When I was a middle school teacher, one of the hardest parts of my job was feeling like I had to be “on” all the time. This was particularly painful as an introvert. You don't get to mentally check out if you're having a bad day. You can’t put a “do not disturb” sign on your classroom door. By 7 am, thirty students are in your classroom, staring at you. And they’re expecting you to teach, comfort, encourage, and entertain them in a span of 45 minutes. Then, thirty more will show up. Of course, teachers do have bad days. But no matter what you're going through, you still have to show up for those kids and put a smile on your face.
Now that I'm a full-time writer, I don't have to be "on" all the time. I can sip my coffee while it’s still hot. No one is watching me while I work (except my children). But I’ve realized that being a creator requires me to show up in different ways. And now, if I’m having a bad day, I could choose to crawl under my desk- but I’d still have to write words, and if I’m in the wrong mental state, words might just fail me. Transitioning to writing full-time in the middle of a difficult season left me wondering- how can I possibly write anything of value when my life is tumultuous at best?
Difficult times are, well, difficult, no matter your career. But when your line of work requires you to be creative, it can feel nearly impossible to do your best when you’re carrying the weight of the world. To help you stay creative in challenging times, here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
You might be a content writer, or you might be a novelist. Whether you're making an income from the things you create or not, you've got to keep sitting down like it's your job. As creative people, we have a tendency to wait until "inspiration hits us," and in difficult seasons, we might feel uninspired all the time. So sit down either way and keep creating.
When being a creator is your job, it may be tempting to drop any personal work. That poem you've been writing? I'll get around to it eventually, you say. Instead of waiting until your life is easier to create your own art, use it to help you feel more like yourself. You likely became a creative professional because you loved it, at least at first. So pick up that story you've been writing or the painting you've been working on. Sometimes art can be the best way to bring peace and calm to our hectic lives.
One way to motivate yourself and get things done when you’re having a hard time is to create a space away from all the noise. Add a scented candle to your work area. Put some relaxing music on. Create a space you actually want to be in. If this isn’t possible for you at home, try going to your favorite coffee shop instead. A change of atmosphere can do wonders for your creativity.
Writing is often seen as a lonely job, but it doesn’t have to be. If you're not already part of some kind of community, find one. It doesn't have to be people you actually work for or with, just find a group you can share your writing journey with. Joining a writing group is a great way to find solidarity and accountability. Having people to bounce ideas off of, share your struggles, and crack jokes with makes the work much easier.
It's easy to throw yourself a pity party when you're going through a rough season. And although there’s a time and a place to mourn and grieve, you don’t want to end up in despair. Try seeing everything you have to create as an opportunity. One way to do this is to change the phrase “I have to" to "I get to." You don’t have to write five thousand words today, you get to write five thousand words. It may sound silly but changing your mindset can make a big difference.
There are going to be days when you honestly feel like giving up. When you no longer enjoy the work you're doing because it takes so much out of you, or you can't seem to get in a flow because of the season you're in. On those days, choose to stick it out. Find someone you can vent to, and keep on going. No matter how difficult it may be, all seasons come to an end.
If you're anything like me, you might find yourself postponing rest until you finish your work. The problem is, you might never be finished. Even if you’ve done your work for the day, they'll always be something to do the next day. And the day after that. Instead of resting after you finish work, work from a place of rest. This might look like starting your day or week by doing something restful instead of using rest as a reward for working.
Being a creative individual in any field isn’t easy. Putting our words out into the world requires a certain level of vulnerability and leaves us open to all kinds of criticism. But if you're in a difficult season, writing meaningful words may feel impossible. Don’t stop being creative in difficult times- instead, use your creativity to remind the world of your strength.
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