How “Negative Emotions” Can Fuel Your Creativity | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

How “Negative Emotions” Can Fuel Your Creativity


(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!

12 thoughts on
How “Negative Emotions” Can Fuel Your Creativity

  1. Robin

    Hi Chris – I’ll have to chew on this one. I know lots of musicians and artists fuel their creativity with upset feelings, but for myself I find I need to be feeling fairly centered and relaxed to work – and for me creativity comes through my work (or if I’m not relaxed, when I get going with the work I become relaxed). Interesting stuff! – R

  2. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    Hi, Chris!

    I definitely have days where I just get stuck… in the muck. I feel bored, listless, uninspired. My writing is challenged and feels heavy.
    Then I have days when I’m just in-love with life, writing, everyone, myself, the computer, you name it! Those days I can’t stop myself from writing and creating.
    The mucky days are tough, though, because ego has such a strong hold on me and my authentic self just rolls over and plays dead. I always know it’s a passing thing, but I haven’t been able to wrestle free of those types of days yes. (You’ll remember a comment I posted last week to this effect; I just let those days be.)

    I’m thinking, though… your post has me thinking! Thanks!

  3. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Robin. It sounds like starting your work usually puts you in that relaxed and centered place, and the issue is just getting started when you aren’t feeling calm or motivated to begin with? It seems like you have a lot of awareness around how this works for you.

  4. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Megan — I wondered, when I read your comment, what happens if you try to create on those days when you’re feeling challenged and heavy? I wonder if something different, but not necessarily “worse,” than your usual work would come out. For me, what I sometimes do when I’m feeling angry is write heavy metal songs. :)

  5. Davina

    Hi Chris. This topic continues to keep me questioning. There are times when I’m feeling inspired and centred and am able to write freely. There are other times when I’m feeling challenged and not so centred, and I’m still inspired to write. And then… there are those days when there is nothing there. I don’t have any specific times where I’m more inspired. I do know that if I try to force it… well… I get nowhere.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Davina — yes, it seems like a subtle inquiry to me, too, trying to understand in each moment whether I want to create and, if I do, what might be getting in the way. It can take some time just sitting with yourself, I think, without doing anything.

  7. Giovanna Garcia

    Hi Chris,
    Interesting topic, this reminded me of the singer Alanis Morissette her first CD Jagged Little Pill was her best work ever. She was very angry back than.
    So, I agree with you that Negative Emotions can help creativity.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  8. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Giovanna — yes, I think Alanis is a good example, especially because she has songs that are all across the emotional spectrum — she has “You Oughta Know” and then she has the “you’ve already won me o – vaaaaah” song. Okay, I’m not really a big Alanis expert or fan, but you get the point — she makes creative use of whatever she happens to be feeling.

  9. Stacey Shipman

    Absolutely negative emotions can fuel creativity. When I’m blocked it’s usually because I’m not being truthful with myself and I’m stuck emotionally, angry for lacking truth. I love music and I appreciate musicians and other artists, like Alanis mentioned above, for “getting it out” in their own way. It’s expression. We have feelings, and as a society we’ve been taught to bottle them, when really it’s those emotions that fuel so much. Doesn’t mean we have to publish what we produce when “under the influence” of such emotions, but it can be a great starting point!

  10. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Stacey — I can definitely relate to what you said about being true to yourself creatively — I definitely have moments where doing projects for my business doesn’t feel authentic for me, which is why I’ve found that I need other creative outlets, like playing music. I liked the way you put it — that the anger or whatever’s coming up can at least be a starting point and doesn’t have to paralyze us.

  11. Jannie Funster

    I think we’re just filling up our welsl, or the proverbial “recharging our batteries” when we feel not so inspired. We must trust that we are bottomless pits of inspiration. Wellsprings, from the one true source of light and love.

  12. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Jannie — that’s a great perspective, that creative blankness or writer’s block actually shows up for a good reason. I think many of us could let go of a lot of stress if we started to see that emptiness as a friend.

Comments are closed.