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Friday, December 14, 2012

Riding the Artist's Cycle

Once long ago, when I was once again back in graduate school and trying to figure out how things worked, I came across a psychologist's theory about how artists worked. And sorry, I can't remember his name right now, and probably the details of his theory have evolved with time. His book was huge and fat, if that helps. And had a blue cover.

He suggested artists run on a defined cycle of restlessness/seeking, creative spurts, and depletion/depression. I remember this after thirty years because it seemed to me to be spot on. First the restlessness: roaming around, trying a dozen different things, looking for some undefined something.  Starting books and tossing them aside. Standing in front of the open refrigerator. Running around town on unnecessary errands. Walking anywhere. Cleaning closets. I now think this is the charging-the-batteries period. I try to use the extra energy while charging to clean up whatever I've put off--basements and garages, mostly.

Next, I become totally involved with the project, whatever it may be. All the materials I need are ready, having stewed for days in my subconscious while I was rambling around. Now is the time. I start the project, leaving everything else aside. For a long time it was making pots, then rehabbing a house, researching and writing a dissertation. Later on, for a short time painting (not very good at this). Quilts. Now it's usually writing.This is my favorite time, working hard, excited about the work, seeing something come from a conglomeration of materials. Often I don't fully realize what the end product will be, not consciously. Even now I'm intrigued to read my work, after it sits a few weeks. Did I really write that?

Then the down period. Depleted, tired, dissatisfied, bored. Seeing the flaws in the completed work. Why am I doing this? Blah, blah. Once this was the pits, even bordering on clinical depression. I thought I might be bi-polar, when that was popular. But actually, I'm just an artist of sorts, with an artist's cyclic personality.

Having a structure in mind has been a lifesaver. I ramble around in the restless period with an undertow of excitement, knowing that eventually I'll be ready to make something new, and have learned to see the down time as simply time to rest, not wallow in depression.I'm social during my restless phase, anti-social and distracted when making things, and long for company when resting.

So thanks, psychologist-whose-name I can't remember.


  1. "Sharks and monsters of the publishing world?" Come, come, Eileen. Not all of us are like that!

    Thank you for your comment over at Buried Under Books this morning. Why not contact me and let's see what you're writing? I promise I won't bite (at least, not hard enough to leave tooth-marks).

    1. Sunny, you must know I'd love to have you look at my books. The covers are tight here: CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN has been on Kindle since last spring, and ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD will be up as soon as the mobi's done. Since you like Nook, I can send you pdfs for either or both if you like. Just let me know, Bite away, if you feel it's deserved. I'll take any amount of constructive criticism (I keep a special room for licking my wounds).Thanks for reading my blog.

  2. Also, you might want to take a gander at another blog I did called "Are you holding your novel hostage?" It's over at Novel Spaces: