It’s funny looking back at yourself when you’re on a high. You’ve just been inspired by some big idea, you start chipping away at it – the flow is high and the stoke is even higher. The thought of slowing down doesn’t even exist in that world. It’s the moment of now.
It’s such a shift in mindset to when you’re creatively blocked – when you don’t feel that innate burning desire to make something. Or even if you do, it seems that every bit of progress you make just… sucks. Your bad, sucky day turns into a few bad days, which turns into a week or month or more. You’re blocked. Stopped in your tracks.
It’s a nasty place to be in, especially if you find personal fulfilment in the work you do.
For me, a lot of my creative blocks come from the pressure I place on myself. In pondering why I put pressure on myself, the reason becomes pretty clear – success.
Yeah, success. Or at least, the illusion of success.
When you start to get positive feedback about the work you make; when people sing your praises or pay you money or give you hearts through a double tap, you unconsciously start associating that positive feedback as success. And guess what? When the level of positive feedback you get isn’t as positive on the next thing you make and share, suddenly, that thing is crappy. Or at least, that’s what you think and feel.
Your external values start to dictate your internal values.
Do that to yourself enough times and then what happens? You make another thing and it’s not that great. You make another thing and no one notices. You make another thing and it sucks. Then, you don’t even bother making the thing anymore because the pressure of making something great is so high, and if it is actually decent but it doesn’t hit that sky-high mark, then why bother, right? And now, you’re blocking yourself.
And this is a problem, because as creatives, we do things that others don’t do, that others won’t do. We try, and we fail, and we try again. We play. We experiment. We’re vulnerable to ourselves and to the world and there’s immense personal power in that. And that’s why it sucks so much when we’re creatively blocked.
I had a great chat today with my friend Stefan about a whole bunch of things, but one of the topics we talked about was creative block and we shared approaches on how we both deal with that.
He has this slogan: “Create something today, even if it sucks”. I love that.
I constantly think about the idea of momentum and the role it plays in being a creative. Stefan is a hand letterer who pursues religion in his daily approach and every day he reads a passage from the bible. He then summarises those daily learnings into his own lettering style on a blank page in a book, where he’s free to experiment and play and discover new things without the pressure of failure. He doesn’t have to show anyone, he doesn’t have to share anything. It’s his own personal playground to do as he wishes.
And when he looks back on a completed book, regardless of fearing the failure at the time, the collection of all that progressive, daily work is a piece of wonderment all on its own.
A little piece of effort, a small momentum gained every day. Small steps into a big journey worthy of looking back on.
I try to do that myself with daily habits that will eventually lead me to my goals, and that includes this blog, to which I write with no pressure (and even if sometimes I don’t make the most sense).
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes pressure is great, but unless the stakes are truly, really high, it’s unhealthy to put so much of it on yourself, as it just blocks you from doing the thing that’s most important – the daily act of getting the work done.
After all, a creative that can create when they feel like it is easy to come by. A creative that can create when they don’t feel like it is one of the defining hallmarks of a successful creative – one we should all aspire to become.
Remove the external value. Remove the pressure. Build your momentum.
Create something today, even if it sucks.