Surviving Creativity

If you’ve been with me for any length of time now, you will know that I love to be creative. I wish I knew where the ideas spring from…I bet I could be a millionaire if I could figure that out and manage to communicate it clearly in a step by step way.

Here is what I have discerned: the synapses in my brain rarely relax. They are constantly, quietly, without bothering anyone else, communicating what they see (particularly things I like) to the “problem solving” area of my brain, which is constantly trying to figure things out and form a theory. It’s like my brain never turns off. It is constantly trying to organize the world around it.

After reading and memorizing huge swaths of Living with a Creative Mind, a research-based psychological exploration of the creative process, which also provides helpful tools for living and working with creative people, I was able to observe that this process gets closer to the surface under very specific circumstances: A. When I have a new experience, like go somewhere new or do something I’ve never done before B. When I am under extra stress C. When I am in a holding pattern while I wait for something.

When creativity makes itself scarce

While the synapses are constantly communicating, and the ideas are constantly forming, there are times when the motivation to act on them is painfully far from the surface. This is probably when I feel the most normal, as in like a normal person, because of the lack of constant creative output. What it feels like physically is like I have a gigantic, blinding headache, one that dulls all my senses.

I am generally crabbier when I am in this ebb phase of creativity. Although I can have dozens of projects to complete, it’s the motivation to be creative that is lacking. Priorities have no meaning, deadlines don’t help. When the motivation is missing, no amount of previously expounded and carefully detailed planning can make me efficient.

It is very easy, when in this ebb phase of creativity, to believe that this dry spell will last forever and that I will never know another moment of happy, carefree creativity again. This kind of thought, as you can imagine, is not a joyful thought. If I let that thought take hold, things can only get worse.

Managing the ebbs and flows of creativity

Back when we talked about decluttering, I wrote about learning to live with the ebbs and flows of creativity. (Yes, yes, I dared conflate decluttering and creativity and I stand by this conflation.) I wrote about how, when in the midst of a creative project, I had learned that I needed to plan for the end of it…how I was going to celebrate and how I was going to help myself decompress afterwards.

Right now, I am facing a more insidious form of creative dry spell: the inevitable vacation interruption. This is when I see my carefully bullet-pointed and due-date specific To-Do List of my creative projects go untouched and ignored while I do things like play Duplo (because I swore I would try to make this happen) or take endless bike rides or read I don’t know how many Darkwing Duck comics to a four year-old.

That’s right: I failed to plan for vacation. For all my careful planning, I failed to plan for vacation.

The feeling of futility as I watch the overdue items accumulate is unthinkably depressing. I have this little internal nagging voice that says, “You’ll never be able to catch up now.” Thoughts like those compound until I start to regret ever starting a project to begin with, which of course, is the first step in abandoning.

Preventing abandonment

This vacation is particularly tough, because I have one project in particular that I want, nay, feel compelled to advance on. I don’t want to let those thoughts of regret get the upper hand. Somehow, I need to shift the tide of my attitude so that this temporary, inevitable, unplanned for, but nonetheless incompressible stoppage doesn’t cause me to entirely abandon.

The first thing I can do: go to my To-Do List, take ten minutes and delay the due dates by one week for everything that was due this week. It is a small thing, but my hope is that it will take the pressure off enough to not feel like I want to give up. Also, I hope that as I look through my To-Do List, I might find a few things that I actually did do. If I don’t find any, I might make a few To-Dos that I did accomplish, then check them off, just for that satisfaction of feeling like I did something.

Progress is one of my core values. It is one of my greatest motivators. When progress slows to a trickle, I want to give up. If I can learn to push through delays and stagnation and stay motivated, I hope that I will have made a big dent in learning to manage my ebbs and flows.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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