3 Reasons Your Creative Process Can Be Painful

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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

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Further Reading:
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2 thoughts on “3 Reasons Your Creative Process Can Be Painful”

  1. Hi Kelly,
    I suggest reading Steal like an artist 10 things nobody told you about being creative by
    Austin Kleon.
    I have it on my Kindle. I actually read the whole book out loud to my husband as we were driving to a faraway destination. It is a New York Times Bestseller. It was very eye-opening and I think you would enjoy it.
    Diana

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I have actually read that already and I LOVED it! It is a really great book for all creatives.

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