I want to acknowledge you, dear reader, for your creative labor. I’m so grateful to live in a world where people use their creative skills to make art of all kinds and I’m inspired by your example. Thank you for daring to put your art, your labor of love, out into the world!
Any work we bring into the world involves risk. Whether it’s a performance or a recording, a composition, website, workshop, dissertation, master class, a curriculum, or a book—these all demand risks.
We risk being judged by others. And failing to live up to our own expectations. We invest time, money, energy, and emotion into projects that may offer us no reward. We’d do it anyway.
Thank you for risking!
Thank you for doing the tough creative labor needed to make the world better and to make the art that makes life worth living.
The creative process includes an emotional rollercoaster ride
The creative process and its accompanying emotional rollercoaster ride has been on my mind lately as I’ve been agonizing over the writing of a series of articles. Granted, these aren’t literary fiction, but as far as I know it’s the same creative process. The same crazy highs and lows of self-confidence in one’s ability to see the thing through.
Let me know if any of this resonates?
I haven’t calculated because I don’t want to know how many hours I’ve put into the project already. What started out as one article that I thought I could knock out in a day or two (hah!) has morphed into a 4 part series. It’s already eaten up nearly two weeks and isn’t finished yet—it’s like the blob that ate Chicago.
But the time spent is not bothering me as much as is my wildly vacillating self-confidence about being able to finish the project and do a decent job of it. It’s the crazy dance of perfectionism, procrastination, and negative self-talk.
Welcome to the festival of self-loathing
When this dance is in full swing I refer to it as the “festival of self-loathing.” Maybe you’ve been? (I hope I’m not the only one!)
I start out by procrastinating, and then either with a real or self-imposed deadline, when I finally start, I’m easily overwhelmed with trying to figure out where to begin and what to tackle first.
To distract myself, I pull together notes and sources, creating a kind of compost heap of material. All to a backbeat of self-talk, “I don’t know what I’m doing! This is never going to come together!”
Then when I push through that I usually start to see chunks of useable material and I start to play around with a possible structure or order. The negative self-talk subsides a little and I get more interested and even a little hopeful.
Not for long: I invariably hit a series of speed bumps. This process is a version of the hero’s journey but in the midst of it, I’m no hero. The speed bumps are creative problems needing solutions. It’s what the creative process is all about: experiments with form and function, intent and execution, and learning as you go.
But even while I’m solving problems and finding solutions in the writing, my negative self-talk can be chiming in with undermining doubts, “Do I have a point that I’m making in this? Is what I’m getting at worthy of reading?”
This is the official “losing perspective” phase that may happen multiple times in the process. It can help to take breaks and then re-read passages (in different accents to try to hear it anew). But it’s great if trusted colleagues and friends can read a draft and give you honest feedback or to talk you through it. Big THANK YOUs to Patricia and John, and to Florrie—who talked me down from the ledge just this morning.
I try to remind myself that all this is normal and that I’ve been through it before. And that at the early stages of writing (just like learning a new piece) there’s a period of figuring out what you really want to express and then figuring out how to convey it.
Why all the discouragement?
But I’m dismayed at how easily discouraged I am. I think, come on, this isn’t my first rodeo, at this point I should be able to:
A. work faster and more efficiently and
B. maintain a basic confidence that things will work out.
Of course, this is yet more fodder for self-laceration.
But there’s a good part.
The best thing about the whole process, for me, and I guess it’s enough to keep me at it, is that I eventually end up discovering what it is I have to say—and it’s never what I imagined when I started.
All creative acts are about exploration and discovery.
At some point I do get over the hump—there’s a part of the process where both the forest and the trees become visible, and I can see light at the end of the woodland area.
And for me, there IS a return on the investment: I always learn a ton in the process, not just about the topic, but about me. When I finish, I’m so relieved and grateful that I fool myself into thinking it wasn’t so painful and think maybe I’ll try it again!
Thank you for your creative labor: Keep going!
To gain more career insights and inspiration, join our supportive community, our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group. We’d love to have you!
PS: For extra help getting your creative work done (or for procrastinating by reading instead of doing your work) I recommend the excellent Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Draft method from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. And as I wrote the other week, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is amazing.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well