(Originally posted July of 2013)
Are you feeling stuck and unexcited in a creative area or project that used to bring you joy? – Maybe in your life in general? It happens to the best of us and no, it isn’t caused by a lack of ability or worthiness. What is the cause? Well, that will take some investigation. Here are some questions to get your detective work started:
- What specifically about this brings (or used to bring) me joy? This is the first and most important question. I can remember struggling through musical projects as a college student, thinking in the back of my mind that I was just lazy and/or not as talented as the other students around me. You see, it was a love of songwriting that had led me down a musical path in life. Had I asked myself this question while still in high school I might have recognized that what I really loved about songwriting was lyric writing, or writing in general, and I may very well have gone on to study something in the realm of English. Had I done that, I most likely would have been more successful in my creative projects, since joy is an important component of inspiration. If you’re feeling stuck, maybe your creative goal needs tweaking, as mine once did.
- Am I taking too long for this project? Yes, creative projects need time and attention but too much time – I mean, spending endless months or years – on a single project can be a inspiration killer. Around 2004, I completed an album of original songs. Then I decided that the production needed to be better, so I spent a couple of years tweaking and fine-tuning tracks, adding parts, etc… By the time the CD was done (which was a long tedious journey) I was no longer interested in the songs and never did anything to promote the album. Creativity needs to keep flowing, constantly moving forward. Yes, put time and energy into doing your best work now. Then put it out there and move on to the next project.
- Are past so-called failures scaring me out of completing this project? If you’re pursuing a creative life, whether as hobby or career, you want to know the name Eric Maisel He is a creativity coach and author of many books about staying productive and unblocked (his website). An extremely useful perspective that I learned to from Eric Maisel is this: When you choose to live a creative life you’re choosing every aspect of a creative life. For example, choosing the life of a novelist may mean that you have to write fifteen books in order to have three published. So, when book number two isn’t picked up by a publisher, instead of seeing that as a sign that you have no talent, see it as a natural part of the life you’ve chosen and go write the next one – it could be the one that gets picked up. Or, let’s say you’re having a bad month financially speaking because you didn’t sell as much artwork as you’d hoped. Again, this isn’t a sign of having no talent. This is a sign that you’re living the life of an artist. There will likely always be months when you don’t sell a lot of your work. A lean month is confirmation that you are living life on your own terms (and hopefully you have a backup plan in place for such occasions).
- Do I really want the process or am I only interested in the outcome? As a vocal coach, I’ve had many new students share their dreams with me. “I want to be a contestant on American Idol,” has been a common one. As lessons progress, though, some of these students begin to slip. They don’t do their homework, cancel lessons and make all kinds of excuses. One student justified her lack of effort by saying that she didn’t believe she needed to do vocal exercises to keep her voice in shape (??). It isn’t enough to love the idea of a creative skill. You have to enjoy the process of mastering that skill. If you don’t enjoy the work that goes into a certain creative project, if little signs of progress don’t excite you, than you should re-read the first question, answer it carefully and adjust your creative dream accordingly.
- Am I in 100%? Another thing I learned from Eric Maisel is, don’t wait for inspiration to lead you to your workshop (so to speak). Go there ready to work and invite inspiration to join you. Being 100% committed to your project means you show up every day, whether you think you feel like it or not (I recommend a morning time if possible, before the day has stolen away parts of your brain). Create a workspace you enjoy being in (candles, music, a great view, etc…) and go there every day, even if for only thirty minutes. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…
- Am I doing this for myself or to prove something to others? This is a tougher question than it seems. Our creative projects give our lives meaning and we all want others to see the value in that meaning (and put their money where their mouths are to help us pay our bills). But choosing a creative project should ultimately be about you. It’s your passion being fulfilled, your skills being honed, your knowledge of a discipline and the related business aspects that are increasing. If you’re putting 100% into growing in all these ways you will progress no matter how much “success” each individual project brings. The CD I mentioned earlier, the one I never promoted, invited some negative feedback from people in my life. Yet, the project brought me work in later years in the form of an artist grant, as well as knowledge and experience that I’ve also since benefited from. If you know you’re on track with your creative projects but people around you have a different opinion about it, screw them. Their voices in the back of your mind will only taint your creativity. They don’t understand the steps involved in living a creative life but you do, and that’s all that matters.
- Is there too much pressure on my creative projects? Yes, you may be living a creative life for you and yes, I said “screw them” about people who may judge you. But you still have to take care of the business of your life. If your safety, well-being, security, etc… all depend on the success of any one project, you have put yourself in a very difficult and tenuous position. As artists we tend to focus on how we will handle and enjoy our successes. But, as I said earlier, a creative life has natural and inevitable ups and downs. To succeed all around you need to know how to enjoy the ups and get through the downs. For some that means a reliable side job, for others, a supportive spouse. It could mean living in a rented room instead of a two bedroom apartment. If you “have to” succeed for the sake of paying next month’s rent, you haven’t set yourself up for success. Restructure your life to take all that pressure off of your creativity, and give your creativity the time and space it needs to grow.