. Feed your creativity, follow your curiosity
The beast may be dormant, but it doesn’t mean it ain’t hungry. I find these slower times great to catch up on some reading, go on extended artist dates, listen to new music, watch foreign films, with no other agenda than to follow whatever captures my interest. I like to keep track of any spark or idea that comes up, even if it doesn’t quite make sense yet. Connections happen in the most unexpected time, so keeping these little breadcrumbs in one place (like a notebook) will help you revisit them later on and sift through them to see if any of it is worth using. You’d be surprised what might light you up later on.
3. Focus on small manageable steps
Your inspiration may be down, it doesn’t mean you can’t work. This season is a great time to put things in order, archive old projects, Marie Kondo the shit out of your office and make space for the new. I wrote a free minimalist guide for creatives to help you do just that, and much more. I find a good office and mindset spring clean every now and then is really good for the soul.
4. Pause & Reflect
Taking the time to breathe and reflect is so crucial to living an intentional creative life. It forces us out of autopilot mode and is a great way to reassess our habits. So grab a journal, look back at what you’ve achieved so far (tiny steps are worth celebrating too!), what hasn’t been so great and where you want to go next. Try to really connect to why you do the work that you do, and why it matters. Use this pause to get crystal clear on your vision, and you’ll find your next steps will start to unfold naturally.
5. Have faith and have fun
Ideas need space and time to flourish. They require us to do some work and then get out of the way. Trust that Spring is around the corner, and look for the joy in the mundane marvels around you. Play a little more, and give yourself full permission to take your foot off the gas. This is a time for shedding old thought patterns, disrupt outdated habits and prepare for new growth.
Need a little more help?
If you find you need a little help figuring out how to navigate your own seasonal creativity, you can book a 30-minute complimentary introductory call with me to see how creative coaching could support you.