3 Reasons Your Creative Process Can Be Painful

A little emotional honesty…

I haven’t been posting as much on social media, nor have I been creating as much as I’d like. For the last few weeks, I have been going through the motions of life and making sure that I am, at the very least, taking care of high priority tasks. My focus and mental energy has gone towards a few core daily needs. Eat, sleep, move my body, and maybe respond to emails that have gone unanswered for an inappropriate amount of time.

I have shared in the past that I have struggled with depression. I even shared how I managed to come out of it after a lot of internal work. Despite all my best efforts, I’ve recently been hit with a stubborn bout of darkness. It happens, I have coping mechanisms in place, and I promise I am okay. Though, my depression isn’t the point of the post, it did inspire the topic I want to talk about.

During the last few weeks, I observed how my darkness plays with my creativity. Sometimes they are at odds. Sometimes they can productively work together. Depending on the amount of energy I have stored up, I’ve been able to work on projects for small amounts of time–but I have noticed my creative process is much harder to enter and sustain. It’s downright painful at times. So for this week’s blog post, I wanted to go over 3 reasons why your creative process can feel painful and frustrating instead of feeling like the magical, easy, creative flow we often dream of.

Obviously, experiencing depression can make literally every action and task feel painful, but I want to focus on three other reasons why you might be in pain while trying to push yourself to create.

1. You don’t have the energy to give.

Creating new life requires energy. Moving your muscles and having the strength to pump blood to your limbs takes energy. Creating a work of art, a poem, a book, or a song takes energy. If you are expending more energy than you are taking in, creating can feel exponentially more difficult than when you are in homeostasis.

Maybe you aren’t sleeping enough, getting enough social time with friends, feeding your love languages, or practicing other forms of self care. Or maybe your job is too taxing, or you are giving too much of your emotional energy to the people around you. Whatever the drain on your energy may be, it’s important to remember that creativity doesn’t come from nothing. When you try to push yourself to make something new when your tank is nearing empty, it’s going to be more difficult–sometimes painfully so.

You are bringing something new into the world and sometimes it’s just going to to unpleasant and painful. If you feel like your energy is running low, pay attention to the ways you are able to feel recharged. Maybe it will be as simple as eating a nutrient dense meal or taking a nap. Or maybe you need to spend weeks watching YouTube videos about nutrition and the human microbiome like me…

It’s important to know when you need to rest and fill your creative tank by focusing on the needs of your body, mind, and spirit.

2. Your emotions are Too Raw and INtense.

I know that there is a general ethos that artists and creators are tortured and depressed by nature–but it doesn’t have to be that way. From my experience, my best writing and works of art come from a place of calm after a deluge of emotions has past. When you can view your experiences from a distance, your creative process can become less painful.

I am a creative writer. Over the years, I have taken breaks from art more times than I can count, but writing has been a fairly consistent process. Through light and dark times, I write, and I’ve learned a lot from how my writing changes according to what I am experiencing in the moment.

Intense feelings can be a catalyst for creativity, but they can also make the creative process more complicated and difficult. When I am at my worst, my writing is forced, cliche, and often circles around my emotions without capturing nuance. The process isn’t enjoyable and my quality of writing suffers.

When you are experiencing something stressful or intense and channel you emotions into creativity, do not spend too much energy evaluating your creative product. Let yourself create just for the process. Use creativity as an outlet. Get the raw emotions and energy out of you and walk away. Don’t ruminate and keep yourself in that intense place.

That’s not to say there is no place for the work created in these raw places. If you can function productively in that state, then carry on. Though, if the pain of creating is too much for you, then consider finding that place of calm I mentioned.

3. You’re forcing your creativity to Make Money

In the last few weeks, I haven’t produced much art. I look at my studio and my art supplies and my feet carry me away. My chest tightens and my mind gives me the ol’ “404 Creativity Not Found Error”. Being an artist is my job. Making art to sell is one of the ways I make money. When I’m topped off with creative energy, everything is great. I can make art, update my store, do some social media posts, and hopefully get a little cash in my bank.

But, creativity is a flighty sensation. I am not creatively charged or inspired 100% of the time I’m making art. In fact, I’m lucky if I feel that way for even 10% of the time I’m working. As a full time creator, the best I can do is show up each day, make art for hours, and hope that I can at least get a few minutes of magical creative flow. That’s a day well spent.

Though what happens when it’s a dark day? What happens when I don’t have enough energy to spend 90% of my time just going through the motions? I’ll tell you what happens. I don’t make money. I don’t sell art. Then, I punish myself and my creativity for not being more productive. All of this causes layers of pain and discomfort. Making art to sell begins to feel like a million bees swarming around my head. Adrenaline surges and my feet take me to a place that is anywhere but my studio.

