Maker Ennui

To make things from raw materials has long brought joy to humans. It is creativity and capability. It is craft and cleverness.

But sometimes we find ourselves at loose ends. We finish a big project and… just… peter out. We get bored or frustrated with what we’re working on and turn away from it. And the ennui sets in. Nothing captures the attention. Projects waiting on the “to make” list suddenly aren’t so appealing. Excuses set in. You get started, but the project has no heart.

Photo of knitting being ripped out.
I like to rip out languishing projects when I don’t know what else to work on.

Maker ennui goes with the territory. It isn’t a failing. We make, we unmake, we reflect — this isn’t a rigid cycle, but instead different stages that we can be in at any time. Probably simultaneously too. Sometimes the reflection stage can feel transcendent, as one explores a new theme in freewriting or takes photos of a beautiful landscape stumbled upon and unplanned for. But sometimes our creative self needs to retreat and rest. I believe, in our busy modern lives, that feels like ennui. The brain doesn’t know how else to make us stop except to pull the plug. The instinct and habit to create is there, but the conduit that gives it meaning is temporarily shut down.

When you have maker ennui, this is a good time to:

  • take a nap — sleep is healing.
  • read a book — something light and fun, unless you’d really rather that academic discourse on Georgian townhouse architecture. Who am I to judge?
  • learn something new — if you’re a knitter, try woodworking; if you’re a writer, try canning jam. Beginner mind is a beautiful thing.
  • deep clean your house or studio or office — this either fills you with dread or excitement; run with it.
  • spend time with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time — reconnect, stir up old ideas, make new ones.
  • get your hands dirty in the garden — whether it’s pulling weeds or planting flowers, soil is good for you. Don’t have a garden? Go help someone else with their yard.
  • move your furniture around or make a decor change. Hate your bedroom curtains? Now’s the time to freshen up!
  • cook and bake — stock up your freezer with homemade soup and bread. It’s great insurance against those days when you’re too wrapped up in your making to stop to cook.

Some people are cyclical in their making, gardening in the summer and quilting in the winter. Maybe that’s you. Maybe it’s not ennui, but it just time to shift gears and sew a summer wardrobe.

Maker ennui can last hours, days, or even months. Go with the flow, try to determine what your body is telling you it needs, rather than feel frustrated. Your creativity and drive to make will return and you will have the energy to run with it if you let yourself rest.

How do you like to recharge?

6 Replies to “Maker Ennui”

  1. I just switch mediums. There is always something else that’s more fun than the project that’s lost its allure.

  2. Reading is always helpful for me. And when I’m not feeling like writing at all (not super often, but it does happen), crafting is a great way to mix it up.

  3. I love this post! When I’m not feeling a project anymore, I usually tidy up the pieces and put it away on my “unfinished projects” bookshelf (yes, I have a separate set of shelves for the “works in progress” in my craft room). Every year or two I go through it, and if a project has been languishing for too many years on it and still doesn’t inspire me, then I get rid of it or break it back down to its component pieces. Often, though, I’ll pick a project back up 6 months after I’ve put it down with the motivation and inspiration to finish it.

    When I feel the ennui… I don’t know, I switch focus, like you say. Cook a lot, see friends, read books, cuddle with the cats, dink around on the internet, use Pinterest to get inspiration for a different project, start building virtual projects in Minecraft instead, or just kinda feel blah for a while and eventually it goes away and inspiration comes back.

  4. Right now I have three different crafts going with the possibility of a fourth. I can choose to knit, felt, sculpt or spin. There is usually something that strikes my fancy for that day. So far it is helping to keep me making every day.

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