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Want to know a big secret about creative people?
We’re not always creative.
All those pretty pictures on my instagram (and, heck, this email)? Those are usually from good creativity days. It may look like I’m always creating beautiful artwork, but that’s because that’s how I want it to look. Sure, I have (probably magical) days where I do two or three pieces I’m really happy with, but those are the exception, not the rule.
Creativity seems to come and go as it pleases.
And it’s not just me. I’ll bet your creativity does the same thing. Whether you knit or do calligraphy or take amazing photographs or design machines or teach or whatever it is you do, I’ll bet sometimes you just can’t do it. That blank canvas or word doc just stares back at you for hours and nothing magical at all happens. Maybe you’re in such a creative rut right now. I know I am.
A few days ago, I literally sat on my bed all. day. long. watching old films for the new interactive classic film illustration series I was supposed to be doing this week (more on that later), and this pile of way-less-than-awesome, unfinished sketches is all I come up with.
Did I mention this is my work from the ENTIRE DAY?
That really doesn't feel good when I draw for a living. It feels like total failure. So I’ve been in kind of a funk about it this week.
There are lots of factors to this. If you’ve been following along with my emails lately, you probably know we’ve had a lot going on. A move, a super extended trip we hadn’t planned on, and that pesky anxiety that I thought I’d gotten rid of. But those aren’t the only things that seemingly broke my creativity.
Want to know what else made this happen?
Me. I did it. It was Gracie, in her studio, with the blank piece of paper. (Get that Clue reference? No? Ok, fine, it was a bad joke.)
Anyway, I’ve totally been sabotaging my own creativity. And I’m willing to bet you do, too.
How? You expect yourself to be creative all the time.
Or at least whenever you sit down and decide to be. When I got up Tuesday morning, already feeling like it just wasn’t going to be a good day, I tried to force it. Just like you probably did that day you planned on doing your creative thing and it was going to be awesome and probably involve unicorns and at the end of it you were frustrated and felt totally worthless because magic just wouldn’t happen and you thought everything you made/did/created was horrible.
Creativity, like so many things in our lives, comes and goes.
Part of the problem is that, despite witnessing this ebb and flow in our lives constantly, we never expect it to work this way the next time. Each time we get to the top of a mountain of creativity, we somehow think it’ll last forever and we’ll never hit a valley. And then when we’re in a valley, we expect mountain-peak level work from ourselves, with no break or change in routine.
Stop it. Just STOP. [I’m telling myself this, too.]
Listen to all the personal experience I’m sure you have that tells you that changing up your scenery, or doing something “unproductive,” like taking a walk or playing with kids or enjoying a good book will actually help, and what’s more is OK TO DO. It seems like everyone is all about work, work, work, and that being a really good person involves working yourself to the bone and never, ever stopping. But that just doesn’t result in your best work, or, more importantly, your happiness. And creativity hates it.
Friend, be nice to your creativity. Give it a break. Let it play.
This morning I was stressing out about getting everyone done for this newsletter, and feeling absolutely incapable of creating an Adventures with Small People or printable you’d even remotely enjoy. I’d been trying to force it all week to no avail. So, today, instead of sitting myself down and trying to force it, I decided to pull out some watercolors and just play with colors and lines and forms, with no real end goal in mind.
No, these aren’t my best pieces ever. They're mostly just doodles. No, I probably can’t sell them. They're not perfect, and I don't like all of them. I piled multiple doodles into single pages and didn't make plans beforehand. And no, I didn’t get Adventures with Small People or my normal quote printable done (there still is one, though!). But it was fun. I enjoyed it. And I think it let my creativity breathe a little
So as I start again on those classic film illustrations, it might work better. And if I get stuck again I’ll take another break and not try to force it. I’m shooting to have that series really start next week, but it might not happen, and that’s ok.
I’m learning to given myself more grace to pause. And it’s a lot easier knowing that’s exactly the thing that will probably help me do more focused, productive work later on.
Whatever your creative thing is, give yourself grace with it. Just play. Take a break instead of trying to force it. It won’t always work the way you want, and it doesn’t have to. Those valleys don’t mean there won’t ever be mountains, and the work you do in the valleys doesn’t take away from your mountain-peak work, either.
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