Creativity is not something that can be put to work easily. It’s not impossible, but when there is pressure to create, the process may hurt. When you are running low on energy or inspiration, but you have bills to pay, the pressure increases. With pressure comes creative pain. I envy anyone who can power through that pain, or even be fueled by it. Artists like me do not thrive in this pressure.

This source of pain is why I don’t encourage everyone to become a full time creator. If you know that pressure makes your creativity wither, then it’s important to give yourself a safety net. Have alternate sources of income, don’t quit your day job, or live as frugally as possible with a backup savings account.

We each have our own creative spirit, and some of us need a little more nurturing in order to coax the creations to come to life. There’s no shame in that.

***

Creativity doesn’t come easy at all times. It can flow like gushing river, or it can dry up like the container of varnish I left open in my studio. Your creative process can change with your emotions and circumstances. It can be comforting as well as painful.

Just show up the best you can. The process may be painful today, but it might feel better tomorrow or the next day. We all handle pain differently. Push your limits if you can, but always know when it’s time to rest.

Also, please don’t worry about me 🙂 Despite my darkness and creative process bringing me pain at the moment, I am here. I am writing. I am painting. I am finding the light again.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

You Don’t Have to Quit Your Day Job


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Be an original and do things differently–but limit your risks.

This last week, I took a trip to Minnesota, and on the plane ride from California, I pulled out my Kindle and started reading “Originals” by Adam Grant. I had every intention of reading the entire flight, but I only made it past the first chapter before I was inspired to write this blog post.

I don’t want to talk about the actual book or the concept of”Originals” (though, it’s a good read so far!), but I do want to talk about something Grant said, and how doing something that doesn’t conform with the world around you involves taking risks–but not as many risks as you’d think.

When chasing creative success, a lot of people often have the idea that they need to go big or go home. Commit to the dream or inevitably fail. Grant wrote about notable cases of success over the years that involved original thinkers/non-comformists succeeding while still minimizing risks.

He wrote about well known originals like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and the founders of Warby Parker who didn’t abandon their “safe” jobs and life plans to pursue their new concepts until momentum was already building.

Instead of quitting everything and jumping head first into their projects, they balanced both safety and risk until the risk became more stable. You don’t have to be a huge risk taker to be an original. In fact, those who minimize risks can find more success in their fields.

The Ultimate Creative Risk

So let’s talk about the biggest risk a creative person may deal with: Quitting your day job and depending on your creativity to pay the bills.

The desired outcome is to actually have enough money to pay the bills–the risk is having the math not work in your favor. I’ve had a lot of people tell me this is their goal. It’s a great goal to have–but does your day job need to be abandoned in the beginning of your journey? Or can you wait until you make enough progress with your dreams so that you can transition slowly from stable paycheck to dependable entrepreneurship?

Can you make the numbers work?

I love spreadsheets. To me, nothing is more comforting than seeing my life laid out in concrete numbers. I am risk averse. I do what’s safe and I calculate the pros and cons of just about every situation I enter. From career changes to driving in a snow storm. I don’t blindly jump into a situation I know nothing about.

If you are considering quitting your job to chase your creative dreams I want you to look at your life right now. What are your expenses? Do you have a family to take care of? Do you have a mortgage to pay for? Do you need healthcare? All of these things should be addressed before you even consider abandoning that stable paycheck to chase your dreams. It can all feel very overwhelming at first, but look at your expenses. Start calculating what areas you can cut down. Trim away anything that you don’t NEED. Compare your total expenses with your current income and savings.

Can you make the numbers work? Can you minimize the risks in your life?

You DOn’t Have to Do What Everyone Else Does: Make your own plan

I encourage you to make a plan. One of the scariest parts about abandoning your job is figuring out where your next payday will come from, but having a plan decreases risk.

How far along in your creative career are you? Do you have any sources of income that can grow? Include this in your spreadsheet. How many art shows can you do on the weekends? Do you have a savings built up that you can pull from as you progress? Do you have a partner or roommate that you can make a deal with?

Think of all of the possibilities of replacing your day job income and put it on your spreadsheet. How do the numbers look now? Probably still a little scary. Which is why I say: You don’t have to quit your day job.

You don’t have to go big or go home. You don’t have to focus all of your energy on your creativity. You can succeed creatively while still maintaining a sense of safety in your life.

Consider these 4 things before quitting your day job:

1. Balance your energy between creativity and income

When aspiring actors move to LA, they become waiters, bartenders, and fill other service positions. It’s not because they suck at acting or don’t have any other skills, it’s because they are balancing their energy/time output and their need to pay the bills.

