If you love someone, set them free. Sure, it makes sense with people, but what about things you love to do? I think it suits this context just as well. Probably even better.
I am talking about creative pursuits specifically. You cannot force creativity. It has to come naturally and given the right conditions, it definitely will. Just don’t force yourself to be creative. Whatever your creative hobby is, if you aren’t getting the ideas or motivation to create, let it go. Stop doing it. Create when you feel it and not for the sake of creating. Creating for the sake of creating will lead to burnout or worse, plagiarism and unoriginal work that is heavily influenced by someone else’s work. Be inspired by someone’s work, not influenced.
Growing up in a musical family, music has always been part of my life. Unfortunately, even though I love music, the expectations from the outside world and having had very little say in the matter meant that I didn’t pursue it further. I now only listen to music and appreciate it instead of creating it, which is a shame, because I love music.
I have been fortunate enough to have developed a few creative interests on my own. This meant there were no expectations and I learnt these things on my own. Learning, practicing and growing at my own pace, with nobody around to look over my shoulder was the best thing that happened to me. I made a really big difference and after years of teaching myself without anyone interfering, I can say that I am a reasonably good illustrator and photographer - good being an extremely subjective word of course, so feel free to disagree.
There are days when ideas flow so fast that I don’t know which idea to illustrate and then there are days when I don’t know what to draw and any attempts to draw will only result in a pile of hideous scribbles. Why does this happen? I’ve noticed that more often than not it is when I try to force myself to draw.
This is why things like Inktober - where you draw every day in October, following a list of drawing prompts, does not work for me. I have attempted Inktober for 5 years and only once - the very first time, have I actually succeeded in completing a drawing every single day of the month. I see a lot of people actually finishing the challenge and doing it every year, but it just does not work for me. After the first couple of weeks, I feel like I am drawing for the sake of drawing. I don’t enjoy it any more and eventually start hating the whole idea of drawing. So much that in 2020, after pushing myself, I finished about 25 drawings for Inktober and then I burnt out. So badly that I didn’t draw a single thing for the next 4 months! That is when I decided that I will never force myself to draw if I don’t feel like it.
The same thing had happened to me in the early 2000s with photography. I created a dedicated website for photography, called Project 365, where my goal was to take a photograph every single day, for an entire year. I actually managed to do it for over a year, but at the end of it, I was so worn out that I stopped photography for a year. It just sucked the joy out of photography for me.
These kind of daily challenges are supposed to help you grow as a photographer/illustrator/writer/creative person, but it does not work for me. Maybe it is just me. I’m amazed at how some people actually stick to these long challenges and do it day in and out. I need to feel like I’m creating for joy rather than as a challenge for it to be satisfactory. So, since early 2021, I have made it a point to not push myself to do anything creative and wait for it to come. Has it worked? Most definitely! I have more illustrations and photographs this year than I did when I forced myself in the past.
On days that I don’t feel like creating, I fill up my idea jar with ideas that could possibly inspire me in the future. I believe observing, thinking and not doing anything are equally important in any creative pursuit. Unless you are on a deadline of course. I can now understand why most creative professionals face frequent creative blocks. They are forced to create because they make a living out of it. They are expected to be always creating.
Do you feel the same about these daily challenges? Do you feel like you’re burnt out by the end of the challenge? Do you feel like you don’t enjoy it anymore after doing it every day? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to take a break. Stop pushing yourself and just let the feeling and desire to create come to you. If, like me, you have multiple creative interests, you can try something else. Don’t feel like drawing? Go out and do some photography or write a short story. Try creating something new.