What is creativity to you?
Creativity is complicated. For me, it’s a dance. The kind of white-lady dance where you’re not quite sure what you’re doing so you throw a whole bunch of moves together, slap on a smile and hope for the best, but a dance nonetheless. If you have a creative job and actually pay your rent with your art, or words, or ideas, defining your relationship with creativity, and figuring out how to keep it sustainable, can get even more complicated. However, after two years working as a paid writer, with my creativity on a deadline, here are five things that have helped me get over creative block and keep going.
1. You don’t have to change the world with your art. So take off the pressure.
‘Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.’ – Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I used to think my writing was some gift instilled in me at birth, a sword gifted to me to single handedly slice through all the injustices of the world. A prophecy. A responsibility.
The problem with this is it made it extremely hard to:
- take creative risks in case I ‘failed’
- take constructive criticism without collapsing into a puddle of self judgement and despair
- get past the anxiety to even begin writing in the first place.
Life changed when I got off that pedestal.
Do I still want my writing and voice to impact the world for the better? Of course. But is it my responsibility to channel ALL the worlds problems and solve them ALL? Of course not. Why? Because I can’t solve them all. No one can. My comprehension of the worlds problems and how to fix them is as porous as swiss cheese. My job is to educate myself as much as possible so as to minimize further harm (i.e, use language that doesn’t exclude a group of people or minimize their experiences), use whatever influence I have to shine a light on my sisters (not just cis-ters) in various arenas of social justice who KNOW what they’re doing. And then get back to playing with words.
Take that weight off your shoulders. You’ll be surprised how free you feel.
2. Don’t take yourself so seriously
I used to think if I wrote something bad, it meant I was bad. Now I know what it means; I wrote something bad.
Or I didn’t really understand my topic as well as I could have understood it, and this is in invitation to educate myself further.
Or it simply wasn’t someone’s cup of tea. How does that saying go? You can be the juiciest peach in the world, and there’ll still be people who hate peaches. If your art doesn’t get received how you want it to, remind yourself that the sun will still rise in the morning and set in the evening, and all is well.
Criticism and feedback is a natural part of sharing yourself in a public arena.
When you were a kid did you keep your christmas toys in their boxes and plastic wrappings? Or did you rip the plastic off, like, stat, to play with that toy? Did you put your sticky little kid fingers all over that toy, share it with your friends, maybe sometimes leave it outside in the dirt overnight? Of course, that was the joy of playing with it, right? And did it make you value it any less once it was a bit grubby with life? Or did it still bring you the same amount of joy?
You have the same choice with your creativity. You can let it be seen by the world, thrown around, people can throw their comments at it, whatever. If you accidentally offend someone, no worries! Apologize, course-correct, use critical feedback as an opportunity to learn, to go deeper. It’s not the end of the world. Part of the joy of creating is sharing it with others. So loosen your grip on perfectionism a bit, be resilient, and play.
3. Watch this video
Just watch it.
4. Don’t define yourself by your art
Our art, talent, or vocation can feel like a big part of us, to the point where it is all-consuming. It got to the point with me once where a friend said “Cait, can you please stop talking about your writing for FIVE MINUTES? I want to talk about you!”
It is important to remind yourself that no matter what, you are MORE than your creativity.
You are your family and your friends and your stories and that scar on your chin from that time you fell off your bike because your sister thought it would be a great idea to push you down that long flight of stairs on your bike when you were twelve.
You’re that personal joke you share with that person that only you two understand and if anyone else knew they’d think you’re nuts . You’re that favourite teacher you had in school and the way being in the ocean makes you feel. You’re a billion more pieces than just your art. And you must remind yourself of this frequently so as not to crush it under the weight of all your worldly expectations.
5. Your art is yours, before it is anyone else’s.
“What if you wake up one morning and you never wanted to write again?” my mum said to me on the phone the other day. I thought about it. I’ve been writing stories in notebooks since I learnt to hold a pen, and every single time, it still makes me feel like i’m on fire. Like I’m alive. Like I am dancing with the divine.
I think what she meant is:
“what if being paid to write, and having all this expectation on you, eventually sucks the joy out of it for you?”
The truth is, I would cancel all my writing contracts long before I let that happen. Right now we, my writing and I, are enjoying co-creating and being able to make a (small) living off of it. We are having fun, and we are so grateful to those who believe in us and support us.
But the minute it started feeling heavy, I would happily cut the contracts and go back to slapping refried beans on burrito tortillas down at the local Tex-Mex restaurant to pay my rent.
Because I will not let stress, or burnout, or anxiety, or the expectations of others kill this thing.
This thing does not live to provide me with all my worldly desires.
It owes me nothing.
I will not force it to go faster, or to produce more, or reach more people, if it means sacrificing the space and joy of creating- I want it alive and breathing. I will mama-wolf the shit out of this thing, protect its passion and drive and fire with bared teeth, because I want to dance with it until I die.
Your art, your passion, that thing that lights you up, is yours before it is anyone else’s. It’s your responsibility to treat it accordingly.
With these points in mind, I think you’re ready to go create!
Feature Image: Sam Malpass (@badwaycreative )