If you want to pursue a creative career, how can you find a sense of safety while working on your dreams and still have enough energy to do creative work?

Maybe your current 9-5 job is too exhausting and leaves you with no energy to even think about your dreams when you get home. You don’t have to keep that job. Find something that gives you a paycheck and doesn’t sap your energy. There is no shame in working a service position or part-time gig. The only thing that matters is giving yourself a balance of time, energy, and money to pay the bills.

2. Don’t ask too much of your creativity

I have to point to another book here. “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I don’t remember where in the book, and I don’t remember the exact quotes, but Gilbert writes about how unfair it can be to put expectations on your creativity to make money.

How asking so much of it can actually push it away. I can confirm in my own life that the moments where I need to produce something in order to make money are the least enjoyable creative exercises for me. The moments where my creativity wanes and the pressure to produce waxes can feel soul crushing.

Some people thrive under pressure, but many people like me crumble. In order to nurture your creativity, sometimes it’s best to take away the burden to make money. Take the pressure to create away.

If you quit your day job, how much pressure will that add to your creative process? How will that pressure change you and how much you enjoy what you do?

Maybe you will be the person who always has a day job. Maybe your creativity is there just for you. Maybe down the road it will take off and suddenly become your main source of income. There is no wrong way to be a creative person, but if you find that pressure to create makes you miserable and unproductive–then don’t quit your day job. Remove that burden from your creativity.

3. Life informs your Creativity

Another reason why you don’t need to quit your day job is that creativity needs fuel, and life is like gasoline.

If you are a writer, you may have noticed that you need to experience life to really flesh out what you write. Work places expose us to different people, situations, characters, and problems to solve. Sometimes a day job is exactly what we need to inspire and inform our creativity.

Instead of quitting your day job, look at how it can actually fuel you. This is the same for anyone considering quitting school to chase a dream. I may have quit the art program in college, but I shifted my focus to other areas that would still feed my creativity. How can you do the same?

4. Do you just need to rest?

You may be wondering why I’m encouraging you not to quit your day job to pursue a creative career, when I did that exact thing. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when I quit my last full time job, it wasn’t because I so desperately wanted to just focus on my art. It was because I was deeply, dysfunctionally depressed. I started to have panic attacks at my work desk. I couldn’t focus on simple tasks. I was stressed and unhappy and I simply couldn’t be a productive employee much longer.

I used art as an excuse, but I knew I needed to just stay still for a moment–a week, a month, maybe even a year. I would tell people I was going to focus on art, and in a sense I did, but I didn’t have any real plan to make it a business. I just needed to make myself feel productive while I healed my mind, and so I painted and shared it with the world.

If you have dreams of quitting your job and working on art all day–is it because you are so fired up about your craft and you have a plan to make it into a business? Or, do you just need to rest (or maybe even find a new job)?

Mental health is talked about a lot these days, but not enough. There are so many of us that struggle with daily life. It’s perfectly fine to dream about an escape and to think about doing art all day. It might be exactly what you need. Just do yourself a favor and remove the pressure to make money from it. I can speak from experience that the pressure to make money while healing can just perpetuate the negative health state you’re already in.

If you need a rest, then take one. Truly. Use art as therapy until you feel whole again, and consider finding a new job that isn’t as mentally taxing if you aren’t financially able to take time off.

***

You don’t have to quit your day job in order to succeed as a creative person. Take a look inside of yourself and see what YOU need in order to take care of yourself and your creativity and carve your own path. Day job, side hustle, part time gig, or whatever–just do what’s right for you and take care of your responsibilities.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday. And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

Why You Need to Embrace Boredom as a Creator

Do we waste our boredom on technology?

Last night, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and I saw a post about a public art installation. Funny enough, the installation was a sculpture that criticized our dependence on technology. As I stared at a screen, I couldn’t help by giggle. I’m sure you’ve heard countless people say that we are addicted to digital screens and that it’s a problem.

Well, I say we are addicted to curing boredom and digital screens are just an easy remedy.

Whenever I sit down to do a boring task, I feel an itch to look at my phone. Have to respond to emails? Let’s check Instagram instead. A new blog post needs to be edited? Facebook time! Need to edit photos and add inventory to my shop? Hey, I wonder what external hard drives on Amazon run for these days…

Boredom isn’t something new. People have been bored for over a millennia. Our current addiction to technology is just another way to end the discomfort. Just like reading books or playing sports and board games do. Our brains want to be stimulated and distracted, because boredom is really uncomfortable. I remember going to my mom as a kid and complaining I was bored, just like I would complain I was hungry. The feeling was unpleasant and I wanted it to end.

