What Makes Creativity So Hard?

People talk about how hard it is to write, to paint, to create. They’ll talk about the time commitment, having to learn the craft, struggling with prose or dialog, character development or plot arc.

Sure all of that external stuff is hard.

But you know what makes it really hard? Yourself. Not just the voice of the inner critic, but days when you know you need to plant your butt and work, but discouragement is a weight on your hands, imprisoning them. Or the evil little Comparison Gnome that whispers you’ll never be as good as…(add anyone you want here). Or the stuffy accountant voice that points out the money you spend vs. the money that isn’t coming in. Or any of the thousands of ways we tell ourselves we can’t. Or shouldn’t.

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The writing space left all alone.

Today is a discouragement day. I have the afternoon to write, but instead I’m thinking of the things wrong with the current work in progress. Things that on any other given day I know I can fix during editing, but that today, weigh me down and whisper ‘is it really worth it?’

Recently, I came across this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

‘Often the creative life is slowed or stopped because something in the psyche has a very low opinion of us, and we are down there groveling at its feet instead of bopping it over the head and running for freedom. In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, for more seriously than we have before. Due to wide breaks in matrilineal (and patrilineal) succor over many generations, this business of valuing one’s creative life – that is, valuing the utterly original, beauteous, and artful ideas and works which issue from the wildish soul – has become a perennial issue for women.’

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Along with trying to balance, or juggle, too many things

Easily said, right? Take our creativity more seriously. Value our creativity more. Ms. Estés goes on to talk about the inner wild woman needing to not act nice about protecting her soulful life but to draw the line and push that inner critic back where it belongs.

That all sounds wonderful when you’re reading it, but come on, what exactly does that mean? How exactly do you do that? This gives us theory but no nuts and bolts.

I think the nuts and bolts come through experience dealing with the external pressures on our lives that tell us our writing, or our creativity, aren’t as important as going to work, paying bills, cleaning the house, or whatever our brain tells us are our responsibilities.

After all, responsibility is more important than being selfish and doing something like writing a story or painting a picture that will never pay the bills. Right?

But over time, I think we all slowly learn that we need something that gives our souls some peace, even if it’s skipping work once in a while to go fishing, or take a walk in the woods, or see a play.

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Or nap under the Lupine

And those are the nuts and bolts we slowly learn. The tiny little things that allow us to mute the inner ‘predator’ as Ms. Estés calls it. That voice of discouragement, or criticism, or cruelty.

Today, with my weight of discouragement keeping me from writing, what tools will I pull out to bury it?

I’ll go for that walk in the woods. I’ll make some tea. I’ll read for a bit. Maybe I’ll look for some new music for inspiration. I’ll allow myself to be discouraged, to think everything I’m writing stinks, because today, it all does stink. I’ll allow it to stink for a while, and then I’ll email my fellow-writer and tell her why I think it all sucks. She’ll come back with what she’s struggling with in her current project, and we’ll laugh, problem-solve, figure out what honestly does reek and need to be deleted, and what just needs to be polished a bit to shine again.

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Where I’m headed shortly to ‘walk it off’

So my nuts and bolts: acknowledging the voice that’s preying on creativity (today, discouragement), recognizing it’s a temporary thing and will pass, knowing stepping away for a bit will help, and then sharing with someone who knows exactly what it feels like and who will keep me from doing something stupid like deleting the whole book. Or from doing something dramatic like declaring (with hand to brow) ‘I’ll never write again!’.

All tools that have taken me a lot of time, trial, and error to learn how to use. To learn what works.

Today the discouragement is heavy. Maybe in a few hours it will have eased. Maybe in a few days. Either way, it will eventually fade.

For a while anyway.

Because creativity is hard, and we’re our own worst enemies.

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The writing space, soon to be occupied

11 thoughts on “What Makes Creativity So Hard?

  1. Wow! I know that feeling, Lisa. And as bad as this is going to sound, it is nice to hear that others think their stuff stinks and should all be tossed on the burn pile. Thank you for this post. It is funny how you sharing your discouragement somehow helps me lift mine from my shoulders.
    I think I will go do some crafty thing right after I take a lovely walk in the beautiful day we are currently having.
    Go well, Lisa and thank you!!
    Kathryn

    • What’s that saying about misery loving company? I think it’s the understanding that goes along with hearing someone else is going through the same thing. The walk in the woods was exactly what was needed; hope it was for you, too.

  2. The confinement of our own negative inner critic is in us all, maybe that’s part of what makes us human. That part that allows us to commiserate together. Ugh… I know that feeling all too well. If it weren’t for walks in the woods and growing things, I may never pick up another paintbrush.

    • If you ever get the urge to never pick up another paintbrush, let me know! I’ll try my hardest to talk you out of it because that would be a huge loss for us all. Which reminds me of another problem with the inner critic – why do we give so much credence to that voice and not as much to those around us?

      • Aw thanks Lisa! You will be first to know, although I don’t think I’ll ever quit – the need is too great. As far as giving credence to our nasty inner critic and not the well wishers I think, for me at least, I sometimes feel people give me lip service to either make me go away or try and make me feel good (which can be a nice characteristic to have!) and so I have to wonder if the words are as shallow as they sometimes seem or if the person just doesn’t have much to go from in their life or maybe even they feel the need to just be positive and supportive – something I’m guilty of myself. While my inner critic I think is there to keep me legit. If I feed myself fluff and never dig in to what the problem is I’d never get any better. Of course that can always go too far and that’s where we run into trouble. Perfection. I’m not a perfectionist in the least, but even still I have my limits as to what I’ll accept from myself. Maybe our inner critic is built in to help us avoid shame from others? I don’t know, the more I think about it the more reasons I can see good and bad or our inner critic.

      • Your response here should be a blog post! When someone compliments me, I must admit the first thought that goes through my head is ‘why?’ I can ‘excuse’ the compliment by saying they have to say that because they’re friends/family/co-workers/acquaintances, etc. I actually find myself working hard to find a reason to justify a compliment from a complete stranger, and really, isn’t that just too pathetic? It’s giving that inner critic too much power. And guess what makes it even worse? If I can’t find a reason to justify the compliment, then I become very uncomfortable with it. I’ve had to work hard over the years to accept without questioning and that’s still a work in progress.

      • I hear you! It’s (I’m) all a work in progress. I agree with you, this should be a blog post! It’s interesting to hash it out with other creatives. We all seem to be cut from the same self doubting cloth. I guess we have to help boost each other up 🙂

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