Experiencing Creeping Discouragement in your long-cycle creative project?
Let's say you are working on a creative project that's going to take you more than a day to complete. So, not an elegant roasted chicken or a new arrangement of your closet, but something more like, let's say, a book, or a business, or a series of portraits, or a screenplay. Something that you know going in is going to take multiple weeks, months or even years to complete.
And let's say, hypothetically, that you periodically experience slight fluctuations in your confidence levels, which in turn cause the erosion of your patience reserves.
Or, to be a bit more blunt, you find that short bursts of confidence and excitement about your project alternate with long stretches of discouragement and doubt when your patience vanishes and you're pretty sure you'll never finish and - worse - if you DO ever drag yourself over the proverbial finish line, you will be half-dead and your work will almost certainly be crap. Sound familiar? It surely does to me...
Here's a little glimpse of what that might look like on a particularly whiny morning in one's (OK my) journal...
At such times, you need reminders that all good things take time and that everything you look at and admire had to be built step-by-step in a long and laborious process that we don't see because we're blinded by the glow of final products. Right?
I give you now my favorite such reminder. We shall call this:
EXHIBIT A: Lin-Manuel
This is a Facebook post that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote on November 16, 2009 - almost 6 YEARS before Hamilton opened on Broadway. (It is wrapped in a tweet he sent 7 years after writing the post.)
So, let me just annotate everything I love about this:
- SENTENCE #1: It took him a WHOLE DAY to work on (notice he didn't say 'finish') one couplet. Take a moment and imagine how you might feel if that were your creative output for the day. An unfinished couplet.
- SENTENCE #2: This is where the seeming confidence just slays me. "I promise you it will be worth it." Let us all rush to our journals and/or Facebook pages and write that to our friends, shall we? - "It is slow-going, but I promise you it will be worth it."
And, lest you be thinking to yourself "Sure, but he's Lin-Manuel Miranda - he probably had hordes of people eagerly awaiting his new musical..." can I please direct your attention to the number of comments he received on the original Facebook post? 7. Seven comments. Which leads me to this thought: Is it possible that Lin-Manuel was NOT in fact, directing this post to his "friends" at all...but instead was writing it primarily FOR HIMSELF?? I believe this is actually a self-directed pep-talk disguised as a reassurance to his "friends" that he's coming along despite all evidence to the contrary and that all will eventually come together even though it may well take for-fucking-ever. I submit to you that this post is not actually the result of some super-human confidence level, but the trace-evidence of an effort to shore up his own possibly dipping conviction.)
- SENTENCE #3: He's acknowledging the ridiculousness - the virtual impossibility - of the gargantuan task he's set for himself...but with wry good humor. He's allowing himself a little whine - packaged with a typically Mirandian chuckle and flourish.
So, what have we learned from this close-reading of my favorite post/tweet ever?
Creative work takes time, and because of that, it takes patience, and you WILL need ways of shoring up your confidence along the way. If that means faking a kind of jolly optimism - do it. If that means whining in your journal - do it. If it gets you through another day of how-can-this-possibly-be-taking-this-much-time work - do it.
And, just in case Lin-Manuel's cheerful cockiness isn't quite the vibe that you can envision mustering, I want to bring you a softer, gentler example of what it sounds like when a creator has the knack of confident patience. I bring you now...
EXHIBIT B: Amy Rose
This post was in my Instagram feed this morning - posted by a lovely naturalist/artist named Amy Rose from Cotswolds, England who goes by the IG handle "@thefloralfoxart." (You can find her work in her Etsy shop HERE.)
Like Lin-Manuel, Amy Rose's post is a bit of a self-pep-talk in public. You get the hint of disappointment - clearly she had at one time imagined that this wonderful toad would be done by Halloween, and he won't be. But she has the quiet creative confidence to know that minor deadlines come and go, and that the higher purpose is always good work. "I'd rather not rush it" she says. Why? Because the point of creative work is to do work that meets your own internal standards of excellence - no matter how long it takes.
NO MATTER HOW LONG IT TAKES.
Got that people? If social media is giving you the false impression that everyone is cranking out wonderful creative products quickly and easily - know that IT IS A LIE and for God's sake tune it out.
Take your time, stay focused on where you're heading, and keep working on your couplets, or your toads, or your chapters. Persevere gently, or cockily, or in whatever spirit you can muster. Step by step, couplet by couplet, wart by wart, things DO get done. The little steps DO add up. If 2009 Lin-Manuel had said "fuck it - this is too slow and hard..." where would gazillions of Hamilton fans be now?
And what if Amy Rose had chosen to keep her Halloween deadline at the expense of rushing her toad or bottle or pumpkin? She has the experience to know that rushing would be a deadly choice for her; a choice that would undermine the very essence of who she is - a patient witness to the intricate beauty of nature's details.
When the doubts creep in and the patience creeps out, please remember you are in the best company in the world. Experienced creators in every field will tell you, the goal isn't learning to finish faster, it is learning to just keep going on your own slow-and-steady schedule, no matter how long it takes, or how many pep-talks you require (self-administered or otherwise) along the way. Lin-Manuel gives you his word: