I often hear from other people that they’d love to be creative, or that they admire my creativity. What most people don’t understand is that there is a substantial amount of baggage that comes with creativity that most people don’t ever see. You’ve probably heard stories about famous creative people who lived a very tortured existence. A few people that come to mind are Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson. While these are obviously extreme examples, they all (in theory) share(d) in the same struggle that I and many other creative individuals do every day.
For many of us it is a constant roller coaster of emotion that rises and falls without much warning or provocation. While we are able to create things that bring joy to the masses, it comes at a great cost to us and our loved ones. I’d never change who or what I am, because I do find great joy in what I do. But I often wonder how much I miss out on, and how differently I would view the world if I could turn it off, even for just a day.
When It’s Good, It’s Great!
Every morning when I wake up (assuming I actually slept the night before), my mind goes through a checklist before I’m even able to register what’s happened. Instantly I’m aware of whether or not today will be a good day or a bad day. You may think that this is something I can control, but it isn’t. I’m forever at the mercy of this fickle disease that is creativity.
On the days when it’s good, it’s great! I’m able to create things, think my way through problems, and really focus on any task that I set my mind to do. I like to say that “when the light is on” I see the world in a totally different way. Almost like how Neo could decode the Matrix. I rely on these days very heavily because I know that these moments are fleeting, and I need to get as much out of them as I possibly can.
When I was younger these moments lasted for days at a time. I could start something, work nonstop for days on end, and not even realize how much time had passed when I was finished. Nowadays, however, I’ll know instantly upon waking up whether not I have *it* today or not, but the actual time and duration of the moment is totally up in the air. I could wake up and instantly have a rush of it, or it might not hit me until 11PM that night just as I’m getting ready for bed. The point is that I have to be ready for creativity and I cannot even attempt to force it, or like a frightened rabbit, it will just disappear.
When It’s Bad, It’s Awful…
There are days when I simply don’t have what it takes to be creative. When I hit one of these days I have to come to grips with the fact that it’s simply going to be a bad, non-productive day for me. This means putting creative projects on hold, which in turn puts me behind the eight ball for many of my deadlines. Oftentimes employers and clients will misconstrue this as me being lazy, and admittedly I’m sure it looks that way from the outside, but that’s simply not the case. When the light bulb is off, I’m simply incapable of producing my work.
I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually found myself in a scenario where the juices didn’t eventually start to flow. They might come at the very last possible moment, but they show up nonetheless. When this happens it puts me into a frenzy, and I often work as hard as I can for as long as I can until the project is finished. This might mean 24-48 hours of non-stop work, during which I completely ignore anything around me, including family & friends. At the end of this whirlwind of productivity I often crash hard. My body is worn out, my brain is now mush, and all I can think about is sleep.
You might be thinking that I’m suffering from manic episodes or that I’m in some way mentally ill, but I’ve been checked repeatedly by mental health professionals, and while they say I exhibit some manic tendencies, they almost all agree that this is just part of my personality and how I get things done. My brain is simply like a sleeping volcano. Everything I need is in there, but I have to wait for the eruption in order to make use of it.
Accepting Who You Are
After speaking with several of my fellow creatives, I learned that many of us share similar experiences when it comes to unlocking our creativity. One colleague characterized it as him needing to “slow boil” his ideas before he could actually put them into action. Many others reported that they too feel drained and mentally fatigued after completing a project. As I spoke with these people I began to realize that I wasn’t flawed, but simply different, and that’s ok. I’m capable of producing top-notch work just like anyone else, but I accomplish it in my own unique way.
When using a program like Adobe Photoshop, there are a thousand ways to accomplish just about any task. What I tell students is that it’s the destination that matters and not the road you traveled to get there. This must be true for the creative process as well. As long as I’m producing work that meets or exceeds the standards of my employer or client, who cares how I got it done? No one, that’s who.
Figuring out your process and embracing it is one of the most important things you can do as a “creative” I think. Once you’ve figured it out, you need to own it 100% without hesitation. Only then will you be able to fully trust your process when it’s crunch time. For many years I looked at myself as a procrastinator, but now I realize that my method of ideation is one that requires an idle mind before it can be turned up to warp speed.
I love being creative. The energy and emotional high that you get while you’re in the moment are something that is indescribable to most people. Creativity is not something that can be taught, contained, or scheduled. If you have it, you have it, and if you don’t, you don’t. Either way you have to be willing to ride it out and embrace the roller coaster. Such is the curse of the creative mind.