Creative people have a reputation for being free-spirited, individualistic, and openminded creatures who somehow spin intangible things like ideas and inspiration into epic novels, fine art, and musical masterpieces. It’s a lovely talent to have, but these right-brained leanings come with downsides that get us labeled as sensitive, inconsistent, or downright weird.
Opening up about our struggles can be hard. They can be challenging for non-creative people to grasp or sympathize with. They often tie directly to our vulnerability about our artistic abilities or worth. And sometimes we simply don’t have a way to unravel the complex tangle of emotions into a comprehendible sentence. The good news is, you’re not alone!
Today, I’m here to share five things to remember if you’re coming down with a case of creative blues, feeling a little blocked, struggling to feel excited about your creative projects, or in the midst of some serious burnout.
1. You are the harshest critic of your work
As creators, we train ourselves to see the machinations that make up our trade. Plot points and perfected prose, techniques and tropes, clichés and common pitfalls. We experiment, we make mistakes, we adjust as we go, and we’re always looking to grow and evolve.
From our viewpoint, the mistakes and missed opportunities are so obvious. Our opinion is tainted by emotions related to how difficult it was to achieve or dissatisfaction with the end result when compared to the vision still trapped inside our brain. We see every flaw and failing in vivid detail.
A critical eye is an important trait for creatives to hone, but it’s not the only skill we can rely on. Sometimes we need to be our own cheerleader. Find something worth complimenting. Take a break. Don’t stop believing in the power of happy accidents. Maybe one small tweak is all you need to go from ‘meh’ to ‘amazing’.
2. Different people have different taste
When it comes to any creative thing – music, painting, literature, cooking, fashion, you name it – defining ‘art’ is hugely challenging. Art is highly subjective and deeply personal. When we create something, all we can do is carry out our own artistic vision. But occasionally what we create doesn’t fall in line with what our personal aesthetic.
Maybe you like parts of what you did, or maybe it’s just kind of ‘blah’. Maybe you hate the whole thing. Maybe you want to hide it. Maybe you want to rip it apart and burn it before anyone can snoop over your shoulder. But before you do anything drastic, consider this: everyone’s taste is different. It’s quite possible that this little problem project isn’t actually bad. It’s just not to your taste.
Quite often, a concept I feel so-so about is what gets the most attention and praise. It’s strange, but it’s also a great lesson to learn as a creator. Sometimes art stops being about what we make and is all about how our work resonates with the people who see, hear, or taste it. And we don’t really have control over that. Don’t be afraid to post something because it’s outside of your personal comfort zone.
3. You’re allowed to experiment and change and try new things and even fail
To feel like we’ve got our stuff together is a huge mental hurdle for lots of creative types. Figuring out our signature style, discovering our writing voice, or just hammering down a good routine can feel like the sign that we’re succeeding. Receiving good feedback or gaining fans is a huge motivation to keep doing what works.
But our little formulas for success can become another type of obstacle. It’s easy to latch on to what’s working in the moment and forget something hugely important – everything changes. As we go, we continue to learn new skills, break through previous limitations, and learn to dream a little bit bigger and grander than before.
If you’re feeling tired of the same old rut, it’s okay to move on. It’s okay to change up your style or medium or genre. It can be fun to do something totally wild just for grins. It’s exciting to learn and master something new. It’s inspiring to see the world in a new way all over again. It’s freeing to know that there are people who will cheer you on and want to see what else you’re capable of, even if it’s not where you started.
4. You’re not obligated to share
I know we don’t want to spread propaganda that everything in the world is perfect and polished and easy if you’re talented enough. But sometimes it’s in our best interest to quit vent-posting and start dealing with these emotions for real.
Firstly, it’s not very professional to complain about work in the presence of clients, co-workers, or fans. It doesn’t evoke confidence if we’re always asking for validation, putting down our own handiwork, or undermining the skills and talents that people are specifically there to enjoy. Not only is it uncool to talk about ourselves in that light, but it can alienate the people who genuinely like we’re doing.
Secondly, I find that it’s healthier to deal with emotions and mental health privately. They are, after all, deeply personal. We are never obligated to share about, apologize for, or explain our feelings. Especially not to semi-strangers on social media. Bullet journaling, chatting with a close friend, or finding a creative outlet to explore can be a more constructive way to process and express strong emotions or heavy experiences.
Lastly, creating positive moments can be a lot more beneficial than recycling the negative vibes. Instead of talking about all the ways we’re failing and struggling, maybe it would help to list the ways we’ve succeeded and improved. Rather than share progress on something we’re not happy with, post a throwback of a favorite piece or two. Start happy conversations or talk with someone who makes you laugh. Your space can be the happy bubble you need if you choose to make it so.
5. Feelings can’t predict the future
Creativity is hard work. There are endless decisions to make, varying levels of motivation, moments of dread, happy accidents, frustrations, challenges, victories, regrets, and glimpses of what it must be like to actually know what we’re doing.
It’s an endless and unpredictable cycle of contradictions. We feel vulnerable and then invincible, unsure and then completely confident. We question our creative vision and our ability as a creator and yet find the strength to challenge our limitations and discover fresh sources of inspiration. These feelings are oh-so real and oh-so raw. But I guarantee the wheels will turn, and you’ll be seeing everything from a fresh perspective all over again.
You may grow to:
- Dislike a project you were super-duper proud of in the past
- See the beauty in work you don’t remember making at all
- Fix or revisit a piece you previously gave up on
- Love a style or genre you thought you’d never try
- Enjoy a technique or aspect of the job you previously found difficult
Stay steady and self-assured, even when you don’t feel like you’re at your best. Your talent as a creator isn’t defined by a single piece of art or a few experimental sentences, so why not make a dud or two. Who decided that you weren’t allowed to fail? The act of making is what matters most sometimes, even if the results are no good.
Your heart may not be in it today, but your skills, and passion, and effort to learn don’t disappear just because it’s a little harder to show up than it used to be. You may not love where you are right now in the creative journey, but that doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck here singing the creative blues forever.
What helps you get over a case of the creative blues?
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