Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"So...what are you working on?"

If you are creative or artistic in any sense of the word, you have probably experienced the frustration of the knowledge that you DO have something MAGNIFICENT to share with the world combined with the incapacitation of perfectionism/procrastination (and yes, they are sometimes one and the same!).

I have many creative aspirations and often find myself overwhelmed by them. I am overwhelmed because there are so many different directions I can feel drawn to, but also because I have this sense of perfectionism. I don't want to do something unless it is going to be absolutely perfect (to my often impossible standards) and the most UNIQUE thing that has ever been created. If I do not have the time, energy, or inspiration to produce this product I refuse to even begin. While I embrace and am grateful for that perfectionism in regards to creating things I am proud of, I have learned recently that this is sometimes just another way of procrastinating what I am capable of. I am learning that there is something much more admirable in those who create for the sake of creating rather than the sake of being considered "brilliant". I have created some of the most amazing things from moments when I let go of that need to be the most "perfect/unique/brilliant" and just DID SOMETHING. This is a current goal of mine and I promise it has NOTHING to do with Nike but...


But...sometimes we are entirely too hard on ourselves.

I had the pleasure of reading this blog post at Affirming Spirit many months ago and was so excited by the relief/inspiration it provided me. She could not recall the name of the artist/psychology major who had self-published a book about it.

Here are the breakdown of the four stages as Nancy recalled them:

1 | Gestation

This is the stage where things are quiet creatively, but you are feeling hopeful because you are noticing interesting experiences, gathering ideas, deciding what you want to work on next. This stage comes after the creator emerges from the Renewal/Rest stage.

2 | Inspiration

This is the stage where you find a new idea, or series of ideas, that really feels *exciting*. It might be a single idea, or one idea that quickly spawns many additional ideas. It may be something you observe outside of yourself or something that pops into your mind. The topic feels juicy and pregnant with potential. You begin whittling down the ideas collected to decide what you really want to focus upon.

3 | Creation/Birth

This is the stage where you begin taking action toward materializing the inspired idea, from start to finish. The creator’s energy is high, and they often feel full of life and vibrant. The work may take on a *life of it’s own*, possibly even going in a new direction not considered in the Gestation or Inspiration stage.

4 | Renewal/Rest

This is the stage creators enter upon completion of the Creation/Birth stage. Often, the creator has been focusing so intensely on the previous two stages, that this stage may feel like a comparative shock. New or inexperienced creators may find this stage comes relatively unexpectedly.

This can be a very critical stage for creators because most find themselves feeling low, possibly even feeling depressed, in comparison to the high-energy stages of Inspiration and Creation/Birth. Unprepared, doubt, worry and fear can easily creep in during this time, and in this low-energy stage, the creator begins questioning if they will ever do anything worthwhile again. They simply don’t have the energy to contemplate something new, and often feel defeated because of the low energy levels.

In extreme cases, a creator susceptible to addictions may retreat to drugs or alcohol to deal with the low energy, and/or soothe doubt, worry, and fear. However, if the creator is aware of these stages and knows *this one, too, shall pass*, they can embrace it and move through this stage relatively quickly~sometimes hours or days, versus months or years.

The creator knows they have left this stage when they find themselves entering the Gestation stage as they gently begin gathering more data and being intrigued by new ideas of theirs or other creators.

As a human being, I am a firm believer that we are constantly ebbing and flowing in SO SO SO many aspects of our emotions/world. Any woman knows how cycles affect our moods/over-all well-being. We are just lucky we have been given an explanation for it. Men just keep their insanity to themselves! With so many people on anti-depressants/anxiety medication I wonder if we all couldn't do with a little sit-down about our natural cycles. Everyone feels down sometimes. It is natural and part of the normal cycle of life. I realize there are extremes to this but for me, just KNOWING that these cycles exist and are so NORMAL helps me to feel better.

As an artist, I am even more relieved to read how NORMAL it is to feel so inspired at one stage, to productive in another, and then to just chill out and regroup afterwards. What a relief! I used to feel like such a schmuck when I wasn't "working on anything". As performers we are all so very familiar with this feeling. When making conversation, friends and new acquaintances like to inquire "So...what are you working on?". Sometimes they truly mean well, while others may be judging. I have always HATED this conversation. If I have nothing to say I feel like a loser and if I have something to talk about I feel pretentious mentioning it. What a RELIEF it is to know that we shouldn't ALWAYS be inspired to be DOING DOING DOING! There is a time and a place for it, of course, and if you find yourself stuck in the "Gestation" or "Inspiration" phases for too long (which is different for everyone) perhaps you can give yourself a kick in the arse but just to know that each of these phases are legitimate and necessary to the final product...ESPECIALLY the "Renewal/Rest" stage makes me feel so much better!

