Why You Should Keep Creating, Even When Everything Sucks
Why Creating is important, even if you don't feel like it...
It's been a tough past year for a lot of people. For creatives, situations like the one we find ourselves in can either hinder or encourage creativity. I've seen some people create amazing content since March 2020, when everything more or less took hold in Canada. At the same time a lot of creators are struggling to find inspiration to work on anything at all.
Motivation is an important part of being creative. Many people need a deadline in order to get things done, while for others the exact opposite is true. The same could be said for travel opportunities, visits with friends and family, going to a school, or even a visit to the movie theatre. Many of these motivators are not available right now, or they provoke additional stress from many different sources.
My friends and colleagues have always been my biggest motivators. I talk with my friends less and less these days. I still love them, think about them often, and I'm sure they feel the same. I believe most of us just having nothing new to share, we are in the best of moods, and we still can't go out and do things together like we used to quite yet. Also graduating during a pandemic was just awful, and I still don't think I've fully come to terms with how that experience has affected me.
This past year the one thing I learned is the importance of creating without motivation. I am not a doctor or psychiatrist, so please take my comparisons and suggestions with a grain of salt: your mind needs regular attention and training. Just as you eat or exercise regularly, so should you tend to your mind.
Image by Sophie Dale, Unsplash
I Don't Feel Like Doing Anything Besides Watching TV....
Exercising your mind doesn't have to be difficult. You likely already know what motivates you in a positive way. What do you find interesting, calming, or exciting? Yes, I am mentioning both excitement and relaxation, because what motivates you depends on who you are as a person. You probably feel more drawn to one of those two states just reading that sentence.
For some people, this could mean watching the news, interacting with the creator or commenter on a TikTok video, doing a puzzle, or playing a video game.
Television is more passive due to it's format, which is why I'm not promoting binging a series for a week as a motivational source. If you are super inspired by movies and shows, that awesome! My examples below are a bit more interactive is all.
For creators specifically, it's important to motivate yourself in small ways consistently that relate specifically to creation, not just to consumption.
Schools, tutors, and classes are a great example of consistent motivational sources for creators (albeit they can have many other negative factors). What I mean is that there is a curriculum in place that usually spans a longer time period, and many small units within this larger curriculum. There are many regular exercises, goal posts, check-ins, updates, and small tasks, reflections, group critiques and projectd- not just that one huge term magnum opus looming at the end of the semester like an ugly toad.
Without this kind of structure, for me personally, I tend to only focus on that final project: making a feature film, a series, or heck, writing an entire novel. These are HUGE milestones!! They can't easily be fully accomplished in a day, a week, a month, even a year or more sometimes depending.
Another point to remember about those school final projects: they usually were not worth all your grade points for that class! Often a term-end project would be worth somewhere between 30% and 60% of your final grade. Showing up at all counts. Doing small exercises is progress, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.
The Big Questions
Some might say "Why bother starting at all? There's terrible stuff happening in the world, I have no money, no resources, no connections, no "insert missing item here"...."
But the point shouldn't be, "What am I missing?"
The important thing is, "What have I got right now?"
Image by Aaron Burden, Unsplash
The Rugrat Exercise
I remember an exercise we did in primary school, I was maybe seven years old at the time. It was a writing exercise. The teacher had a big bag of cardstock, and we each had to reach into the mystery bag and grab one. Each cards took had a magazine cutout or newspaper picture pasted to it. I remember my first ever one was a magazine illustration of The Rugrats. The teacher said:
"We are going to write for 30 minutes. Look at the picture, and write a story about it. It can be anything you want, starting now."
There was a moment of panic right after. Some of my classmates threw pencil to paper immediately, scribbling furiously, and 30 minutes later had an elaborate story. Other kids in my class sat there for almost the whole 30 minutes and then hastily scribbled down a sentence or two, 29 minutes in.
I remember pausing in terror the very first time we did this exercise. I hated The Rugrats, what on earth would I write? There's no way I could write anything good in the remaining fifteen-or-so minutes. So I gave up on trying to write award winning literature for a primary school level. With the the stress of success removed, I wrote uninhibited. My story was about a kid who was forced to watch nothing but reruns of Rugrats every time they got in trouble with their parents. Was it a great life-altering story? No. Was it a small exercise that forced me to think of something new? Yes. The next time and every time thereafter, the photo exercise got easier. One of the stories I wrote might have actually been pretty cool. The point isn't even whether the writing was good or bad, it's just that you wrote anything and it came from a place you didn't necessarily expect.
Image by Anna Pelzer, Unsplash
Social Media Posts
Social media is a deep dark hole under a bridge, full of trolls, bots, shiny treasures, lost souls, some actual amazing people, and a galaxy that went missing from some other universe. Making posts on social media can feel like you're screaming into a void. If anyone hears you at all, it's bound to be a troll with a taste for human flesh. But hold on a mad minute.
Do you need social media, as a creator? That's up to you. I personally rely on it a lot, but I know people who don't. Over this past year reliance on social media has certainly increased for some people.
Everyone has their social media platform of choice. I personally love TikTok and Instagram, but despise Twitter. Don't even get me started on Snapchat. But none of that matters.
