Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Recently, I was talking to my partner about creativity. We were discussing the ebbs and flows of creation, the frustrations of those cycles, and whether they should be followed or broken. As someone with a wide variety of creative passions, I find that I go through phases of interest. In past years it has bounced between painting, throwing pottery, writing, photography, collage making, and more. For the last few months, I have been writing furiously: poems, journals, novels, blogs, letters to friends; words have been pouring out of me. But I feel the flow stopping. My desire to continue working on these projects feels at odds with the sudden drop in creativity and motivation. Do I follow the flow and allow writing to drop away and wait for the next burst of inspiration to appear? Or do I try to fight the receding tide?
I wondered out loud if forcing myself to write a little every day would help, and we discussed the pros and cons of this. Something about trying to force creativity seems inherently counter-intuitive. Yet I recall times in highschool when an English teacher would have us do stream-of-consciousness writing for ten minutes at the start of class, leading me to more productive and consistent creative writing. Or in college visual art classes, when I had to work on projects because of deadlines or simply being in a class that required me to work on certain artistic tasks even when I wasn’t in the mood or feeling particularly creative. The challenge to find that energy within and the discipline of practice led to many creations that I value and may not have otherwise made.
Growing up as many of us do in the public school system, I became accustomed to routines. I also thrived on excelling in school and receiving praise, learning to be validated externally. Being a working adult and not in college now, I struggle to maintain routines. I often feel these desires to work on projects or commit to daily exercise or other personal goals, but without someone externally counting on me to complete them, I have a hard time maintaining internal motivation. Recently I attended a webinar on codependency, and I am now seeing how my people-pleasing nature has woven its way into so many aspects of my life. I used to think that codependency was all about romantic relationships, but there is a lot more to it than that. Codependent behavior can show up in how you relate to work, school, friends and family, and any other external factors that you are seeking motivation and validation from. I am seeing how my patterns of worrying about others’ needs and desires before my own affects every aspect of my life, including my creativity.
It has been a long time since I have actively pursued selling my art. Years ago I used to attend art shows, sell prints online, live paint at concerts, etc. But I found that my focus was shifting to making what I thought people wanted to see, or trying to create products that I thought would sell. When I realized this, I stopped selling art almost completely. I am an artist by nature. I don’t understand what compels me to create, but I know that it is my truth. And I know that I do not want that tainted by capitalism or the need to please others. Making a living from art is a delicate balance, one that I struggle with to this day–but we’ll save that discussion for another time.
At the start of this year, I completed a 30-day yoga series (you can read more about why and my experience here). What does that have to do with art-making? For the first time in a long while, I chose to do something for myself. I carved out time each day to spend doing something that I loved, that I knew would benefit me. There were challenging days that I did not want to roll out my yoga mat, but I pushed through. There were days when other people called on me, and I had to decline so that I could make sure I had the time and space to practice. The dedication to myself and completing that commitment meant so much to me. I ended up doing 80+ days in a row without missing a day, and continue to practice yoga almost daily now. It has been a life-changing experience in many ways. I reaped the benefits of following through on a commitment for myself, giving myself space to be alone, and choosing to put myself before others in a healthy way. This can be applied to taking time to work on art projects and the discipline of practicing creativity.
Now, I want to continue doing things that I am passionate about and that challenge me. I want to break out of this need to be validated or motivated by other people, and let myself be enough. Because I am enough. And so are you.
I will be experimenting with setting creative challenges for myself. Creating is important to me, and I deserve to dedicate time and energy to creative pursuits. I will implement more structured time for writing and painting. I will commit to these things because I believe that following what we are passionate about is important, and I believe we all deserve to take time to do things that we love and that push us to continue growing into more true and beautiful versions of ourselves each day. I may have to say no to others, I may have to disappoint people along the way. But at the end of the day, I will be cultivating a healthier relationship with myself–the one who should be the most important person in my life.