3 ways creatives can survive a slow season

When an artist sees opportunities diminish, it's time to do more, not less

It’s the saddest sound in the world. Actually because it’s not a sound at all.

It’s the sound of a creative’s phone that isn’t ringing.

Working as an entrepreneurial artist can take you on a rollercoaster of emotions. There are times when business is booming, clients are calling, and we can barely keep up with demand for our talents. Then, there’s the opposite – the times when days and weeks go by without a single text, email, or inquiry. Not only can this be emotionally depressing for the creative, it can be financially devastating if we haven’t set up reserves or an alternate source of income.

So, what should we do when our work flow slows down to a trickle?

Here are three simple strategies for making it through a slow season of creative work.

1. Renew. there’s plenty of benefits to having a lot of work coming your way – money, attention, and artistic activity. But there is a downside. Usually when we are busy fulfilling the needs of others, we neglect to refresh our own creative energy. The slower season of a creative’s calendar is your chance to correct that. Unplug from the constant search for new opportunities and remember why you are an artist in the first place. Here are some practical ways to renew yourself while work isn’t as available.

  •     Take an entire day with a notebook and sketch new ideas, new melodies, etc. that have no particular purpose.
  •     Visit a place you remember from your childhood, or the location where a treasured memory occurred. Let the emotions of a great time of your life sink in.
  •     Contact a fellow creative or artist that you haven’t reached out to in a while. Use the downtime to renew relationships that you’ve not had time to focus on.

It’s the moments when you are detached from your normal routine that often provide the clarity and decisiveness you need to make the next step in your career. Instead of frantically worrying about finding the next job, make sure you slow down and utilize the time to recharge your batteries.

2. Retrain. If you have been doing a certain type of work for a long time, and you notice the demand has waned, or that you simply don’t have the same passion for it, it may be a perfect time for you to pick up a new skill. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your primary discipline. Rather, it means you add new tools to your toolbox of artistic abilities. For example, take Fredrick “Bam” Scott, a South Florida musician whose primary background is in percussion. While he has enjoyed success as a band leader and producer, he decided to give acting a try and has now appeared in several commercials, network shows and pilot episodes. When things slow down in one area, he has access to additional possibilities.

Try these strategies during a slow season:

  • Take an online course in a field that you’re not as familiar with. Many of these courses are free through iTunesU and other online educational sites.
  • Meet with an instructor and learn a new skill that’s remotely related to your discipline; i.e. Guitarists taking lessons in violin or harp, or sculptors taking a class in glassblowing.
  • Join a social group (online or in person) dedicated to a new discipline and ask lots of questions. Not only will you learn more, you’ll create new contacts and relationships that may prove beneficial. [Author’s note: I myself did this when I began writing my book, God and Gigs. While my training is in music, I joined several author and publishing forums which gave me much needed advice and encouragement as I entered the writing business.]

Retraining yourself can stretch your creative mind to do things you didn’t think you could handle. Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as a graphic artist, or as a composer, or as a DJ, but retraining can open you up to new possibilities. In his book Unmistakable: Why Only is Better than Best, author and creative coach Srinivas Rao relates how he taught himself to draw for 30 days while in a slow season for his business. That learning process became an inspiration for a major rebrand of his website and company.  When things slow down in your current field, taking the time to explore new avenues may prove to be very beneficial to your creative life and business.

3.  Refocus. During slow seasons, it’s easy to get bogged down in activities that may not be helpful. Instead, use this down time to refocus only on what matters.  This may be the time to get rid of things that may not be working for you, either business wise or artistically. Taking the time to honestly assess your strategies can help you come out of the slow season better than ever.

Here are some refocusing actions you might want to consider.

  • Removing social media accounts where you really don’t have an impact or voice, and focusing on building real relationships with fellow artists when online.
  • Eliminating time-wasters like binge-watching shows, and dedicating that time to more practice and preparation.
  • Making sure you are marketing yourself effectively, following up with potential customers,  and planning a detailed business strategy for the coming months.

Getting back to basics can keep you sharp and ready for the time when your creative calendar starts to fill up again. In fact, it’s safe to say that as you get back into the things you do best, you’ll gain creative momentum that will draw people to your work and your business. People can sense when you are dedicated to a goal. This will boost your confidence in your ability to come out of the slow season.

Renew, retrain, refocus – all methods to ensure that, though your phone may not ringing and your inbox is empty, you are doing what creatives should do no matter what the season – making new art and exploring new ideas. Don’t let the pace of the business determine your creative output. Set your own pace and let the business catch up with you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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