Making things, in my opinion, is one of the most fulfilling occupations you can do in life. Whether it’s expressing yourself through art, building cars, or creating products, it’s the satisfaction of making something out of nothing that keeps you going. But there’s a darker side to that creativity. A place that isn’t as sexy or as great as people would like to think. Like the two sides of every coin, there is the up and the down. Today I’d like to share my experience with the down.
While it certainly feels like a rollercoaster, the process of creating, for me, is more akin to the climax of a good novel. Things start off slow, with inspiration and enthusiasm as you settle on an idea. Then they start to build as you gather more ideas, you research, and you begin to put pressure on yourself to make your project as good as possible. Then you’re making the thing, you’re happy, your heart is fully engaged in every detail, and you’re at your high. You’re solving problems, discovering new techniques, and feel like you can’t be stopped!
Then suddenly, you are done with your piece, and you start the steep descent into darkness. You’re no longer creating; instead, you are delivering that idea or that project into the world. You recognize it’s imperfections, you see your soul in that work, and now you have to give your baby away for the world to do whatever they want to it: ridicule it, buy it, criticize it, or worse — ignore it. Suddenly your heart is turned inside out after you realize your work has to stand on its own two legs without you.
For me, this process is difficult. I put a lot of passion into my projects, and when they’re finished, I feel a little lost. Whether it’s anxiety over how something is received (I cried the morning I shared my Wonder Woman costume), the anticipation of failure, or a big question mark over your head about what’s next, the confusion and sadness that can come after making something is a considerable challenge.
I create things for myself first. But unless you are a hermitic artist who keeps their work close to their heart (J.D. Salinger I’m thinking of you), you naturally want to share your creativity with others. We don’t create in a vacuum, and often the work is made to inspire, communicate, and share life experiences with those around you. It’s how we reach out. It’s also how many artists make money. And when all those emotional, economic and societal pressures are packed into one object or piece of work, it can be too much to bear. And we crack.
This has happened to me more times than I can count. Fear. Self-doubt. Sadness. Anxiety. It’s there through every single creative crash.
So what do you do? You let go, of course. Release your creativity into the world not only without expectations but also loosen the gripping emotional attachment. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, describes it well: “What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.” You have to be okay with that paradox. But the good news is, the more you create and release, the easier it becomes. Wish your work the best as you watch it float out to sea.
If you get the creative crash, as I like to call it, here are some of the things that have helped me weather each cresting wave:
Learn About What You Feel
I love books like Big Magic, from Gilbert, and Things Are What You Make of Them, by Adam Kurtz. They describe with accuracy how many creative people feel before, during, and after making things. Their wisdom can help lift you up and carry you through the darkness. Remember, you are not alone in your experience.
Don’t Equate Self Worth with Success
When your work is your life, your identity becomes tied to your success. You have to keep your work separate from who you are. You are brilliant and unique, regardless of whether you’ve sold a book or not. Remind yourself of it regularly.
It’s All Relative
Comparing yourself to others will almost always get you down. Resist doing it, and check yourself when you start going down the path of self-pity. Bitterness won’t produce great work, and it certainly won’t attract friends, fans, or job offers. There’s always someone doing better, so it’s best to solely focus on being the best version of yourself!
See A Professional
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, this is just my armchair opinion.) If you go through a long period of sadness, either stemming from an inability to get back on the horse, or from not being happy about a creative outcome, you may want to seek professional counseling or therapy. I have worked through depression for years, and while it never entirely goes away, I could not be where I am now without the help of a certain willowy doctor.
Find Joy in Learning
For me, learning new things makes me happy. Do it because you like to try new hobbies and learn different techniques – it doesn’t have to amount to anything other than joy. Better if it’s completely unrelated to your work, that way you don’t feel any pressure.
Sooth Your Soul With Art
I watch my favorite movies, listen to nostalgic songs, and read romance novels to soften the blow of creative failure. Entertainment is there for you, always. Use it to feel good again. It doesn’t need to inspire your next piece; it just needs to heal you.
Use the Sads
My favorite thing for channeling the creative blues is using the emotions in my work (and this post is literal proof of that!). If you’re angry about your music not getting any buzz, write a song about it. If you haven’t sold a single piece of pottery, use it to make a blue collection that reflects where you are. This has helped me every single time I feel sad — I make something with it.
Lean on Friends
I often talk about my fears with others. It instantly diffuses the worry and anxiety, and I feel closer to those around me. Friends and loved ones are there for this reason. Tell them you need them.
Treat Yo Self
Take time to care for your body and mind. Exercise, pamper or hike if it’s what you need. I firmly believe a clear head yields the best out of life!
Ditch the Phone
Social media usage when you’re vulnerable is a no, no. Avoid it at all cost. Use these tips to help!
The easiest way I swing from project to project is never to stop. Do something. Anything. Clean your kitchen so thoroughly you can eat off the floor. Make rubbings of autumn leaves. Help your parents organize their garage. Do word searches. It doesn’t have to mean anything or go anywhere, but it keeps the momentum and engages your mind. I try to keep working, keep pushing through as best I can, and it keeps getting easier. So, stay busy!
I’m not sure if there will ever be a time where I don’t feel some kind of creative crash after each project, but I will tell you that my rollercoaster has gotten a lot less bumpy. Nothing has worked as well for me as pushing through, swinging to the next creative vine, and not looking back.
So with that in mind, I’ve got to run. My next article already needs my attention!
“Don’t stop being yourself. Don’t stop speaking out. Don’t stop fighting to be heard. Don’t stop making work that matters. Don’t stop shouting, whether that’s by literally shouting or simply living your life your way. Never giving up is how you win. Never give up. Win.” – Adam Kurtz
Do you ever experience a creative crash after accomplishing something or releasing a product? How do you pick yourself back up and get back to work?