One of my favorite parts of creative projects is the initial idea. Getting absorbed in a new project is totally captivating; I'd even go so far as to say that it feels enchanting.
I like this part of the creative process because our concepts are still fluid. We can still do whatever we want and change whatever we want, and I think that lack of rigidity is what makes new concepts so mesmerizing.
So why do we so often find ourselves stuck? Halfway through a project or with little started at all, wanting to push forward but not having the creative drive to do so?
As we take our work from ideas and start making our concepts into tangible creations, we sometimes loose pieces of that enchantment. Quite literally, we're turning a dream into a reality, whether that reality be a painting, a new app, an Adobe Illustration, or a novel: we have to navigate that limbo between endless possibilities with all their perfection, and bring about the end result of our creative endeavors in their final, finite states.
That whole process of planning and navigating can be disenchanting. We have to acknowledge everything about our projects that might be impractical or inconvenient, and so we might feel less passionate about our work or find it difficult to stay motivated.
I think all of us experience this disenchantment at one point or another. And I wondered, how do we all handle that feeling? How do we keep pushing through?
I reached out to these thirteen creatives and asked them:
"How do you keep your creative process going when you aren't feeling enchanted by your work?"
Here are their answers:
“My answer is boring: it's written on all these Nike ads:
‘Just do it.’”
“It took a long time for discipline to take over, but being enchanted by my work isn't a pre-requisite for me to continue working on it. I won't start a project until I'm completely enchanted with it in the first place knowing that at some point during the middle I'll become "unenchanted" by it. That is to say, I've written enough books to know that as a writer, part of my process is to fight through that lull.
It's happened to all of us, right? We get three-fourths of the way through something and we feel like it's a slog, we pull back and try to remember what it is that excited us so much in the first place, and just fly on autopilot using our outline until we finish strong with that enchantment. But that's something that took me a long time to realize, diagnose, and fix.
It comes from writing every day. It comes from having a project finished and being able to benchmark that experience with the next one. You'll see a pattern and you'll figure out how to get through it for yourself.”
"Staying inspired! Whenever I stop feeling enchanted by my work, I start watching animations or films that made me want to be an animator in the first place. Seeing those works often gives me new energy and reminds me why I want to see this through.
Sometimes though, inspiration might not be the thing that is lacking. During those moments, you just have to have the discipline and knuckle down."
“To keep my creative process going when I'm not feeling it, I write down 10 ideas everyday (like James Altucher) and force myself to hit publish everyday. It's not for the purpose of having great ideas or getting amazing results from the articles, it's just about staying in the habit and getting a little bit stronger everyday.”
“Never underestimate the importance of what I call 'head breaks'. It is so easy to get distracted or lose focus, but when this happens I like to give myself a small break. Whether it is to go for a walk, phone a friend or even take 10 minutes out to make a cup of tea.
Little head breaks can do wonders for changing your mindset and focus, so you can jump straight back into that to-do list.”
Melissa Scholes Young
"I set deadlines, usually external ones, that I know will keep me writing through the less enchanting moments. When I have work due to an editor, to my writing group, to a submission date, the commitment beyond my desk motivates me.
A poet once told me the importance of "wandering curiously," meaning that sometimes we need to trust that what looks like procrastination may actually be vital to the creative process. Did I need to complete that BuzzFeed quiz about which Gilmore Girl I really am? Maybe not. Did it distract my brain enough to loosen my grip on this final draft? Maybe so.
I believe in writing as a process, and I know my work will be better if I just hold on for the ride."
"I guess I can count myself lucky in that usually, once I get started, it is pretty easy for me to get going on whatever creative endeavor I have to work on. I suppose because a lot of what I do is for me. And when that's the case, it's a lot easier to get work done. (I don't have a "boss" watching over my shoulder.) However, I do get "stuck" at times. Or feel...drained. I find that taking time off, going out with friends, or just going to see a movie can really help revive my motivation. For instance, I just took off ten days to go on vacation and now, getting back to the "real world", I am as energized as ever! Also, I always sleep 6-8 hours a night. I try to get 7-8 on most nights. And I definitely catch up on sleep on the weekend. Sleep is REALLY important. If I get less than six hours, I literally cannot write. Like, that side of my brain does not work. So my short, one-word answer would be rest."
"When I'm feeling stuck, I try to refocus. Sometimes it's a mindset thing, and sometimes I'm just stuck in my own head or with what's going on in my life. I refocus with exercise. I'm a runner, so running is my therapy. I'll get up and go for a walk, a run, a quick gym session. A lot of times I need that moment to do something different and channel my physical energy to help with my creative energy. Sometimes I take a nap, too. Sleep really is the best medicine sometimes!
Something else that helps is make a list. I'm a list person, but if I list down topics of things that interest me, or are relevant, or are going on in my life or lives of those close to me, it helps as a brainstorm tool for writing topics!"
“Here is my advice:
- Enjoy the work of others: visit the museums or watch movies. It's always inspiring and thought-provoking.
- Drink something. Preferably water, but anything [warm] sometimes doesn't hurt either.
- Take breaks from your own projects.”
Ignatz Johnson Higham
“I'm a great procrastinator and I'm rather fond of it, in fact I find stepping away from ones work and doing something else usually gives me time to unconsciously process my work. A few years ago I interviewed a sculptor and he had a wonderful outlook on doing nothing and how it's important not worry that one might be wasting time.
Equally, if you've got an idea, get it down on paper, start it, it might lead nowhere, but it'll develop once you get it out of your head.
I'm also of the opinion that animators are often mislabeled as being patient, owing to the laborious nature of the practice, I've found that in fact we're rather impatient and it's our stubbornness that pushes us. A determination to prove to ourselves and others, perhaps.”
Minna Von Walden
“Cultivate the creativity from every experience, every moment that makes you feel something. A lot of us tend to set our creativity aside when we are feeling down or uninspired. However, some of our greatest works come from those moments, from the thoughts and emotions we are feeling during those times. Find creativity in that, in being uninspired and down.
Write about having no inspiration; write about the emptiness in your creativity. Write about having nothing to write about. When sadness creeps into my day, I write about it. I put those thoughts to paper and before I know it, inspiration generally finds me and I'm writing far more than I started out with.”
Dealing with disenchantment is all part of the creative process. If these thirteen creatives can overcome that feeling, you can too.
If you're a creative who's struggled with disenchantment or creative block in the past, tell me how you overcame it or share your experience in the comments section below.
Image by Kaboompics.com