Creativity is one of the most misunderstood concepts around.
Most of us think of it as being a wonderful gift bestowed on some of us, through a passive-aggressive, neon pink-tinted lens. While it is certainly a gift – to be able to paint, to create music, to write screenplays, to make art and more – it’s far more a messy battle than a wonderful carefree journey as it’s generally perceived to be.
You may have heard creativity as the chronic artist’s struggle, a trade-off for having a life, a constant uphill internal conflict to wrestle with inner demons and such. I think these are absolutely true to the journey of making sense of the world through your own eyes by means of artistic creation. Despite the emotional pain that comes with it (and is more often than not triggered by it), this is said to all be the most noble part of the process – the self-sacrifice, the excruciating jabs to the self-esteem and generally the existential crisis that so very often accompanies any artistic endeavour.
But what we don’t talk about enough in the artistic/creative world is organic creativity and rest.
There’s a misconception that in order to be a successful creative, you have to then be constantly creating. Every day. No days off. Just do it. It’s that simple, right? You’ve been blessed with this talent, to not use it every day is to throw it back in everyone’s face. Right?
Lord, no! This toxic mindset may work well to motivate you physically or with general discipline in life. But absolutely not can this be applied to the creative process.
The creative process is messy, is beautiful, is complex and is a timid creature. It must be approached gently, with compassion, with a tender curiosity. When you are in that creative space and you are generating ideas, feeling inspired and bursting with colour, it really is a beautiful place to be. Your inner child has never felt more seen, you have never felt more understood, more comfortable with expressing your deepest feelings through your art. But if you flip over onto the other side of the coin and you aren’t in that space, even the thought of creating anything, let alone creating anything at all, can be the worst kind of pain – not the noble pain of self-sacrifice, but the pain of just feeling completely at sea.
When you force creativity when you aren’t in that organic place of inspiration, you’re essentially going deeper into the dark forest, getting more and more lost. Your projects become ego-driven, your thoughts become saturated with self-loathing and full of stories that you aren’t good enough and that you should just give up entirely. And that’s the most painful part of it all. If everyone had given up on their art, can you imagine how bleak the world would be?
This is why it’s so imperative for artists to trust their intuition, to tune into their feelings when it comes to not just their creative projects, but their daily life. If you aren’t in a good place mentally, it’s likely that you will suffer from your art rather than be empowered by it. Sure, you may be able to write a great song when feeling vulnerable, but being vulnerable is very different from feeling altogether worthless and quite literally lost for words or ideas.
Rest in all aspects of life needs to be normalised. If we’ve learned anything from the latest pandemic is that it’s not only ok, but good to slow down. To pause. To not constantly be churning out external things and exploiting our mental health in the name of art, because we feel obligated to. I used to beat myself up for not writing consistently on my blog or writing anything in general and that just perpetuated a shame cycle that made me not want to return to the keyboard at all.
But when I started getting curious about how I was feeling, when I started being compassionate to myself, understanding that life happens and gets in the way, it shedded a heavy old layer of skin that I’d been carrying around for years. Now I can happily not write in a month and come back to the keyboard knowing that it’s ok. I’ve been busy socialising, having a life, experiencing things, meeting new people, doing stuff! If anything, that’s a great bonus (and of course, potential material for my next idea – writers just don’t stop looking for material, even if it’s on their own deathbed). When I let go of the idea I ‘had’ to be writing to serve a purpose or to feed my ego, I finally started having ideas and – while that may be not a big deal to a lot of creatives – that moment actually made me quite emotional. It had been years since I had had any kind of idea at all, I’d been blocking myself because I was forcing ideas – and thus scaring them away. But when I let go of all that internal resistance and swapped it for curiosity, things changed. I signed up to a writing course last September and have been writing Morning Pages ever since (and about 4 novels’ worth of words – most of them haven’t ended up as any kind of project, but THAT’S OK). I started writing short stories again. I started to get genuinely excited about writing again, when I thought I’d lost the will entirely.
So to sum up, creativity simply cannot be forced, especially if it’s coming from the ego – and by that, I mean you punishing yourself as motivation to create. We only create our best work when we are in the right place and I encourage you to be organically creative. Listen to your intuition. Tune into those feelings of excitement (rather than fear and shame). If you feel like making something – go for it. If you need rest or a break from your projects, take them. While some people can make incredible art in the state of darkness, pain and suffering, it’s far kinder and sustainable to being healing those parts first instead of dragging yourself over a bed of nails in the name of art. From kindness eventually comes beauty.