Finding Creative Motivation Amidst Stress: 4 Things to Consider

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It’s a stressful time for almost everyone right now.  I’m not going to get into the why or even what’s specifically causing me stress right now, but I did want to talk about some of the strategies I’ve been using to retain my motivation to write during these stressful times.

I’ll be talking about a few strategies today:

  1. Make sure you’re meeting basics needs first.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about things outside your control.
  3. Refilling your creative well. (Idea courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.)
  4. Find (or engage with) your community.

I wanted to start with Making sure you’re meeting basic needs because it’s something that folks often forget to consider when thinking about their creative side and/or their hobbies.  We don’t always remember that if we aren’t meeting basic needs it’s going to be that much harder to try to be creative or productive outside of that.

What do I mean by basic needs?

There’s the oft mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the first two levels of which cover most of what I mean by this.  The primary being food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities of life.  This includes things like financial security, general safety, and health and wellness.  In the current world situation, this may be something that you’re struggling with that is new or different.  Suddenly being without a job may mean you have a lot more time you could spend writing or being creative, but it may also come with a massive amount of financial insecurity and stress.  Having a job right now may come with unique and different job related stress, whether that’s worry for your health (if you are public facing) or trying to navigate doing your work remotely now.

Meeting these basic needs is important.  Your general and overall wellbeing can be effected if any of these needs are being met, and that’s going to affect how much time and energy you have to devote to being creative.  How you meet these basic needs may be different for everyone.  We all have different thresholds for tolerating stress or lack in these areas.  But if you find yourself lacking the motivation and energy to be creative, look at these basic needs and see if something is missing.  If so, how can you shore that up?

That leads me into my second thing to consider.  What is outside your control?

If meeting these basic needs is outside your control, don’t further stress yourself by being negative about your lack of ability to be creative right now.  If you’ve lost a job and are unable to find a new one (a situation many find themselves in right now) that’s largely outside your control.  Do what you need to do to keep looking for that next job, but don’t stress the fact that this is taking away from other aspects of your life.  That’s normal.

This, again, will look differently for many people.  You may still be working, but have additional stress from your new work situation.  This can be just as detrimental to your ability to be creative.  Don’t add extra stress berating yourself for not doing enough to be creative.

Basically, this point boils down to “be kind to yourself.”  Be understanding about where you are and what’s going on in the world and cut yourself some slack when you need it.

Full disclosure: This part is something I’m still working on.  I’ve had a few really bad weeks recently where I wasn’t writing and wasn’t doing anything to refill my creative well, and was seeing extra stress at work and in life, and I was getting on my own case about not writing and not spending time on my creative endeavors.  This was not helpful.  It only added to my spiraling stress levels.  It took a pretty epic stress episode for me to realize that I wasn’t taking this into account.

So be kind to yourself, be understanding of yourself, and look at the why.  If you can identify the why, then maybe you can address it in some way to get back that creative motivation.

Refilling your creative well.

As I mentioned, this idea (and possibly this exact phrasing) is something I encountered during my attempt to go through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a few of my writer friends.  We all had varying and mixed results.  I had some very strong reactions to the way she presented material in a few of the chapters and ultimately stopped reading when one chapter just rubbed me entirely the wrong way.  But all that aside, this idea has been very helpful.

What this means, is to remember to consume the things that give you creative energy.  This may mean taking more walks to be out in nature.  This may mean spending time with art of some description.  It may mean spending time with the creatives in your life that you admire.  For me, this is about consuming stories.  Reading is the best way for me to do this, but watching a show or movie, attending a play, or playing a story-based video game can give me the same creative well-filling effect.

This doesn’t necessarily lead to direct inspiration.  It’s more that seeing how others are telling stories activates the right parts of my mind to think about and consider how I tell my own stories.  At least that’s how it works for me.  Sometimes the way an author does a certain thing (like werewolves, or time distortion, or non-linear storytelling) will give me a direct idea for how to write or rework something I’m working on, but it’s not always that simple and directly.  It mostly manifests in my being noticeably more productive and energized around my writing when I’m reading regularly.

Engaging with others who are pursuing similar creative goals also helps me.  If I’m writing, talking to other writers about my story, their story, or anything related, can help refill my creative well.  If I’m working on sewing projects, talking to my friends who sew can help me find inspiration and energy to work on my projects.  And that leads to my next point.

Find (or engage with) your community.

I’m very lucky to live in an area with a very active NaNoWriMo community.  Many of the regulars in this group have become my personal friend group over the years.  I also recently discovered the CosTube community (that’s the costuming community on YouTube) and have plugged in with a few newly created (or newly discovered) Discord communities relating to that.  So that’s the community experience I’m going to be talking about, but yours might look different.  Mine has too over the years.  This could be just your normal social group.  This could be your roleplaying group.  This could be people you only know on the internet or people you see in person all the time.

Connecting with your community may be harder than normal right now, but I would encourage you to find way to reach out and make this work for yourself.  I’ve had reasonably good luck with digital solutions in this area, but I’m also an early millennial who grew up with above average technology access, so I’m a bit more plugged in and willing to engage over the internet than the average person my age or older.

To be clear, I don’t mean social media, or at least not just social media.  I’m using a variety of tools depending on the group: Slack, Discord, Zoom, online forums, group text messages, real phone calls, etc.

For my writing group, I’ve found that my natural limit of focus for an online meet up is about two hours.  So I’ve been planning those accordingly.  I used to do an in-person writing meet up every Sunday for three hours.  I transitioned it to online and recently cut it back to two hours instead of three, because I wasn’t able to sustain it for the extra hour anymore.

