We all know that creativity is a very rewarding endeavor. If it weren’t, neither of us would be here. But today I’m here to talk about a side less celebrated. The part that makes you wonder if it’s all worth it. I’m not talking about client relationship, passive-aggressive feedback or how tough it is to make a living. I’m talking about the inner struggle. Insecurity, creative blocks, procrastination, unrealized vision. A battle of the mind.
I’m not here to make friends I’m here to tell you the truth.
The Coen Brothers film Barton Fink is a perfect picture of the Hell that is writer’s block. After seeing some success in New York, the young playwright moves to LA to hash out a quick screenplay. After a week of staring at a blank page, Barton is quickly consumed by the weight of his self-imposed expectation for greatness. He finds himself trapped in a bizarre cycle of failed ideas and bad advice.
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield likens the artist’s plight to a soldier on the battlefield.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
… He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable.
Sometimes the distress of seeing an idea through can overshadow the passion that started that project in the first place. Creatives tend to be passionate people, and many a creative has given up when the passion well runs dry. That’s where discipline comes in. Nothing worthwhile ever get’s done when approached with all passion and no discipline. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Being a creative means loving your work more than you hate it. It’s tough to do, but you have to remember why you started this project in the first place. Write it down. Revisit it often.
For more on the love-hate relationship between an artist and his work check out Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian.
A final word of advice; channel the darkness. Use it to create something honest and real. If Charles Shulz didn’t have the courage to make Charlie Brown a depressed and disillusioned character, the Peanuts comic would not have the cultural significance it has today.
Obviously there are countless more examples of artists who have used their inner turmoil to create something beautiful. If you find yourself struggling to come up with any good ideas or if you look at your work and it makes you want to give up, that’s a sign you’re on the right track. Carry on.