When I was writing more short stories, I tried to “play” with toys like I used to as a child. I thought this would help me get my creativity flowing. It was hard, like something was in the way of the river that used to flow effortlessly.
Sometimes that river still flows. I create a new necklace design, or make a song unlike any others I’ve made so far. It’s a great feeling, one that I’d love to have at the push of a psychological button.
But if there’s one thing I learned from great books like the Happiness Trap and Daring Greatly, it’s that you can’t control or force feelings.
In this post, I will explore a few things in my relationship to creativity that have been prominent in the past week.
Here’s one frustrating chain of events that happens regarding necklaces:
1. I start creating from a free creative place. I make some cool macrame design that I’ve never done before.
2. I decide to do that design again, on another necklace.
3. I start making necklaces that all have that design, or some variation thereof.
This happens with more than necklaces. It happens with my songs. I never used to think about how a song would be received when I wrote it, but now I do. If one song is received very well, I am more likely to play it again or to try and find why it went over so well so that I can incorporate that element into other songs.
On some days, the goal-less innocent free-form creativity feels like it’s taking a back seat to the “get-er-done” mentality, connected to the “do things that other people like” mentality. It’s less creative, more productive. Sometimes this is useful, like with necklaces- especially if there is a style that is selling. Then I definitely want to make more of that type, because I’m trying to make that my livelihood. But that mentality does not need to touch my music, and it also isn’t useful to have it around the clock with the jewelery.
So where does it come from? I think I have a feeling about at least part of the story.
Creativity & Pleasing Others & Self-Worth
I think one strong factor in this process is the phenomenon of pleasing others. It’s truly an amazing one. The fact that you can do something creative, sometimes with no intention of even showing another human, and get praise can actually rock your world a little bit.
Suddenly, that reward is part of the process on a visceral level. If you sing a song and someone likes it, even though you didn’t expect them to, that feels good. You just made someone happy for a moment with innocent goal-less creativity. The next time you sing a song, or make a piece of art, part of you may wonder if someone will like it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they don’t, the something that wasn’t even missing before is now missing. Sometimes it can still feel fun to share, but sometimes, the fun is zapped and you are left confused about where it went.
A couple of times last week, I’d play at an open mic and finish and feel horrible about myself. Full of shame, like I should have never even touched a guitar in my lifetime. People would be saying nice things, but I didn’t believe them. I was expecting a reward to change how I felt, and it didn’t. I realized I had to look at what was going on, or else it was going to be a nasty spiral. Whenever shame is playing a part in what’s going on, I turn to Brene Brown’s work.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about attaching self-worth to what we create. Here’s an excerpt from page 63: ” Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.”
She explains how sharing your art or project is an essential part of Wholehearted Living. On the next page, she writes “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different…Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”
Her words helped me see the situation more clearly. I was beginning to confuse people liking my work with the joy of creating it. If I’m playing guitar and focused mainly on what others are doing, trying to assess the value of my performance that way, it’s a disaster. One person talking or walking away can be converted in my head to a definite sign that I suck. Really, that’s not what that indicates, and I know that, but in the moment that’s how it feels.
When I play guitar and stay in my body, focused more on feeling present and enjoying the physical sensations of playing, then the person walking away doesn’t bother me. I may not even notice. And because I stayed present and didn’t get obsessed with what others might be thinking, I may actually be able to take a compliment at the end because I didn’t already made up my mind that it was a disaster.
Creating Versus Producing
When I’m trying to use any creative project for an actual income, it’s an interesting line. Creating and producing are two different things. Both are sometimes necessary.
I can produce necklaces very fast when I need to, just like I can produce writing or songs. I can also take my time and create necklaces, writing, and songs. I can wait for that playful part of my brain to chime in, notice the feeling of that, and make the most of it when it arrives. Like I said, I don’t expect to force it to come. I’m sure I can cultivate a friendly relationship with it the more I learn to look it in the eye and not confuse it with its distant relatives, like the people-pleasing impulse.
How about you, do you have an interesting relationship to creativity depending on how much you are relying on it for income?
Do you think it’s easy to zap into free-form creativity with no expectation of a result, or do you always create with an eye on the prize of how it will be received?
Do you show all of your creative projects to others or are there some for just you?
Have you been enjoying this time of year?