It's a conundrum that torques every creative person: if I love doing my creative work, why is it so hard? Why do I have to assemble in support groups, trick myself into working, promise results to accountability buddies, and spend the equivalent of a gym membership on workshops?
The answer is because creating is both. It matters to us, and therefore it holds an equal weightiness. Here are 4 specific reasons why creating is difficult:
1. Creating expends energy and effort If an activity were simply fun — like sightseeing, eating ice cream, or rollercoaster riding — we wouldn’t have a problem doing it. We might be constrained by time, money, or calories, but we wouldn’t need to convince ourselves.
Pleasureful experiences usually involve consuming, not producing. Creating, on the other hand, is about birthing something that didn’t exist before, and this requires focus, sustained effort, and energy.
2. Creating involves decision-making Maybe an idea for a song, painting, or poem flashes into your brain. But to transform that vision into reality, you must make decisions. Will it be long or short, complex or simple, this style or that? The universe contains a dazzling variety of choices, and to decide on one is to reject the others, which causes stress. This is why reducing choice tends to incite creativity rather than hinder it. (See the book Limit Yourself and Unleash Your Creativity.)
Children tend to play with choices, but adults feel burdened by too many. Pressure on our time, money, and responsibilities leak into the creative process with questions like, Am I getting this right, am I wasting my time, is this going to pay off? Doubt dampens the satisfaction of creating.
3. Creating invokes performance anxiety
Whether we seek great audiences or intimate ones, it’s a joyous experience to share our gifts. But just on the other side of joy is fear. When a creation is in its beginning stages, we are already worrying: is what I’m doing any good? Will anyone like this? What will people think of me?
Performance anxiety is widespread, and even the most illustrious comedians, speakers, actors, and writers suffer from it, often at the height of their careers. The pressure to please audiences not only blocks the flow of creativity, but is extremely uncomfortable and makes creating decidedly un-fun.
4. Creating is a sort of rebelling
By creating something new, we are basically saying, I am not completely satisfied with what is already here. By offering an alternative viewpoint, we are asking the world to see things our way.
In addition, devoting our time to creative work, which is largely unpaid, is a way of not conforming to conventional norms and saying, I believe this is important too.
If you are struggling to create and are wondering — why am I not doing it if I love it?— you are not alone. Creative work can be deeply satisfying to the longings of the soul -- and deeply threatening to the security of the ego.
However, dealing with these challenges is possible. The first step is to acknowledge them as part of the messy beautiful creative process.
Still a few spots left in our Uncovering Your Stories retreat Nov 4-6 on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Join us!