Considering yourself as a creative person is something common these days. You just shoot a few pics, you hop on Instagram and you can already call yourself an artist. But no matter how good you are with the filters, at some point in your life you’ll inevitably reach a dark place where everything you do, create, produce, will make you want to throw your laptop out the window. Or in other words, you just hate your work. Ever felt the same way? Creatively stuck? I was. I am. I felt like this quite often.
Actually, I feel like this right now. I’ve gone through all the six cycles of creative hell (described below) while I was drafting the intro of this post. I went from excitement to planning to despair at least a couple of times during the creation of this exact article. And this is not only for this particular piece. I go through all the stages every time I’m writing. And I know it’s not only me. All makers, songwriters, artists, creatives, if we can generalize, are going through these creative challenges, daily battles, quite regularly.
“But so what?” You might say, “I might skip a day or two if I don’t feel like writing or coding. I might take a whole month off to rethink my strategy.”
Well, technically you can but not if you want to be a pro coder, a pro writer, or if you’re serious about your business.
If you want to be famous online, publish a book, learn how to play guitar so you can upload videos online to impress someone, you need to get up and work despite your creative crisis. Stephen King actually said it best, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
“But isn’t this hard? And doesn’t it lead to burnout?” you’ll probably ask.
Yep. It definitely does. If you’re an artist yourself, you‘ve surely experienced stress, being creatively stuck, and having to meet impossible deadlines while constantly looking for a new gig.
But I don’t want to discourage you. Quite the opposite. I want to prepare you. To help you. And to tell you that you’re not alone in the world. We all go through these daily battles no matter how many years of experience we have or how long is our portfolio.
Hopefully, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself at the end of this post and return to your work inspired. Rejuvenated so you can keep making stuff despite the inter battles that are trying to derail you.
So, without further ado, let’s go through the daily battles in the life of a creative person:
The 6 Daily Battles In The Life Of a Creative Person
1. The Initial Over-Excitement About The Work
Despite my love for books and my ambitions to make this site the go-to place for book summaries, I often feel inspired to start something new. It’s more of a need to start something new. Because, you know, new things always feel good. And sometimes I do start something on the side. It feels great at first but soon my excitement wears off and I quit. Why I do it? I don’t really know. But I know how everything starts.
It usually begins with…
You listen to a podcast or you read a Tony Robbins book and something in your mind clicks. “Knock-knock! Who’s there? The AHA moment you’ve been waiting for, sucker!” So you start singing out loud, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it” by The Pointer Sisters. Your fingers start itching and you start believing that everything is possible. You even consider relocating to a small foreign country strike it rich.
Cake and champagne for everyone! You’re about to build the next Amazon!
And even before the ending of the podcast, the book, or the article, you start pounding on your keyboard trying to keep up with what it seems like an endless stream of ideas coming from your inspired mind. All past projects are immediately put on hold. “We need to observe this new idea now,” your mind whispers and the body obeys.
And while this burst of creative energy feels good and it can actually point you in the right direction, it can also have the opposite effect. If you get excited about starting a new thing regularly, you’ll never finish anything.
2. The Overly Cute Planning Stage Where Everything Is Still Fun
Ahh, planning. Fancy notebooks and overpriced ball pens. Seminars and extensive google searches. The planning stage is like eating a big juicy cake – it tastes good but you get fat and slow if you regularly overeat.
The initial buzz from stage 1 is high and you still believe that this new thing will be huge, “I’m working on a million-dollar idea. Watch out!”
The preparation is so vigorous that you need to borrow your neighbor’s laptop in order to keep up with the number of tabs open on your browser.
You start asking people what type of equipment they use and you spend thousands of dollars on new machinery. “Oh, I can’t be a writer if I don’t have the latest laptop and a typewriter-like keyboard.” Welcome Amazon. Goodbye cash.
But there is more…
Since we want everything to be perfect, we take our time. We don’t rush things. We use different color pens and we subscribe to dozens of podcasts and newsletters. As we simultaneously listen and read – so we can consume more knowledge from the web, we also engage in social media. Like the famous entrepreneurs. We get to the DM’s and we sound like we care about what others are doing but we actually only seek attention.
This phase feels good. We gain traction and we have new followers online. On the surface, it seems like we’re doing something, but in reality, we just spin our wheels.
Actually, a lot of people don’t get past that stage. They either get too caught up in the details or they simply decide that this type of lifestyle is not for them.
The few that remain and have a plan keep going. But this doesn’t mean that they’re successful.
3. The Hustle Zone
As we enter the 3rd stage, our emotions are still boiling. We want to get down to business and we feel unstoppable.
