Reflections from an ongoing creative slump

How do you get out of a creative slump during a pandemic that seems like it’s never going to end? I don’t have answers—just reflections.

On Eid a week or two ago, there were 3 different family members who asked me, “Hey, you’re writing a novel, right? How’s that going?” *Cue cold sweats and nervous laughter* I haven’t worked on said novel since January. I made peace with shelving it in my mind for some other time, but what I haven’t made peace with is not working on my creative writing in general.

Photo by Carolyn V | Unsplash

The obvious reason is being in quarantine. It feels like a lurching, never-ending day. I haven’t had the brain space to blog about things on my mind or work on my Dreams In-Progress series or just write random book scenes that don’t have to have a purpose. Part of explorative writing is being okay with writing something completely for the sake of writing it for yourself and being okay with it straying from a pre-conceived plotline. I’m still becoming comfortable with the notion that my writing and ideas are never set in stone but can go wherever they want to go. When you imagine something in a certain way for a long time, it can be hard to change the rules and trust the process of exploration.

Part of getting out of a creative slump is a.) letting the slump just happen and b.) wandering out of it by following small moments of curiosity.

That’s where I’m at right now. Just letting it happen and not pressuring myself to write. I’ve been listening to, watching, and reading things that come my way. A lot of it has fueled introspection and a few new ideas:

  • Unsweetened + Unfiltered Podcast: by Zaina and Dounya; I absolutely loved a recent episode titled “Does God Even Know You? Thoughts on the Evil Eye and Ramy with May Calamawy” and can’t wait to read The Secrets of Divine Love by A. Helwa recommended in the episode
  • The Aram Newsletter: by Tahmina Begum; this newsletter “has been purposely created for joyful reading” and is “filled with book recommendations, interesting corners of the internet, and centre women of colour and Muslim women.” Have you subscribed yet?
  • The Magicians TV Show: Grad school for magic? Sold. It’s adapted by the book series by Lev Grossman and it’s on Syfy & Netflix. I just started the last season and I’m feeling senti. This show has definitely fueled my inspiration to write a story set in college

In quarantine, it’s been so hard to structure
my time and find motivation.

I saw this one tweet recently (that I can’t find anymore, ugh) where someone’s therapist said to them that when you’re worrying about things you need to get done while you’re relaxing, you’re not genuinely relaxing. So, you still feel burned out and ungrounded. I totally relate to this. I haven’t been giving myself the time to genuinely relax with the intention of recharging, having fun, and seeking joy. I told myself that from now on, Saturdays are the day where I don’t do or think about anything that is related to work or extra-curricular projects. It also goes back to the idea of refueling during a creative slump and gleaning new reflections + insights out of the things you’re consuming.

People are an amazing source of inspiration and
for making sense of what I’ve been feeling lately.

I recently attended an amazing 5-day camp called Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS) where South Asian activists teach 18 – 24 year olds about South Asian history, activism, and the interconnected nature of both social movements and systems of oppression. A participant led a discussion about the intersection of South Asian identity and art. Some of the themes that we talked about were: the tokenization of POC artists, the way that success is defined in terms of capitalism + how we’re unlearning that, our journeys weaving identity into different mediums of art, and what makes representation “good” or “bad.” It was profound to speak about these things that I’ve been thinking about with South Asian people my age who are also thinking about these things. Even though BASS was all through Zoom this year, the sense of community was still there and in a more accessible way.

I was recently wondering:
When was a time that I felt really creative?

One day in January, I had taken CalTrain to SF in the morning to attend a CreativeMornings event. It was a tour of Chronicle Books’ cute bookstore / office space, followed by a talk from some of their editors. I had just finished interning at Avalon Travel publishing and was considering what to do next, when my cousin Suhail told me about it. It was really fun to be in community with creatives and talk about the magic of the publishing process. On the quiet CalTrain ride home, I was reading, listening to music, and feeling buoyant. Later that day, I had a phone call interview with Priyanka and Pritika for Kulfi Beauty —not knowing that a.) this opportunity would be one of the most unexpected and exciting things to happen next for me and that b.) Priyanka and Pritika would become some of my favorite bajis. That day taught me what it means to follow my curiosities: to send those messages, to sign up for those events, to be open to what the universe has to offer.

I’ve been reflecting on how creativity is fueled by these moments of going somewhere and the sensory experiences that follow. I think we’re all having vivid flashbacks to past moments of a different time. Right now what comes to mind is the soothing smell of the eucalyptus trees at Mills, eating at aesthetic cafes in Kuala Lumpur with Safa, the holiday lights & crunch of leaves on Fourth Street, Berkeley on the way to Avalon Travel. At first, I was going to write about how much it sucks to not have access to these moments of exploration during quarantine (which it does suck, of course), but also thinking about how there’s a wealth of experiences that I’ve already had that I can tap into in my writing. Journaling about these moments could lead to stories, scenes, and new material. Pat on the back for this shift in perspective, Samia.

I’m not sure how to end this blog post because there’s always more to say. I’d love to know how people have been navigating things lately and how their sense of creativity has shifted in these past couple of months. Take care! —S.A.

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