Sometimes creative angst gets the better of us. How often do you find yourself thinking “I don’t have enough time,” or “My work’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never reach my creative goals”? Here are four simple ways to avoid those minefields and stay focused on what really matters: your creative work.
1. Turn rejection into affirmation. With practice, you can reframe rejection so that it actually affirms your creativity, rather than causes injury. Here’s how. Simply put, you can’t get rejected if you haven’t had the courage to send your work out into the world. And you can’t send your work out into the world if you haven’t reached a level of completion and polish that makes you believe your work has legs. And your work can’t have legs if you haven’t put yourself at your desk or easel or studio bench and actually done the work, for however many hours it took. So at its most basic level, each rejection is evidence that you have done your work and sent it out into the world. This is something to celebrate. Rejections simply mean: Yes! I’m doing my work. I was brave enough to send it out into the world, and this “rejection” is simply an affirmation that I am a working artist. I celebrate that fact, and now I turn back to my work in progress.
If this sounds like a tall order, just try it. Over time, you’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes — to the point that you accept rejection as simply part of the process.
2. Move the goalpost into your sphere of influence. Shift your focus away from things you can’t control and onto the things you can. You might decide that you’re going to get your novel published next year. But instead of putting your focus entirely on something that you can’t ultimately control, move the goalposts into a domain that is solidly within your circle of influence. For example: Instead of deciding that you will get your novel accepted for publication next year (which may or may not happen, regardless of your best work, killer query letter, and an introduction to your cousin’s agent), decide that your goal will be to query 50 agents and 30 publishers from the pool of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts. You might start with those who accept simultaneous submissions so that it doesn’t take five years to hit your quota. Keep careful track of your submissions — via your own spreadsheet system or an online submission tracking tool — and when you hit your quotas, celebrate. The only two things you can really control are:
a) Creating your best work.
b) Playing the numbers game to get your work in front of as many sets of eyes as it takes.
If you feel discouraged by this process, go back and read #1 above.
3. Establish a regular creative practice. If you’re not already doing your creative work every day, or nearly every day, now’s the time to start. Think it’s impossible to find at least 30 minutes for your creative work on a regular basis? If that’s true—unless you’ve just had a baby or are dealing with a major illness or life event—consider keeping a time log for a few days in order to see where your time is really going. It’s more than likely that there’s something you can pare down on (TV, Facebook, sleep) in order to fit in a regular practice window. If your schedule is so hairy that you can’t commit to a set time every day (which would be ideal, as schedule creates habit and habit breeds productivity) at least commit to a set amount of time every day. When “life happens” and you have to skip practice, don’t beat yourself up about it—just show up tomorrow.
Working regularly may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your creative bandwidth. When you work every day, you learn to show up for creative practice even when you don’t feel like it—even when the muse is off in Bermuda, the house is a mess, the bills need to be paid, and your best friend wants to take you out to lunch. Just show up at your appointed time and do the work. Creative practice is a sacred commitment for those who make meaning through art. If something brilliant comes out along the way, so much the better. But brilliance isn’t the point; showing up is the point. Making meaning through your creative practice is the point. A regular creative practice helps you stay focused on process, rather than outcome.
4. Get comfy with crotchety Aunt Zelda. Our anxiety about creative fear is often more paralyzing than the fear itself. If you can accept that fear and self-doubt are inevitable parts of the process—and are things that even wildly successful writers, artists, and performers grapple with—you will diminish the negative power of insecurity. Try to develop a mantra to use when doubts arise. “Oh, it’s you again, Aunt Zelda. I see you’ve come back for another visit. Sit down and have a cup of tea over here while I carry on with my creative practice.” By acknowledging the fearsome inner critic of Aunt Zelda, and not resisting her arrival, you are free to move ahead. You might even be able to summon up a bit of empathy for Aunt Zelda, who has nothing better to do than drive all over town in her ancient Oldsmobile, just looking for the next person she can inject with fear, doubt, and perhaps even a wholesale existential crisis. Just say, “Thanks, but no,” to Aunt Zelda and stay focused on your creative process. Remember: Just because Aunt Zelda shows up doesn’t mean you have to get into her aging Oldsmobile and go for a ride.
The piece above originally appeared as a guest post at the fabulous Bliss Habits.