You start а site. You record your first podcast. Or you simply start to write a new post. Whatever it is, it all feels amazing!
Initially, you start rolling so fast that you forget to do basic stuff like eating, drinking water, sleeping, showering. You even forget going to take a piss.
You write and write and write. Sometimes this stage lasts for hours, other times it only a couple of minutes.
Then, as if from nowhere, the reality strikes you in the face and knocks you on the ground.
When you’re finally conscious, you get up but you don’t know what year it is. And worst of it all, you don’t know what to do next.
The original enthusiasm and the idea you initially had are no longer present. It’s like your mind was abducted and replaced with someone else’s brain – someone stupid. You don’t know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the hell you should do next.
You enter… The Drag Zone.
4. The Drag Zone
Your initial inspiration? Gone. Plummeted. Down the drain.
If you’re a writer, every new section you draft seems unworthy for the paper you’ve used. As if like you killed a tree to put crap on top of it. Disgusting. If you’re a coder, you don’t know what type of code you should add next. If you’re a cartoonist, you feel like you forgot how to draw. If you’re a chef, everything you make tastes like shit.
You go back to the drawing board. You start brainstorming. You look for solutions online. Then, you check social media. Then you take another round to look for alternatives to the first found solutions online.
But there is more to that.
The deadlines are approaching and you start feeling really anxious about this project. You start questioning your expertise and you feel like quitting. Then, you ask yourself, “Hey, let’s check what I have so far so I can get inspired and wrap this up.”
A cool idea. No doubt. But as soon as you start reading your draft and your previous posts, you break out in a cold sweat that paralyzes all of your muscles.
5. The “I Hate Everything and I Want To Quit” Zone
Every now and then I decide to go through my old posts. Especially when I’m feeling down and creatively stuck. I say, “Hey, let’s check what I’ve written in the past. It will probably help me get out of the creative rut.” But when I do check my old writing I feel worse. I feel like an imposter.
“Why did I even published this crap! Who will ever read this shit!” I tell myself and yet again, I have a sudden urge to throw my laptop out the window.
I spend hours, days, beating myself up about my shitty performance. About my inability to write despite my efforts.
I consider quitting. Then I reconsider. Then I think about starting a new project. Something completely different. But then I tell myself, “What’s the point. I suck at everything I do.” And then I consider quitting again.
And while it all seems lost, a new email comes inside my inbox. “Probably another email from a successful internet guru who is making zillions online, ” I tell myself. “But how much worse it can get!” And I decide to open it and then slice my laptop with the neighbor’s chainsaw.
But it’s not from Garry Vee or from one of the other super successful dudes who are seemingly making millions telling people how to be successful. It’s something else. A light of hope. It’s an email from a reader. Reaching out to tell me that a post published on my site actually helped him and that he’s eager to read more.
“I can’t believe it. There’s someone in this crazy world who actually likes what I publish! I can’t believe it!” And then I remember about all the other emails I’ve received about my work in the past. Also, about why I’ve started this project.
And I’m back.
6. The Back In The Game Zone
All is forgotten. I still love what I do and I still have a laptop.
I realize that what I want to accomplish is going to be hard,but I accept the pain and I embrace it. “After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Everyone will be successful,” I tell myself and get back to writing…
When we’re doing creative work we’re constantly under pressure. We want the new thing we’re working on right now to be better than the old one. Always. But every now and then, we’ll make something that sucks. It’s inevitable. Sometimes it will be because we had a fight with our spouse, other times it will be because we’re thinking way too much about the upcoming holiday and we can’t really focus.
If you’re smart, smarter than me, when you’re feeling creatively stuck you’ll move on. Forget about the current setback and return the next day to create something else. It can be better. Or it can also suck. The important thing is to keep doing it.
If you believe in your work and if you do it consistently over a long period of time, there’s no doubt that you’ll reach the desired destination.
That’s why there’s the saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This quote is here to remind us that it takes time to achieve something important.
Some Closing Thoughts
So, what are the takeaways here and what we can do to produce better work both online and offline?
Six small steps you need to do regularly:
Start a lot of different things.
Quit most of them and don’t feel guilty about it.
Pick the thing that interests you most and dedicate your life doing it.
Remind yourself why you’ve started in the first place when you feel creatively stuck.
Find like-minded people who are doing similar work, connect, and support each other.
Make progress daily. Even if it’s small, it’s important to keep doing what you’re doing.
That’s it. No more, no less. It’s not going to be easy, but there isn’t a shortcut to success.