Spring has fully arrived in Los Angeles. The days are long and warm, the dark is lifting and everything seems to be in bloom. Bursts of creativity are present in every tree, flower and garden (allergies be damned). Even people, neighbors and strangers alike, seem lighter and more vibrant.
Traditionally a signifier of re-birth or a re-awakening, spring has a reputation for being a harbinger of inspiration. During my morning walk, for example, I had no less than five new ideas for creative projects!
And all of this got me thinking...
Doesn’t everything feel easier when the sun is shining? When things are in our favor? We tend to be kinder when we’re in a good mood, more generous when experiencing good fortune and more confident when the muse has revealed herself to us.
But, much like the seasons, our feelings and circumstances will change. Winter will come again. Does that mean we must be at the mercy of our moods or environment in order to create? How can we maintain passion and motivation when we feel uninspired?
The following are some tips I’ve learned when it comes to staying motivated as a creative, especially when feeling the full weight of lackluster moments.
It’s OK to REST
Energy is limited. Maybe the reason you’re unmotivated is because you just gave it your all on a recent project. Or maybe you had to deal with a personal crisis, depleting you of anything “extra.” Rest, sleep and good self-care are essential for emotional and physical well-being. And anything that is good for your emotional and physical well-being, is good for your creative well-being, too.
We would be better off disavowing ourselves of the notion that hard work is synonymous with working to the point of collapse. Just like every year has its’ season for hibernation, we too, have our days, weeks, or months to slow down. To sleep in. Be alone. Reflect. Recharge. Protecting our energy is an important part of the creative process.
Let Go of Perfectionism
Generally speaking, perfectionism has everything to do with fear and anxiety, and nothing to do with the work itself. Our desire, or in some cases, our compulsion for perfection (whatever you imagine this to be) is the number-one threat to creativity. It keeps our ideas from coming to fruition, our stories from being told and our hearts from opening and being seen.
Before you sit down to write that pilot, or compose that musical, kindly remind yourself that it won’t be perfect. Tell yourself it doesn’t even have to be good. Your idea just needs to exist. It needs to be given a home outside of your mind (in this case, on the page). Let it breathe. Let it move. You will have plenty of opportunity to go back to reshape it.
Work > Inspiration
The truth is, we just have to do it. Some mornings we may not feel inspired to get up and brush our teeth, but we do it. We have to pay our bills. We have to feed our kids. We have to meet that work deadline, etc., etc. In order to be a working creative, we need to make a practice of showing up regardless of how we feel. The good news is that, oftentimes, once we start the work, inspiration has a way of finding us.
An exercise that I like to employ to help me get moving is the pomodoro technique (with some personal modifications). Before I sit down to work, I set my timer for 25 minutes. If I am really struggling that day, I may start with only 5 minutes instead (do whatever works best for your current situation). Before I start the timer, I remind myself that I am only responsible to work for those 25 minutes. But I must work the entire 25 minutes NO. MATTER. WHAT. It might be a good idea to make sure you’ve had a bathroom break before starting. And while you’re at it, is your coffee mug filled? Do you need water? Is your favorite “brain food” nearby? Check in with yourself and get prepared.
Typically, I find that by the time my minutes are up I have found a flow. On days like these, I may take a short break and then decide to set my timer for an additional 25 minutes. If it happens to be a day where i’m still struggling, then I don’t continue. And that’s OK. Remember, you are only accountable for the 25 (or so) minutes you originally allotted for your work.
At the end of the day, you GET to create
To choose the life of an artist means there is something in the act of creating that compels you. It fills your soul and brings you joy. You are hardwired to do this, and on some level recognize that you need to create in order to live a content and balanced life.
On our worst days, we view our creative work as a chore. We get into a mindset that the work itself is hard. My suspicion is that the actual creating part is not the obstacle, but that the real culprits which make creative work feel challenging are negative thoughts (whether in the form of perfectionism, self doubt or fear of exposure...), external expectations and life obstacles that we have no control over.
I encourage you to focus on the feelings that arise when you are in your zone. Is it satisfying? Fun? Do you feel triumphant? Proud? Permit yourself to soak in the good feelings when they come. Let these feelings serve as a reminder to why you do what you do. Allow that to be your inspiration.
You will have those days when you feel discouraged or doubtful of your gifts, and won’t get any creative work done, no matter how hard you try. That’s OK too. It’s best to be kinder to yourself when you’re feeling tender. Go easy. Breathe. Talk to others who are in the same boat. Take a walk. Watch a funny movie. Try a new class. Remember, there is more to your life than creative output. We have relationships, interests and health that all need tending to, and taking the time to be present in all areas of our lives can only enrich our work.
The creative path is a long and twisting one. Having (and utilizing) support is necessary not only for your emotional well-being, but for your longevity as an artist.
If you’ve been feeling stuck, bogged down by negative thoughts or just need someone to talk to, we’re here to help -- contact us for a free consultation.