Creativity gremlins

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what causes me to be so hesitant to create. I’ve explored all of the usual fears about failure and success, and I am aware of how those fears do get in my way. But I’ve always been aware that there’s something more holding me back that I haven’t been able to identify.

As I’ve wrestled with this today in preparation for writing tonight’s post, two intertwined gremlins in my thinking have surfaced that may explain more of why this is such a struggle for me.

The first one I recognized is that I find it almost impossible to create just for the fun of it. It needs to have some purpose and produce something worthwhile or I feel like I am being wasteful. If whatever I create will not be good enough or practical enough to be put to good use to meet a need, I can’t bring myself to waste the time or materials on it. The problem is that a first attempt at a creative endeavor will very seldom be good enough for use, but without that first attempt, there is nothing to learn from to make the necessary refinements to create something that may actually be worthwhile. It also places so much pressure on creative work to be “useful” and “productive” that it quickly loses any sense of play and becomes smothered in the weight of the pressure.

It took me a long to recognize this one because it seems so similar to a fear a failure, but this is different. This stems from having been through times of not having enough, so doing something that is wasteful of resources feels like a threat to security. I am not so strapped financially that it makes sense at this point in my life to worry so much about this, but old habits die hard.

The second one I recognized is that I increasingly believe that I have nothing to offer anyone else. My religious upbringing tells me that I am so depraved that nothing that I do or am will ever be acceptable. It is only by becoming nothing that will allow God to work through me without me messing it up completely. The deep-rooted nature of this message makes me very susceptible to other messages that have a similar echo.

For example, one of the common things I was often told in my life coach training is that the coach has nothing to offer to the client because the main premise of coaching is that the client has her own answers. I understand that this emphasized to coaches to counteract our tendency to want to “help” too much by offering advice and suggestions, and I also understand why a coach needs to avoid that. But the message I walked away with at the end of the day is that I have nothing to offer anyone because this was such a powerful echo of what I was taught as a child.

When it comes to creative endeavors, the belief that I have nothing to offer someone else means that anything I would ever create is by default worthless. There is no possibility that even a second, third, fourth, or hundredth draft would eventually be good enough because I intrinsically have nothing to offer that would be valuable or helpful to anyone  else. This belief kicks the first gremlin into overdrive by proving that all creative endeavors meant for others are a waste.

I noticed this pattern because I’ve noticed that when I have a creative idea for making something that would meet a need of my own, I have no hesitation about jumping in and trying it out. I’ve made several things lately that are creative solutions to problems I was facing using (or reusing) material I had on hand. And I had a blast doing these—even when the first attempts weren’t perfect. But as soon as I think about creating for others, I freeze. A deep fog settles into my brain that prevents any focus for creative work at all.

Clearly I need to work on these two gremlins if I am hoping to be able to bring more creativity into my life. The Thou-Shalt-Not-Waste-Resources gremlin is fear-based, and just knowing that it is there  is a powerful step toward dealing with it. The next time I recognize that fear arising, I can address the underlying fear of scarcity in a much more direct way, and that gives me greater power over it.

The I-Have-Nothing-To-Offer-To-Others gremlin is belief-based, and that makes it more challenging to change. This is a belief that is clearly getting in my way and is not helpful to me, so I can see the value in changing this belief. I’m just not sure how to go about believing something different without evidence to back it up. To believe that I can offer something of value without evidence that it is true seems self-delusional. I’m not really sure what to do with this one yet, except that maybe I can start looking for times when I do something creative that does seem to bring some value to someone else.

Just identifying these gremlins is a big step forward, though. It gives me something new to focus on to try to successful shift myself into a more creative space.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

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2 thoughts on “Creativity gremlins

  1. I fight these same critters. One thing I’ve found that helps is to remember that I’m really in no position to determine what value someone else might get from my work or what may help. Sometimes people take a completely different value from a piece that the writer intended, but that may provide exactly what the reader needs. Who am I to withhold it from them before they’ve had a chance to read it? As long as its the best I can do under the conditions, I have to be satisfied.

    • Thank you, Paul! It’s helpful to know that I’m not alone, and I really appreciate you sharing how you approach this. I actually find this a bit easier to do with my writing (at least here on the blog) than I do with other forms of creative activity. I’m not sure why this is. I guess I figure people can choose whether or not they read I write, so I am better able to leave the choice to them. Perhaps I can learn to translate that approach to other areas too. Thanks for the suggestion! It’s got me thinking.

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