July 28, 2022

Why You Shouldn’t Beat Yourself up for Being in a Creative Rut

“Are you actually having fun making your work, or has it become a box to check off a list? Try not to let your goals take ownership of your own well-being. A creative goal that served you a year ago may simply be out of sync with where you’re at now. Don’t forget to ask yourself “why” you’re doing what you’re doing.” — Jeffrey Silverstein, How to balance full-time work with creative projects

You are not always going to be creative.

On some days (or weeks or months or worse, years), you will create nothing but crap. There, I’ve said it. You can roll your eyes and skip to the next feel-good post, but you know I’m telling the truth.

I’m not trying to put you down, though.

In fact, I want to do the opposite. I want to encourage you, creator.

If you haven’t been the creative machine you’ve always seen yourself to be (or aspired to be), take heart. It happens.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, for some reason, I was inspired to create more than usual. Ideas came to me easily — it was like dancing and swaying with the wind. Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night to scribble and save random sparks of inspiration.

I would spontaneously create inspired posts like this and this. I would remember an episode from Friends and create an Instagram post out of it. I dabbled with poetry, collaborated with an artist to create a limited edition sticker line, tried to learn how to draw, and covered songs.

On top of that, I started a newsletter, launched a short-lived podcast, and shipped 30 essays in 30 days with the Ship 30 community.

It was wild! I was having the time of my life.

But like I said, we are not always going to be creative. My weekly newsletter became a spontaneous newsletter. I’ve left drafts of podcast episodes unedited. I stopped publishing atomic essays because no idea felt right for me anymore. Hello, creative slump. We meet again!

Somewhere along the way, I stopped creating.

And trust me, I’ve beat myself up about it for so long. Everyone on my timeline preached about consistency and commitment, and as a creator who’s wallowing in the rut, it only drove me to self-loathing. I thought, “What if I’m not meant to be a creator? What if I don’t have what it takes to be consistent?”

But it turns out, I only had to follow my own advice: to pace myself.

In the flurry of all the fun things I wanted to try, I burned out. I didn’t take breaks, keeping my foot on the gas all the time. No wonder I ran out of creative fuel!

There is a time for everything, including rest.

While I wasn’t producing anything in the past months, I’ve slowly realized that our creativity (like women’s period) has its seasons too. Mary H.K. Choi wittily describes these seasons as “creative metabolism” with ingestion, gestation, and output periods.

“We cannot be permanently fruitful or creative, excited or open,” writes The School of Life in a very comforting video on feeling quiet and numb.

I guess this is just my long-winded attempt to reassure you: You are not less of a creator if you are in a season of rest.

Soon, the ideas will come to you again like a breath of fresh air. And your most natural response will be to start creating again.

“When you start to feel overwhelmed, or your project starts feeling more like a burden than a labor of love, step back and remind yourself why you started doing it in the first place.” — Ashley Hamer via The Descript Newsletter

Recommended Videos for Getting Back on Track:

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