By Cynthia Morris, CPCC
It would be nice to believe that the life of a creative person is one long, happy adventure.
But despite the freedom and satisfaction that can come from working as a creative professional, it’s not all fun.
As a coach for writers, entrepreneurs and other creative types, I’ve seen the range of emotions that accompany making something.
It’s not always sunny, and frankly, it can get pretty dark in there.
But I do find that acknowledging the darker emotions inherent to the creative process helps my clients cope with them.
When we realize that fears and insecurities point not to our own shortcomings but to a necessary part of creative maturity, we can relax a little. The negative self-talk from our own inner critic can pipe down.
Great, you’re thinking. I’m normal to feel like crap when I think about writing my book or building my blog. But it still hurts when your project doesn’t live up to your expectations or you’ve been rejected for a grant once again.
Compassion for my clients plus several coaching tools goes a long way toward seeing them through difficult emotional cycles. Here’s a peek inside my coaching toolkit; see how many of these challenges apply to your creative life and try my strategies to overcome them.
Many creative people deal with crippling self-doubt. But doubt is inherent to the creative process. You’re making something new, so of course you’ll have doubts. Much of the time you may feel clueless.
And that interferes with cultural notions that we should know what we’re doing all the time, look good while doing it, and pretend everything is okay.
My Strategy – Values
Tap into your values. There you’ll find your deeper motivation for creating. For example, when I remember my value of curiosity, I turn self-doubt into adventure. What’s going to happen? Will I be able to pull this off? I turn these fears into exciting inquiries. I don’t know the answers, but I’ll use my curiosity to override the doubt.
You want so badly to see your vision realized. You yearn to see the impact of your work. But your vision can sometimes seem too large to hold – you can’t imagine how you’ll actually pull off writing an entire book.
When you linger too long examining the big picture, you can easily slip into futility.
My Strategy – Step by Step
Vision is necessary, but we also need to know when to turn our telescope from the sky and to what’s right in front of us. When you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of what you want to create, make sure to know your next steps.
Do one thing to become more organized. Get focused on the next best step, and get support to stay on track.
Impatience and Irritability
If you’re like me, you go through that phase of the creative cycle when you get very cranky. It’s usually when I am close to finishing my project and I just want it to be done. I’m tired of making decisions and I’m tired of the work. I’m also terrified of launching, and I grow impatient and irritable.
My Strategy – Break for the Body
Take frequent breaks from work. You may think you should just push a little more, just keep going and crank it out. If you’re irritated or impatient, slow down with small breaks. Better yet, let your body lead you away from frustration.
Without exercise, my desk job would be intolerable. I rotate between tennis, yoga and bicycling, plus walking. Exercise grounds me, slows me down, and gives my brain a needed break. My best insights come while I’m exercising. This alone will help you the most with managing negative emotions.
Sense of Isolation
People often feel isolated in their creativity. Spouses, children and friends may not understand your creative needs.
You, too, may feel isolated in the solitude of your studio. Or, you may not feel comfortable or able to articulate your ideas, and the inability to share your work can contribute to a sense of isolation.
You grow tired of trying to explain and reserve your ideas and enthusiasm for yourself. But alone, you can stagnate, miss vital clues, and feel lonely.
My Strategy – Develop Professional Relationships
You don’t have to suffer in isolation. Commit to having healthy relationships with trusted colleagues, peers and mentors. Consider a board of directors for your business or projects. Maintain regular contact with them about your projects. A coach, a peer, a colleague or a partner can often have an objectivity you lack.
Yes, obviously, you’re saying, I need peers. But how to find them? Almost every enduring relationship I have sprang from my own initiative. When I meet people who share my interests, I follow up to further the connection.
Much as we’d like to think we’re above petty comparisons, it can really hurt to see a peer doing better than you.
Someone else’s success can trigger your inner critic, and the negative blah, blah, blah that ensues can be really painful.
My Strategy – Vent
Julia Cameron invites us to use jealousy as an indicator of what we want for ourselves. While this is useful, jealousy can still feel awful and there are times you don’t always want to take the high road.
Connect with a trusted friend or colleague. Give yourself five minutes to complain as much as you want about your jealousy. Ask your friend to simply listen. When you’re done, they may be able to provide feedback on how you can use the jealousy to fuel you rather than stop you.
I hope my strategies offer new ways or reminders of how you can overcome negative emotional states that threaten your creative impulses. Simply knowing they’re inherent to the creative process and not proof of your likely failure can help cope with them.
What helps you deal with negative emotional states so you can keep creating?
Additions by Douglas Eby, author of the TalentDevelop sites:
Cynthia Morris is an author, and writing and creativity coach: Original Impulse
“Samovar” image is from her article Discomfort Is Good for Creativity.
Also see more articles by Cynthia Morris.
List of Books for the Creative Mind: titles by Brene Brown, Austin Kleon, Jonah Lehrer, Ken Robinson and more.
Morris notes, “Many creative people deal with crippling self-doubt.”
This is an issue I address in my main book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression” – read excerpts in the post Talented, But Insecure including these:
Her fourth album, Red, had opening sales of 1.21 million – the highest recorded in a decade, and Taylor Swift had two million-plus opening weeks, but she has said, “I doubt myself 400,000 times per 10-minute interval. I have a terrifying long list of fears. Literally everything — diseases, spiders… and people getting tired of me.”
Will Smith admits, “I still doubt myself every single day. What people believe is my self-confidence is actually my reaction to fear.”