Have you tried learning a creative craft and gotten overwhelmed by all of the advice out there? Felt confused by the contradictions and whether you should follow tip X or Y? Been unable to make your creative choices or get anywhere because there are just too many different paths and you don't know which to choose?
Yeah, me too.
I was fed up with advice. I needed space.
I was all like:
World, shut up. I need to create.
But then I got a little realistic and accepted that the world wouldn't shut up just because I told it to (surprise surprise). Instead, what I needed to do was to stop listening.
Shutting the world up is impossible. Shutting it off is easier.
Whatever you are trying to do, be it writing a novel, knitting a scarf or folding your laundry, you can be sure there is about a million guides on how to do it "properly".
The problem with advice is that it often implies that there is one way. Of course, there isn't. I honestly can't think of anything where there is only one way to do it. You probably know this in your heart too, but it's easy to forget when you stand there and just want to know how to fucking do it.
Maybe it's not something as trivial as folding your laundry. Maybe it's something you feel will make or break your life. How to make a living on the work the that you love, find a life partner that suits you or manage your inner dragon that is lashing out at every mistake you do. The stakes are high. You need the advice. You can't afford to fail. So when it comes to choosing, you're paralyzed. You want someone to choose for you. You want there to be 5 actionable steps you can follow and know the outcome will be a success.
When you search for someone to tell you the secret only way to novel plotting, scarf knitting or soulmate searching, you absolutely will find those people. There'll be people who tell you that their way is the only way. That buying their book will solve all of your problems like no other book will.
Oh if it were that easy. It's never that easy.
Here's the wonderful and horrible truth.
You have to make the choice
You need to learn enough about what you're doing to understand at least the basics of the different paths. Then you need to look up from the map and make a choice to go left or right.
Many people out in the world will want to make this choice for you. It might seem like the easy way to go, but it's misleading. Your guide will run away if the path he lead you onto turns out to be a really rocky one. Essentially, it's like making the choice yourself since you have to deal with the consequences, but you let someone else make the judgement call.
Sure, there are situations when you aren't capable of making an informed choice - like which type of surgery you need. But most of life’s choices aren't like that. Most of them are up to you, for better or worse. No matter what the "experts" say.
If you find yourself in this kind of confused state of trying to listen to a bunch of different opinions while making a choice, you need to take a step back. If we make choices in this confused state, chances are it’s not going to be our best choice. It’ll be the author of that book's truth, or the truth of the famous influencer. And as we know, there isn't one way.
Learn, then take a step back
You need time to reflect and sit on what you've learned a while to make the new knowledge blend in with the old - what you like, what you're good at and what you value. There are, obviously, multiple ways of doing this, but I'd like to suggest one I tried out just recently. I call it The Creative Lockdown.
My boyfriend was away for the weekend, so it was perfect for some creative introspection. I designated two full days only to the creative work and choices I needed to do. I blocked all distractive apps and only allowed myself a few tabs in my browser - I was working on my new website so I needed internet. If you don't, I suggest you shut it off completely.
I chose a few sources of information that I trust and like, but they were only there in the background, if I got stuck. Nothing new got to enter at this point.
I almost backed out. I was a little scared, to be honest. I wasn't sure what would emerge, when I was alone with only my own thoughts. We seem to view of our mind as a deep well where we in our stressed lives only see the top, and if we shut off everything else, the murky water will rise to the top. So I had the thought that maybe I'd have this cathartic experience. But that's not what happened.
No, when I shut off the world, what I was left with was myself. It's not like I've never spent time with myself. I am a writer after all - that's basically what writing is. If there is any murky water inside of me, it stayed in it's place. Instead, I experienced the relief of a clear mind. The thousand things pulling my attention were gone. I didn't think about if there were something else I needed to do, because I'd planned this weekend to be only for my creativity.
I found silence and creative space.
My mind felt free
On Sunday evening, I was tired. My creativity was tired. We'd gotten a lot of great work done and I was so satisfied. Sitting down that weekend to shut off the world and focus on my own path helped me find a way that is entirely my own. I'm not done, but I've come way further than I would have if I'd used the whole weekend to listen to everyone else.
Finding your creative path is hard. It's easier to keep listening to others and not yourself. But if you want your path to be your own, you need to.
If you want to do a Creative Lockdown, this is my recipe:
- Be alone for the weekend.
- Make a conscious choice of what input you accept. Make it as little as possible, and preferably not how to-guides, but rather some inspiration you are familiar with already.
- Do not read your emails. I repeat. Do not read you emails.
- Block social media or make very strict rules - I allowed Instagram in the morning and evening since it doesn’t affect me as much as Facebook and Twitter does.
- Make sure there are no chores you need to do or phone calls to make - get all the stuff out of the way.
- Do not google unless necessary. If you can, go completely offline.
If you feel like you need creative space, don't ignore that feeling. It's telling you something.
Give yourself the chance to hear your own thoughts.