How to manage the highs and lows for creative consistency
I think you really take on a the bipolar attribute of manic and depressive states when you take on the burden of anything “creative”.
Maybe 6 months ago, I was on fire creatively and professionally. I could handle anything coming my way with enthusiasm and execution. It was a wonderful feeling as I’m sure you’ve experienced.
Recently, I finally decided to address past sexual abuse at the hands of a family member and deal with it properly. The process opened the Pandora’s box of the feelings of being absolutely worthless and powerless. This took a massive toll on my creativity and ability to fight resistance to create. I found myself full of so much doubt and negativity towards myself (which is a funny thing sexual abuse does to you), that I actually lost the ability to use what my whole career and passion is around: my creative voice.
It’s been over six months know since I’ve written something from my own heart and in my own voice. This is my first piece. I’ve been exploring, throughout this, why we go through valleys of creative death and how we and how we call pull ourselves out of the for creative consistency.
Because creative work is so personal and creation is such an intrinsic part of our outer-realm, higher “self”, creativity flows with our very easily swayed human emotions, as I just experienced.
Creative and consistency are the antithesis of each other but also totally not.
Creativity is like a muscle. The growth of creativity comes from consistency. Consistency fuels creativity. And, of course, you need both to create an income from your passion, talent, focus, etc.
There are plenty of unbelievable creatives in the world but very few develop the ability of creative consistency enough to rise to the next level and be heard.
One of my favorite quotes from a book on this very topic, The War of Art, sums it up well: “ ___”
Reflecting on this whole period, I’ve written down a few things that I see as vital to getting through the deserts of creative standstill:
If you can’t create, observe:
One day, I tried to write and hated every idea that came into my mind. I decided to look at the situation differently and just observed what others were creating and had created instead. I revisited some of the pieces, blog posts, poems, art, and books, that inspired me when I first started. I’ve always been a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan, so I reread The Rum Diary. If you’re unaware, it’s about a journalist/writer who moves from New York to Puerto Rico to work for a newspaper and a bunch of shit happens. Anyways, I read it right before I moved from New York to Spain and a bunch of shit happened. Books like these by authors like this have acted as a blueprint for me. It always puts me in perspective: this, my life and work, is an ever-changing adventure like the book and there needs to be a lot of drama to make it good.
Just as these artists and authors have created something that inspired me, it’s a duty of mine to at least try to do similar with the life I’ve been given.
I think I’ve come back full circle to this thought process every time I go back and explore my original inspirations.
Set incredibly small creative goals:
I see these depressions in creativity like a literal illness; as if I caught the cold instead of got caught up in my feelings…anyways, you can’t rush into running five miles to the gym after being sick for a week or so. You have to start with small, progressive steps that ease you, your body, and mind back into harmony with each other so you can perform. I notice that in uninspired times, I wake up later, I care less about my physical health, I fall back on the things I perceive as challenging; everything becomes about “getting by”. It really is as if you “catch” apathy.
When I’ve allowed my thoughts and emotions to overtake my creative efforts, I do need to get myself, body, and mind back together again. Like the flu, you have to be gradual about your return to fighting form.
- I set a goal to read 60 pages on Kindle of The War of Art.
- I set a goal to create and organize a spreadsheet of ideas. Literally just create it.
- I set a goal to write down a handful of topics I could write about (this post was one).
- I set a goal to outline this article.
- Within no time, this was done and my ideas were flowing.
It may have taken me three days to write a piece I could have done in thirty minutes at the height of my creative mania, but at least it happened. Resistance with the backing of some emotional blows is tough to get through; a trail of breadcrumbs gets us at least moving.
Get up earlier than everyone else:
This could very well be just me, but ever since I was a little kid, the hours between three and about 7 am have fascinated and inspired me. To be alone, awake, and ready in a world that was not was exhilarating and empowering. When I moved to Spain, I found out there is actually a word for these hours: Madrugada. I actually have it tattooed now.
Like I mentioned before, when going through a creative depression, I tend to wake up later than usual. Sometimes, just forcing myself to get up at 6am once makes a huge difference.
There’s actual science behind it, not just my childhood memories: people who wake up earlier statistically have more positive moods due to circadian rhythm.
For a lot of people, including myself, the early morning hours is the only time I have to myself really to hash out thoughts and ideas before I get an onslaught of emails and calls. It’s important to preserve this to not let emotions and stress stiffen creativity.
Physical activity of any kind:
I know some people have their best ideas in the shower, I have my best ideas at the gym or out on a walk. When that part of my life gets eliminated, those ideas also get eliminated. This is another one of those things I just have to force myself to do to make way for those ideas; sometimes even just a light walk is perfect. I live in Barcelona so literally just looking up at any given building provides a stunning view that I can’t help be somewhat inspired by.
Meditation (doesn’t have to be extremely yoga-y or hyper-spiritual):
For many people, this topic is still too “out there” to be considered and it makes them awkward; which I totally understand. I don’t really practice meditation in the yogi sense. I don’t even think I’m able to sit criss-cross without stretching first. Not my thing. But I do appreciate meditation in the “reconnecting with the higher self” sense. I use it as a way to learn to acknowledge thoughts and let them go by.
If you can learn to sit there for fifteen minutes and feel every emotion and think everything and not let it affect your breathing or heart, that right there is a win. I call it “rewiring the brain away from drama” because our reactions to thoughts and emotions are so damn dramatic. It’s also a time to reconnect with the greater, more inspired, more creative, fulfilled version of me that has yet to be manifested.
I recommend a book from Michael A. Singer called Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself that really shaped the way I look at meditation and that experience from a practical perspective.
An understanding that you’re incredibly necessary for someone:
It’s amazing to me that even an inspiration of mine like Hunter S. Thompson went through debilitating periods like this and still his work has enthralled millions like me. There’s something very comforting in that.
Understand that your work contributes on a larger scale. Think of the time you spend happily scrolling on social media, browsing art galleries, picking out and reading books. Think about that one article you found that you loved or that one Tweet or Instagram post you read that touched you in some way. Those were all creations of someone very similar to you. Your work has intrinsic value and could be something very important to someone else (or millions) one day. It’s your job to create, whatever that may be for you.