(This piece is an “unofficial sequel” to my last post, “Why I Don’t Force Myself To Be Happy.”)
Do you feel like you’re only creative in certain moments? I’ve worked with several people who said they only produce decent work at specific times of day, or when they’re in particular moods. The rest of the time, they told me, their thoughts and feelings get in the way, and the work that comes out of them just isn’t good enough.
One woman I worked with, who I’ll call Kelly, was a painter. Kelly had one hour each day that she called her “Magic Hour.” During the Magic Hour, she’d feel totally focused and inspired, and her ideas would naturally, effortlessly flow onto the canvas. The rest of the time, she didn’t feel capable of much more than touching up her Magic Hour work. She came to me hoping I could help her experience more Magic Hours.
“Bad” Feelings, Great Art
As we talked, one thing Kelly said jumped out at me—“I don’t work well when I feel bad.” When I asked what she meant, she explained that she “felt bad” when she was angry or afraid. When she felt those emotions, her art “turned ugly,” taking on a dark and disturbing quality. Looking at these paintings, she thought, would probably make others “feel bad” too.
As we explored Kelly’s belief that “it’s not okay to make people feel bad with my art,” what she began to see was that a lot of timeless art expresses the emotions she was talking about. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is a good example most of us are familiar with. The terrified figure and blood-red sky in the painting don’t exactly have us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Still, the painting conveys the artist’s feeling of fear so masterfully that it’s admired worldwide.
Kelly also started to see that, like Munch, she could use her “negative emotions” as fuel for her creativity, and that people appreciate art that skillfully conveys what the artist is feeling—even if those emotions are the kind Kelly saw as “bad.” With this in mind, she started more fully exploring the ideas that came up when it wasn’t “Magic Hour.” The art she’s been creating has been different, but definitely interesting.
As it turned out, Kelly didn’t actually need to experience more Magic Hours—she needed to be more accepting of the ideas that came up at other times of day.
Notice Your Self-Limitations
This story is a good illustration of how I see creativity. I think developing creativity has a lot to do with letting go of the artificial limits we put on our expression. When we’re feeling creatively blocked, often the problem isn’t that our minds are empty of ideas, but that we’re judging and pushing away the ideas that are coming up in the moment. In other words, we’re really just “blocking” ourselves.
The next time you’re feeling like you’re “uncreative” or you’ve “run out of ideas,” I invite you to try this exercise. Ask yourself: is it really true that you’re totally out of ideas? Or are you just rejecting a lot of possible ways to do the task you’re doing? And if you are pushing away a lot of possibilities, why?
This inquiry can teach you a lot about the places where you aren’t fully comfortable with yourself. Maybe, like Kelly, you think it’s not okay to create when you’re angry. Or perhaps you assume what you have to say is too controversial, and people will dislike you for saying it. Or maybe the ideas coming up for you seem too simple, because you feel a need to be complex or profound. If a belief like these comes up, ask yourself: how does it serve me to limit my creativity in this way?
Notice how just becoming aware of how you’re limiting your expression can increase your sense of freedom. When you let go of the belief that your creative work has to look a certain way, amazing new possibilities can open up.
Link Love: AlienBaby is a great example of a writer who really makes despair and frustration work for her, in a tragicomic sort of way. She denies that she’s piecing together a novel or autobiography from her blog posts, but I don’t believe her. Enjoy!