Rummaging around on social media is also a little bit like the Rugrat writing exercise - there's a lot of stuff out there you've never seen before, and it can inspire you. Making small posts or creating a daily story can provide a smaller format for daily creative exercises. This counts even if literally nobody sees it!
Do remember that if you put anything online anywhere, for every positive comment or interaction you have there will probably be at least a few hurtful or negative ones. I think that life is actually like this all the time, people are just less likely to say it to your face, depending on the situations and privileges involved. There's also a degree of separation online - if you can't feel the other person's physical presence, you may not reconsider your hurtful comment the way you likely would in person (this statement doesn't extend to trolls and bullies who are just plain mean).
Social media could motivate you or cause you stress, so be aware of how it makes you feel. But it can also open a million doors for you. For me the chance is worth it, and I find making a post daily on some platform to keep my creative energy at a consistent simmer. If I can connect with even one other person - either an audience member or creator -who enjoy my content, then I consider my posts a success.
*Please be mindful of your addiction to checking post likes, views, analytics, etc though. This can become an addictive and toxic behaviour if you aren't aware of it.
I love opposite exercises. Feeling stressed that you're not working on a new script? Try doing something completely different, if you have the luxury to do so. For a while, purposely avoid that master project. Focus on becoming a pro napper, play a video game, try making new meals every night, go for walks, clean your refrigerator or closets. Working on something different can help you become more innovative, find a connection to something you'd missed. Then, one day, you will feel the creative itch again.
One of the best options for "The Opposite Exercise," is to learn a little about a topic you know nothing about. This past year I have been making the occasional goofy music video to keep my music composition and video editing skills sharp. Every topic I pick, I do research on. I have learned things I never knew before about the history of mayonnaise, and of cucumbers! This research made me excited to create more content.
Do remember that exhaustion and burn out is a thing, and be kind to yourself. If you're a creative person it might be hard to shut your working mentality down and actually get some rest. There's also the fact that some people in society will treat you as if creating isn't hard work. News flash-creating is EXHAUSTING. Getting rest can actually make you more productive in the long run. So, consider "the opposite."
Image by Kurt Cotoaga, Unsplash
Mountaineering & Mining
Maybe you're avoiding a project you haven't started yet, for whatever reason. Try coming at it from a new direction. It's possible that instead of climbing every mountain you could try to tunnel through them, or just avoid them completely.
I have a feature script I have been wanting to write for over a while now, based on my short film, Revenge of the Supermom.
I have no motivation to write this script right now. I am not finished with this story or these characters, but I am not ready to write another script about them. I am taking a break from traditional filmmaking for a bit, and scriptwriting falls under this umbrella emotionally for me. Instead, I am slowly writing a novel about Supermom and her backstory. I also took one of the characters from the short film, and made it into my singing persona - The Shameful Choir. Both of these activities are far more appealing to me at this moment than trying to write and make a feature film.
I feel a lot of societal pressure to write new scripts, and that pressure makes me not want to do it at all. It's not only daunting and financially daunting making a film, but the chance of a movie-a successful movie- being made of the script are slim. Say I actually got a grant, crowd-raised some funds, and had a whole team of willing people put together. My feature film might be a mediocre film at best given my current experience level. It might be shown at a few festivals, and then sent to some unheard of streaming channel, but that's about it. I want to find my audience and hone my storytelling skills before sinking all my time and money into making that film. I want my audience to be actively involved in the making of the film behind the scenes. Then I want to distribute the movie directly to those who want it.
A novel and a music channel can help me with this longer term goal for my filmmaking career. I'm using my current resources with little to no extra costs, and I am getting more familiar with the characters of the Supermom universe and their stories every time I write. My route might take longer, but by going under the mountain as opposed to climbing it, I'm finding some cool gems along the way.
Image by Jaromír Kavan, Unsplash
The Squiggly Line
By working on new small ideas amongst your larger ones, you have more instant rewards. As I mentioned earlier, I have been doing this with social media posts and music videos. I can make a TikTok story in under 2 hours. I can make a music video in about 4-7 days. The instant reward of finishing a mini project gives me fuel towards larger projects of a similar nature.
I also do this with writing. I don't work on my Supermom book every day. I need to constantly change things up creatively, and I do also have a job. Getting enough rest and sleep is also important (more to follow on this in another post!). I spend about 4-8 hrs a week writing, wherever I can fit it in. I write either on my laptop or my phone, for short moments. I work on it usually late at night, because that's the only time I am truly awake and focused, and I usually have Netflix or a podcast playing in the background. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and write a little, or jot down a few lines via my phone while waiting for the Kettle to boil. I think about the story all the time when I'm not writing. I find I can then usually write a lot quite quickly when I'm ready to type, because my thoughts and ideas are focused. This is what works for me and it's definitely not for everyone! But my point is: find what small steps and methods work for you!
Getting from Point A to Point B as a creator is rarely a straight line, it's more of a squiggle. Take just one small piece of your big goal to work on, then a chunk from another part. One day the pieces will come together, all the small creative moments. You'll look back and realize you made a little progress and that big goal might just be a bit closer.