The In-Between Time

Have you been going through a fallow period, bookings-wise? Perhaps you’re waiting for your first paid booking since you self-produced your show in a tiny black-box theatre a while back. Or perhaps your bookings were snowballing…and then came to an unexpected rest. Or perhaps you’ve only had bookings in fits and starts all along.

What to do during this time when it’s a matter of several months? Here are some tips for keeping your creative juices flowing and your spirits up:

1. Start every day doing something creative. It’s your calling, isn’t it? In my case, I work on my next show. If I begin the day that way, even if it’s only for 20 minutes to reread and tweak a single scene, it transforms the day. Most days I have to work on uninspiring, tedious administration and marketing and blahblahblah. But when I begin the day working on what I love, I always feel that my day was well spent no matter what else I did, because I pursued my purpose first.

Full disclosure: I’m writing this as a reminder to myself, having floundered in this area of late. For the past few weeks, I was just doing the necessary but boring uncreative stuff and wondering why I was feeling low. Today I finally looked at my next show’s latest draft, which needs a lot of work…and the day felt brighter. No matter what I do or don’t accomplish today, I’ll have begun the day right.

Now, you may have a day job or hold several part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. Perhaps your workdays start early, so the thought of waking up even earlier to work on something creative may feel oppressive, because you love and need your sleep. I feel you—I’m not a morning person myself. Thus I recommend doing the creative work whenever you can…but try to do it several times per week. Give yourself permission to only work for 10 minutes if that’s all you’ve got. You can write an entire scene in that time.

I rewrote the first draft of my first show late at night because I had several part-time jobs at the time. While I had more than 10 minutes, it could still take a while to get going—I’d sit down to write at 9:30pm but only begin at 11pm. (The void of Facebook.) It didn’t matter. I got it done and have no regrets about how or when I worked on it because I now have a show and it’s gone places.

So keep creating during this period between bookings. Even a doodle a day can lift the spirits and keep your creativity alive.

2. Set a timer for your creative work. By now we all know that boundaries/limits/ parameters increase creative output—they don’t decrease it. Your brain will find ways to transcend limits if it has to. If it doesn’t have to, it may just become distracted by social media or the laundry.

Setting a timer works like gangbusters for me. If I set a timer to work on my new show for one hour, I will accomplish more in that hour than I would if I gave myself an open-ended stretch during which to create. It’s too easy to check my email when I don’t have a time limit. I’ve used an old-fashioned kitchen timer; the Pomodoro app; and online timers that can be found via Google. (Try it: Google “20 minute timer.”)

A time limit has many emotional similarities to a deadline. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consider deadlines to be invaluable to the creative process.

3. Take care of yourself. I know it’s obvious, but some of us can get a bit slack with this, especially when we feel like we’re in limbo. Drink enough water, move your body regularly, go appreciate someone else’s artistic output at a museum or theatre or wherever you find inspiration, eat your fruits and veggies, meditate (there are some terrific three-minute meditations out there)…you know the drill.

I must add: do the healthy things that you enjoy. If drinking water bores you then pour in a dollop of juice—it’s not Sugar City if it’s just a dollop. If there’s only one kind of exercise you like, and it involves strolling with a pet, that counts. If you’re going through a phase during which you can’t bear to look at something emotionally painful (like Picasso’s Guernica) then look for art that gives you solace (like music that soothes or cheers you up). If a Sorolla exhibit comes to your neck of the woods, I can’t recommend his paintings of people at the beach highly enough. Instant cheer-up! (They don’t “translate” on a computer screen, so if you Google him, the images likely won’t do much for you, unfortunately.)

This entire year I’ve been working hard at taking good physical care of myself due to a lower back injury. I’m not in pain—it’s mostly just irritating—but it’s a longtime problem that needs to be resolved. So I’ve been doing everything I can to heal for some time now—chiropractic, acupuncture, cupping, special exercises, icing my back, avoiding sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time, etc. I think the past six months without bookings has been a necessary respite. Performing my show always exacerbates the problem, even though I’ve completely modified the blocking to accommodate my back. So six months off has likely been the best thing for my body in terms of healing.

This period between bookings will likely end. Meanwhile, you’ll have honored your creativity and perhaps even drafted a new show…which you’ll want to workshop for theatre friends you trust…which will get the ball rolling for a whole new production!

Just keep making things. That’s the stuff of life.

BONUS: An excellent article on how persistence, patience, and continuing to create can pay off in the end.

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