Sooner or later, in any creative/artistic occupation or hobby, it happens: The Dark Ages of Creativity descend upon you. Your creativity dries up or there’s simply no time or energy left to create. The love of the work which once fueled you turns to hate. (Or at least a mild loathing.) You can’t see a way forward and, worse, you don’t really care enough to figure it out. The lights have gone out.
It’s not so different from the Dark Ages of history. It’s like some invading horde has burned your creativity bank to the ground, a plague has killed your happy, creative brain cells, or the king/queen that ruled your creative life has either abdicated, been overthrown, or assassinated. You are alone in the dark with nowhere to go and nothing to do except fumble around.
Dark Ages can be caused by a lot of things, but usually the cause is external. Certainly, it may be a physical or mental issue, but usually the Dark Ages happen when something else in your life changes dramatically, reducing or eliminating your creative time and energy.
Maybe it’s the arrival of children who leave you with no time or energy (or money) to create. Or an older/disabled relative moves in and their needs take precedence over your creative time. Even if they don’t move in, you can get caught up in managing their daily lives, handling estates, and driving them to appointments. Sometimes you have to go back to school or “real” work, leaving you with no extra creative time. Your job changes and now you’re working extra hours. Maybe you move and you lose your workspace. Financial problems may mean you can’t buy materials. There are hundreds of reasons why you may enter a period where you cannot and do not want to create.
When the Dark Ages come, it’s tempting to chuck it all and decide that creative work is not for you. You start to think about jumping into another line of work, or simply giving up your creative work altogether. “It’ll never be the same, so I might as well quit.”
Every time I’ve entered the Dark Ages (and it’s been pretty often because life likes curve balls), I’m tempted to get rid of all my materials, purge my hard drive, and get rid of anything that reminds me of what once was so much fun. I can’t see the end of the Dark Age so I figure, what’s the point in keeping all this stuff? Why not free up some space? Get rid of the writing books, the filing cabinet stuffed with notes for books that may never be written, delete my social media accounts, etc. Simplify my life.
I’ve known artists who toss supplies and materials, photographers who sell their cameras, musicians who sell their instruments, and woodworkers who sell their tools. They all figure they’ll never create again, so might as well free up the space. There’s also a more sinister aspect to a purge: The desire to get rid of anything that reminds you of what you love but cannot have.
But before you do it, know this:
As with history, the Creativity Dark Ages are temporary.
You must remember this. Unless you’ve reached a point where you are seriously ready to quit your hobby or occupation, this lack of time and energy is temporary. The kids will get older. Your job will change again. You’ll finish school, or your finances will improve. The elders in your life will, sadly, pass on. Whatever is keeping you from creating will likely pass. I’ll say it again: Most of the problems that cause a dark age are temporary. They crash into your life and then, somehow, some way, resolve and move on.
If you go on a bender and toss/sell/delete everything related to your creative pursuit, you will regret it. I speak from experience because I did exactly this the first two times I entered a Dark Age. And I regretted it. Still do. Now I know better. When life changes and I know a Dark Age is coming, I wait it out. Sometimes it last months, sometimes years. But always, the desire to resume my work returns and I’m happy that I still have my stuff.
Now, there may be times when you have no choice but to sell or toss some things. If your problems are financial, selling tools and supplies might make sense. Bring in a little cash in the short term, get past the Dark Age, and then replace the stuff later. Or, if you really have to downsize your space you may have no choice but to get rid of your stuff. If you can, however, hang onto it. (Putting it into storage is an option, if you can afford a storage unit, build a shed, or you have access to an attic or basement.)
While you’re waiting for a Dark Age to pass, don’t give up your creative life entirely. There are almost always ways to keep your hand in, even if you can’t pursue it with as much vigor as you once did. If writing is your thing, switch to shorter forms like poetry, short stories, or even fan-fiction that require less time investment. Write stories for your kids. Give up on publication (querying, meeting deadlines, and marketing are often not possible in a Dark Age) for the time being and simply write for yourself.
If you paint, paint small things, make greeting cards, or paint with your kids. Photographers may simply settle for photographing family life for the time being. Musicians can play for personal enjoyment, even if the days of being in a band are over. There are usually ways to keep your art in your life, even if you can’t do it professionally or as your major hobby. (Sometimes you can actually use your art to solve the Dark Age problem, as when you decide to teach your art to others to bring in a little cash, or you work your art into caregiving duties.)
Creativity Dark Ages suck, there’s no way around that. But they don’t have to spell the end of everything you love, either. Most of the time, they simply require patience. Eventually, time will pass and things will improve. In the meantime, hang on to your stuff and find small ways to practice your art. It will be ready and waiting when you return.