As performer who often relies on other people to cast me in order to "allow" me to create amidst "their" show, I imagine these cycles can be a bit more difficult to manage. All us theatre-folk know the depression that follows closing a show. On top of the loss of such magical quality-time with an incredible new group of friends paired with creating something as a performer we must then return to the "what next?" feeling. As performers in NYC we are encouraged to just keep getting out there and auditioning. Sometimes you need to regroup. You need to be able to regroup without feeling like you are lazy. Resting/Renewal is a crucial part to our art as well! I feel like artists in other formats may have a little more control over which part of the cycle they are on whereas performers spend SO much time in the "Gestation" and "Inspiration" cycles while often having to keep putting themselves out there over and over again until someone "allows" them to be in the "Creation/Birth" cycle. No doubt our cycles are naturally continuing regardless - thus causing an overall feeling of unease when some of them don't come to tangible fruition! Oh right...and then we have to work "day-jobs" on top of this! Oye.

Do you feel better knowing that these cycles exist and are perfectly normal? Can you let yourself off the hook and just enjoy your "Resting/Renewal" phase? I would love to know your thoughts!


Erik said...

Hey, I also read the post on Nancy's blog and at first it was a relief to know that we don't have to 'produce' and be active all the time. I am also one of those perfectionist folks (I don't know if you remember one of my outsourcerer threads where I asked for help 'against' perfectionsm ;)).

On the other hand I totally feel stuck when I am in a gestation / restoration cycle because sometimes you really feel you should should should work on things or your circumstances simply make you work on things but you really don't feel like it and would rather like to relax and restore.

But as I stated as a comment on Nancy's post, I was not too much aware of these cycles up to now and now that I am, I start to align to them better and real life demands and cycles can now sync better.

What was very helpful too was that I noticed that I was in a permanent state of 'trying to get myself to do things' which burned me out. Now its more like: ok, Erik, you neeeeed pauses and relaxation, otherwise *nothing* will work, however hard I try.

So to sum up, it is a relief and a very helpful info but its not as easy to manifest in life yet as I wish it to be. How about you, did the concept help you in your creative work?


Visionary Fairy said...

Hey again Erik,
Honestly I just feel good knowing that it is okay to not be inspired to ACTUALLY sit down and create every second of my life. I love that someone has categorized these cycles because it helps. It helps in the same way that I can understand why I am suddenly ultra-emotional/sensitive based on what time of the month it is (not something I expect you should understand!!!). Defining the cycles is a lot like meeting other people who feel the same way as you. It just explains the down-times or the random crazies (in regards to monthly cycles for women).

I definitely understand feeling the "should" when in the gestation/restoration cycle, but knowing about these cycles eliminates the "shoulds" for me. As you said, you are finding ways to coordinate your work around them.

I don't recall your perfectionism outsourcering just now but I understand it. BELIEVE me. It is a double-edged sword though because it is that same attention to detail and pride in what we do which makes us GOOD at it which can just as equally paralyze us in the name of "perfection". I guess it is up to us which side of that fine line we want to live on.

Thanks again for reading/writing!!


Erik said...

Whew, I like that "it is ok to [...] create every second of my life" very much! While I found these cycles helpful, I could not integrate them very much yet.
Allowing myself to "create every second" is like opening the floodgates of creativity and saying, hey creativity-flow, it is ok for you to be flowing all the time. Feels very reliefy ;) because up to now I always felt like I should hold back this creative flow *until* I would have found the 'correct' outlet (lol, if there ever was something like that).
I'll try this new perspective and tell you how it goes. Thanks for posting it!!!
As for the monthly cycles ;) I only know them from the outside / from watching as you can imagine but I know what you mean.

I've heard once that women are much more in touch with their naturalness via those monthly cycles and thus have an inbuilt rythm which might provide guidance to creative rythms too.

And oh, I know this paralyzing mode of perfectionism oh too well... *sigh* so I can relate to you signing off it and signing on to creating all the time while perfectionism coexists all the time anyway to help ensure the quality.