Boredom feels like mental hunger, and we want to consume anything we can to feel satiated, but I’m here to tell you that boredom is a fricken super power for creative people, and a little discipline with boredom can unlock a wealth of creativity.

Boredom is a catalyst for creativity.

If you were alone in a room with white walls, white ceiling, white floor, a white table, a white chair, and a phone with WiFi–what would you do? Sit there quietly with your thoughts? Maybe for a bit, but you’d eventually pick up the phone and cure your inevitable boredom, right?

If you were in the same room, but replaced the phone with a green marker and permission to use it on any surface in the room, what would you do? Again, sit there quietly with your thoughts? Or would you take that marker and go to town on all the surfaces available?

When I was in school, I doodled on my notes in class. I didn’t have a phone, so drawing was my next best distraction. Eventually, those doodles would turn into an idea for a new piece of art, and then I found myself drawing even when I wasn’t forced to sit in class.

When you are bored, your brain is going to latch onto the fastest and easiest method to end the torture. This just happens to be our phone most of the time. Though, if you learn to use new tools to end your boredom, you can jump start your creativity instead of just mindlessly scrolling through the same three social media apps for hours.

Boredom is only temporary.

Boredom sucks. I know, but it doesn’t last long. Imagine the white room again. How many seconds would it take before you picked up your phone? And if you didn’t have your phone and only had that green marker, how many seconds until you uncapped that beast and started drawing on something?

I bet you’d do it in less than two minutes. That’s only 120 seconds of discomfort before your brain finds something to end the boredom.

Anytime I walk into an office to wait for an appointment, I always check in at the front desk, and then right after I sit down in the waiting room I have my phone out–probably within 15 seconds of sitting.

My brain: I’m bored. Oooo, phone!

And the boredom is gone–but so is my potential to create in that moment.

I want you to be bored and I want you to be intentional with your boredom. The discomfort won’t last long and if you point your boredom at creativity, the benefits will be amazing! I’ll show you how I do it.

How to Jump start Creativity with Boredom

1. Create an environment for creativity.

Remember, your brain wants the easiest and fastest way out of boredom, so you need to control your environment and make sure you give yourself productive boredom-ending tools.

This means you need to create a space in your house, your studio, or in your office that includes as many creative tools as possible. Create a space with all of the art supplies you love using. Have a shelf full of your supplies so you can easily look at them and grab what speaks to you.

Most importantly, this space shouldn’t include the tools and devices that easily distract you and aren’t in the creative realm. Put your laptop in a drawer and hide your phone. If you remove those items from your sight, your brain only has the option to grab a creative tool to end boredom.

2. Schedule time for it.

Boredom should be scheduled like sleep, exercise, and meals. Consider the discomfort of boredom as creative self-care and put it on your calendar. It’s not going to be pleasant at first. If you don’t feel inspired to create and you force yourself to sit in a room with just your art supplies, it’s going to suck, but I promise it will be completely worth it.

3. Fight the urge to find an easy distraction.

Remember my itch to look at my phone? As I’ve been writing this blog post I have been tempted by many easy distractions: An email notification. A FedEx delivery from Blick Art Materials (OMG, I can’t wait to unbox all of the new supplies I ordered!), the hunger in my belly for lunch, and the Amazon tab I have open just to the left of this tab.

Creative work is hard work. The things that easily distract us are not. It’s completely reasonable that we’d want to choose the easy things to occupy our time, but we must fight the urges. For me, I use the easy distractions as a reward for completing the creative work. Once I hit publish on this post, I’m going to stuff my face with food and then open ALL THE BOXES! But not until the moment I’m done.

Fight the urge. Do the hard work first.

4. Disconnect from your devices completely.

Technology is so addictive, because it cures boredom instantly. You open up your phone and you have notifications popping left and right. You have access to social media, games, news, weather, dating apps, and more within seconds.

Give yourself more power over the distractions. Turn off push notifications for your most common time wasters. Give yourself blocks of time where you turn on “Do Not Disturb” or leave your devices in another room.

If you work on digital art, or have a lot of tasks to complete on your devices that are creatively motivated, then clean up your digital work space. Close all programs that aren’t related to creativity and definitely turn off ALL notifications.

***

I hope this post was helpful and maybe made you look at boredom in a new light. I admit that I am addicted to technology, but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. If you get rid of technology, we are still going to crave mental stimulation. All I want you to do is use that to your advantage to help unleash your creativity.

What kind of creative messes could you get yourself into if you stuck yourself in a room with only your art supplies? You’d be surprised just how much creative noise your brain can make after a couple of minutes of boredom.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday. And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider become a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading: