As a musician, I find that it’s hardest to be creative and inspiring during the holiday season. Since we started working on songs for “Run & Tell” in the spring and recorded all summer, by the time we get to holiday music in December, I’m, well… just over it. I don’t think this applies exclusively to worship leaders, but most folks that work in the creative arts industry. Many people spend a LOT of time and energy crafting their work for the “most wonderful time of the year.” The elementary school Christmas concert you prepped for back in October, the window display of your boutique shop you designed in November, the planning of your company’s big Christmas party back when budgets were due in July. So when the big month is here, we can often experience the “well… now what?” feeling. We’ve habituated to our own music and art and it doesn’t seem special anymore.
So how do we find inspiration this time of year as creative people? I have five simple practices you can incorporate in the busyness of the season to help you find inspiration.
- Talk to other people about your own work. Not your mom (although I’m sure she’d love to hear from you, and her opinions are important, too), and not your best friend. Find someone who knows a thing or two specifically about what you do and ask for honest feedback. We learn from those we admire, and who are honestly better than we are at what we do. Find someone you professionally or creatively admire, and treat them to coffee. Ask them what inspires them, if they've seen or heard your work, and then ask them (perhaps with butterflies in your stomach) what you can do better. I guarantee that leaving that coffee shop you'll think about your own work differently and be inspired to create in a whole new light.
Unplug. My husband Neil is really good at this. It’s ironic that I’m writing a blog post on this, but after you’ve read through this, turn. off. your. phone. Turn it off especially during meals, movies, of course while you’re driving, and even at work for a while. We are so attached to our little devices that we might be missing beautiful things in REAL LIFE that is right in front of our faces. And that beautiful thing waiting for us when we put down our phone can be inspiring.
Write. Related to unplugging, I truly value the physical effort and satisfying feeling of writing with a pen and paper. All of my lyrics to songs are hand written. All of my recipes for our food blog are hand written. There is something about not being able to delete your previous thought, actually seeing it and choosing to scribble it out or perhaps circle and come back to later that I really enjoy about the creative process. Get away from the screen, from thesaurus.com, from checking Facebook in another tab while you think of lyrics, and just write.
Pray. Out loud. In the car. On the way to work. When we lived in North Carolina, I had a 60-minute drive to work. While I loathed this drive at first, I began to look forward to it as I realized it was the only time in my day where I could just… be. I don’t know about you, but I have to pray out loud. There is waaaay too much going on in my brain for me to keep my prayers on-topic and not get distracted if I don’t. After moving back to St. Louis I’ve kept this practice of praying in the morning, out loud, driving to work. Yes, I might look a little looney or like I’m talking to myself, but it helps me wake up, focus my day, and spend good time with the Lord. That time to me with God is precious and I’ve been inspired many mornings as I’m praying and watching the firey sun rise.
Remember. Spend some time this holiday season remembering why you continually choose to share your creativity with others. This goes with anything you start to burn out on: art, vocations, relationships. It’s a healthy practice to stop and just take a few minutes to reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing. Remember that even in the bleak midwinter, God made new a world that longed for hope. And he did that through the gift of his son. It’s imperative that even today, we live in a broken world that needs to be made new through the gift of Jesus. Christmas is a beautiful reminder of that gift that freely came to us, and that we need Him to come again and again. We need to be reminded of it again and again. So, take some time to remember.
I hope this Christmas season you honor the nostalgic wonder of the season while also remembering why it’s so important and what part your art will play in it. When you feel burned out and like the beauty of Christmas has faded before it’s even begun, talk. unplug. write. pray. and remember. Merry Christmas, and keep creating.
Whitney Ostercamp is a board-certified music therapist in St. Louis. She works in the public school system helping students with special needs through research-based music therapy interventions. Ostercamp is a volunteer worship leader at the Clayton Site of The Gathering, and frequently writes original music with Made New Creative, including the title track of the album “We Are Your Love," and "Holy Child," from the Made New Creative's latest release, "Run & Tell." In addition to music therapy and worship leading, Ostercamp is a freelance writer and food photographer at thenewlywedchefs.com.