Finding the CosTube community has reinvigorated my interest in sewing generally, and making my own clothes and costumes specifically.  I’ve had several projects hanging out in my WIP (works in progress) pile for months or years that I’ve actually made some progress on recently.  My engagement there has been combination of watching YouTube videos and seeing pictures others are posting (which arguably is part of my well refilling) and engaging directly on Discord with other sewing and crafting enthusiasts I came into contact during a recent CosTube event.

Having other people to talk to about your project or ask advise or questions can be incredibly powerful.  Heck, just being in the same “space” with someone while working can be incredibly motivating.  That’s the general idea behind the writing meet ups, surrounding myself with others who are also writing, and that extended a bit into my sewing space as one of the Discord servers I joined dose “sewing sprints” which are based on the popular NaNoWriMo writing sprints.  Basically it’s just time spent together on the Discord while working on your sewing project.

This community engagement can be really powerful, but do be careful that it doesn’t become competitive (which can be a turn off for many) or toxic in any way.  Things can be toxic because the people aren’t kind or become condescending.  A group of people that look down on you for being a beginner isn’t going to help you improve any.  There is also such a thing as toxic positivity, though it can be much harder to spot.  Find a community space that is about the community and helping and uplifting the whole group, not one that devolves into competitions or cults of personality where certain members are just there for the attention.

Do what works for you.

Ultimately, you’ll have to find what works best for you, but these are a few things I find helpful that I wanted to share to help you along the way.  If you have other ideas or suggestions to share related to this, I’d love to hear them.  Where do you find your writing community?  How do you refill your creative well?  How do you keep the motivation going?

I hope you’re all able to find and keep your creative motivation no matter what’s going on in the world around you, but either way go out and be kind to yourself and others along the way.

Making in All Its Variety

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So I recently attended a virtual event called CoCoVid, which was a quite amazing way to be introduced to the world of CosTube, which is apparently what they call the subsection of YouTube dedicated to costume creation.  If you are at all interested in cosplay or historical costuming, I would recommend a quick Google for either of those two things, and wish you a fun adventure falling down that rabbit hole.

A comment someone made on a Discord server I joined as a consequence of that experience got me thinking about “making” and what it means.  Someone mentioned being a writer but that not being a “craft.”  My argument was that they don’t say “practicing your craft” about writing for no reason.  (I’m not going to get into how craft/crafting and make/making are connected, as it’s intuitive to me.)

I ascribe to the definition of making that I’ve heard Adam Savage use (probably on a pod cast or a Tested video on YouTube, possibly both).  I’m paraphrasing, but the basic gist of it is that if you start with nothing but an idea and you then create a thing (a dress, an object, a book, a computer program) then you are a maker, because you made a thing that didn’t exist before.

I really love this way of thinking about making.

I am a maker.

I write stories and create characters, worlds, and books from nothing at all.

I use cardboard, scissors, tape, and whatever other supplies I can get a hold of to fashion custom storage solutions or whatever else strikes my fancy.

I take ingredients and the memory of a dish and I play around until I’ve made that delicious stir-fry I used to get back in college.

I fiddle around on a computer to get a design settled and then use the laser cutter at the university I work for to make the fanciest of fancy popsicle sticks with writing on them.

I follow recipes and adapt them and make the most amazing cheesecakes in cake, pie, and cupcake forms.

I take fabric and thread (and often follow instructions and patterns) and I create a dress, or a shirt, or a reusable mask.

There’s so much joy in creation, and I get that joy no matter what kind of creating I’m doing.  Whether you think of yourself as a maker or not, if you create things, go forth and create.  If that creation gives you joy, I hope you’ll share it as much as possible.  Being able to take joy in the things you do and share that joy is one of the best things in the world.

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

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Today is the very last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I wrote 67,831 words in 29 days, passing the 50,000 word mark (with 5,0005 words at time of validation) on November 22, 2018.  I’m spending most of today continuing to write my story in the hopes that I can reach “The End” before midnight.

It’s been a turbulent November this year.  I’m part of the Municipal Liaison team for my area (ML is a fancy term for an unpaid volunteer).  There are three of us.  The region is active enough that it needs three of us.  Due to work demanding time, energy, and overtime, for one co-ML and the other ending up sick not once but twice during November, I was a solo act for possibly half the month.  I know this was no fault of theirs, and I love them both dearly for doing as much as they did while overwhelmed with work/illness.  It just meant more time being an ML and slightly less time for writing. Continue reading

Art Culture

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On my recent vacation, we spent a couple days in Asheville, NC, which is one of the centers of art culture in the state.  I just wanted to take a few moments to appreciate that about Asheville, and talk more generally about what I mean by art culture, and how I find it wherever I go.

First, what do I mean by art culture?

This isn’t just an artsy way to say “art and culture” or a trendy phrase I picked up somewhere.  To me, art culture, is a way of life, a way of being, and a way of being in community with others.  Art, as I’m using it here, is a very broad term that encompasses almost any creative endeavor.  That can be the art of cooking, the art of weaving, the art of book binding, the art of painting, the art of writing, the art of making, the art of architecture, and anything and everything in between.

So what I mean by art culture, is a person, place, or community, that embraces that definition of art and the support of art and everything that comes along with it.  This might mean having accessible studio space in a community, a university providing free materials for students to use in their maker spaces, a local community willing to pay artists for their work with an understanding of how time intensive it is to make, or a local business that encourages art related groups to come and meet there even if it doesn’t lead to extra revenue for them.

Asheville is a great example of the broad definition of art culture. Continue reading