Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

Down the Rabbit Hole: Trusting the Creative Process

About a week and a half ago, I started work on a new design project.  It’s a great project for an organization in the education sector, and I’m excited about it.  Yet when I started it, I headed in the same direction I seem to head at the beginning of every new project–that is, down the rabbit hole of self-doubt.  About three hours into the whole creative process, I had convinced myself that all my ideas were crap, and I was going to have nothing to show the client in two days when the preliminary design was due.

Of course, this turned out to be utter garbage, and after giving my brain some space by driving several hours, playing in the pit orchestra for a show, and sleeping on it, I realized that in fact, what I had come up with was pretty great.  The good thing is that I know my brain likes to play this game with me.  In fact, it does it almost every time I try to create something.  And I know that if I just give it time, that part of my brain that tells me whatever I do isn’t good enough will finally turn off and let me get some real work done.  But at hour three, it’s pretty frustrating.

The thing is that I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.  I’m positive that other creative types go through the same emotional turmoil.  I just wish I understood why our brains do this.  A friend of mine suggested that it’s what keeps us hungry to keep learning and produce better work.  But on some level, it’s just not helpful, and it’s really kind of demoralizing.  And here’s the kicker–I’m doing it to myself.  It’s like there’s this little man (I imagine him in a brown suit and tie with a comb-over, glasses and a clipboard.) who comes into my brain to collect all my ideas, tie them up and then take a big dump on them.  What the hell, brain?

Sometimes it’s really hard to trust the creative process.  And it’s especially hard when it appears that the creative process is kicking your ass.  I find myself thinking (again, somewhere around hour three), “What if this is the time that I get stuck?  What if I can’t work this out?”  Iknow that if I just keep following the process, it’ll work itself out.  But what if it doesn’t?  There are no two ways about it–believing in yourself is hard work.

I assume this is part of the reason why not everyone is an artist or musician or writer or whatever.  It’s hard to push past the fear of mediocrity to get to something meaningful and awesome.  For those people, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  For every good idea I have, there are at least twenty that suck.  But you have to keep at it, or you may never get to that one good idea.

New Hampshire General Store

New Hampshire CemeteryTangentially related, I’ve been learning (and I have to keep reminding myself) that I need to give my brain space to be creative, to come up with good ideas.  It’s important to take time off and relax.  (I’m still trying to convince myself of this on a daily basis.)  To that end, I went up to New Hampshire this past weekend, and it was fantastic.  I find it hard to make time to relax when I’m at home, so forcing myself to get away is good.  Plus, we got to visit a swell country store and a cemetery in the snow (I LOVE cemeteries.), making the trip instantly worth it.  And what better way to find inspiration than in good food, good drink, and the company of good friends?  Take that, stupid brain!

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