3 Ways To Manage Your Creative Misery

Writing a book (or a song, or a blog post) is an exercise in doing things you don’t know how to do yet. The yet is very important–because creating isn’t just putting the words in the right order to tell the story, it’s figuring out what the story is in the first place, and then figuring out what the right words are, and then putting them in the right order. But every story is different, and writing one book doesn’t necessarily make writing the next book easier. Experience may make you better at writing books in general, but the next book is still a mystery until it’s written. Writing a book is like voluntarily jumping off a helicopter into the jungle, armed only with a rusty machete. The second time you do it, you probably have bigger deltoids and know which plants to avoid eating–maybe you’ve even sharpened your machete or brought a chainsaw–but you still have to hack through all that vegetation. When I’m deep in a project, I get stressed. I complain that the trees in this jungle are too overgrown, or that’s it’s too hot or humid. I fear the giant insects and lethal snakes that could be hiding behind every plant. I start to twitch at the slightest sound. It gets very dark, the jungle. But I CHOSE to jump off that helicopter. It was a conscious act of will, right? And I’ve done it before. So, why all the fear and stress? Because, in order to write well, it is necessary to get lost in the jungle. You experience feelings of fear, self-loathing, inadequacy, and sometimes, hopelessness. Why? Because creating art is about discovering–and discovering is, by definition, always new. You don’t get used to things that are new. And even though it’s uncomfortable, we creative types can train ourselves to crave that newness. Remember when you were a little kid, and you’d get a loose tooth, and you’d push on it with your tongue? It hurt, right? But you kept doing it. Maybe you even came to crave the sensation. It let you know you were alive. Changing. Growing. (I’m not the only one who did the tooth thing, right?) At any given moment, you can call back that helicopter. You can step away from the keyboard and go watch TV. But you don’t. Your heroine is stuck in the story, and she can only escape if you keep writing. So you’re stuck, too. So how does an artist manage her fear and continue deeper into the jungle? Here are three methods I use:

1. Affirmations

I write stupid reminders on my whiteboard. Things like this: whiteboard They’re ridiculous, in their own way, but they inspire me. They remind me that it’s okay to feel lost–in fact, feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing is a sign that I actually do know what I am doing. Affirmations are supposed to be all sunshine and light, but they can also operate effectively via shame” Whatsa matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?

2. Perspective

The Internet is a great source for perspective. Many famous artists don’t like to share their fears and hard times–they prefer to maintain the myth that they became famous effortlessly and overnight–but some are willing to share. Henry Fonda battled stage fright so severe he would throw up before every performance.  J.K. Rowling suffered from clinical depression and was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter sold. If they can do it, so can we.

3. Sharing

There’s nothing more gratifying than having your feelings validated by strangers and friends alike. Blogging is a great way to get out of your own head and receive feedback from real human beings going through the same things. We’re all in the same jungle.

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Jeff Garvin

Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN. Vegan, Gryffindor, aspiring revolutionary.

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