Cycle 2.1: Creative Cycles


Woman with Water side 3 Leslie email
(Photo courtesy of Leslie Frances, Lake County, California sculptor.)

by Janet Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

Creative cycles include both inward/outward and
upward/downward swings. We need to be able to make sense of these cycles. We
must discover how to balance the extremes of the swings and the continuum between.

How can we move forward with our creative lives while performing this
tricky balancing act? We need to figure it out if we are to keep our creative
flame burning over a lifetime—and if we are to maintain our well-being and

What do I mean by the inward and outward cycle?

First, there is a natural hibernation or incubation period when nothing shows outwardly—no poems, no first drafts, no query letters. If we
live our creative lives with integrity, usually we can tell the difference
between just goofing off and holding something precious inside of us. Think of
it as being pregnant with ideas and feelings. Eventually, as we bring the
fruits of incubation into the world with active work, they develop into
writing. This aspect of the inward and outward cycle has been widely written

Secondly, there is the going out into the world to gather experience and then the coming back inside our cozy nesting place to harvest the experience. This aspect of the in/out cycle isn’t often addressed specifically. Many creative people tend to be more on the introspective side, but generally we love going out to lap up the world and its riches—in our own way. As we talked about in “Building a Creative Practice,“ the muse needs nurturing. You have to have something to write about before you can write!

Thirdly, there is the inward time in the study when the writer is perfecting her craft. Writing the book and perhaps publishing; harvesting journal pages to create a poem. Again, we go inward to gestate the work, then bring it forward to share with the world. This cycle is built in to the creative process for even the most private of writers. Publishing isn’t a requirement; we may just want to read the work to a friend, story circle, or family.

What of the upward and downward cycle? I suspect this needs little
explaining, as everyone has experienced this. Generally, we can identify the
up/down cycle in the ebb and flow of our energy and mood. There are times when we feel fragile and vulnerable, needing to protect and conserve our energy. There are other times when we feel strong and confident, ready to produce like gangbusters and holler, “World, here it is!”

Though they can be coaxed to move along, these cycles must be respected. For if we violate the inward and outward movement of the life of our soul, our creative impulse scoots down the rabbit hole.

These cycles of inward/outward and up/down are part of the cycle of nature…part of the dance of life between the receptive and generative energies. In our next post (2.2), we’ll discuss the inward and outward cycle more and give a few clues about how to approach these dips and dives.


We write “Creative Catalyst” in theme cycles. The keynote post
introduces the theme, the following posts explore the theme. Our first cycle addressed creativity and creative practice.

The keynote post “What Is Creativity, Anyway?,” introduced and defined the topic. It was followed by looking at what it takes to be a serious writer, Building a Creative Practice: Not for Wimps.” We concluded that first cycle with “Working from Source in Your Creative Practice,” investigating the
inside-out story in our creative lives. In response to reader comments, our
next theme is a three-part conversation about cycles.

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