This past weekend, I watched the “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” documentary on Netflix. As someone who has loved Didion’s work over the years, it was just the message I had been looking for lately. In it, Didion talks a lot about the feeling of writing at a young age when her mother gave her one of her first notebooks, encouraging her to write down her thoughts.
“I didn’t really have any clear picture on how to do it, but I do remember having a very clear sense that I wanted this to continue.”
Didion is known for a lot of things throughout her career, many of which are just the tip of the iceberg as to why I admire her and her work so much. Her take on literary journalism and the essay as a modern novel of sorts (especially in regards to numerous social forces of her time) are all a huge reason as to why I was drawn to journalism in the first place. And after watching her documentary — it really got me thinking about why we write down and share thoughts at all.
If I’m being perfectly honest, there have been many moments since staring This Time Tomorrow where I’ve hit certain walls. Walls where I felt like I didn’t have enough time to work on this space. Walls where I felt like I didn’t have anything meaningful to add. Walls where I felt like what I added didn’t make a difference. They’re the worst walls to hit — walls of self-doubt.
And usually, after a fair bit of reflection and some time spent doing the things I’ve listed below, I’m able to reconnect with what it is that I really love about doing what I do — the thing that gives me a “very clear sense that I want it to continue.”
Whether you work in a creative field like me (perhaps you’re your own boss, as well?) or not, moments of self-doubt creep in for everyone, and after this most recent bout I’ve gone through, I figured I’d share a few of my tried and true ways I face creative ruts head on. Because, sometimes the biggest comfort (and catalyst for getting out of them) is to realize that you’re not alone.
1. Remind yourself, you’re not alone. This one is seemingly easy. But I assure you, a lot of the time, it isn’t. Especially in an industry where there’s a never ending stream of content — great content, too — it’s that all too familiar feeling of thinking everyone else has their shit figured out, except for you. I’m extremely guilty of falling down this rabbit hole, to the point my anxiety can get the best of me, standing in the way of my own productivity. Suddenly, I can’t seem to move forward with step one of project one, because I’m overwhelmed by the 19th step in project 5.
And then, I force myself to remember: for every beautifully curated feed, video, or post, there’s someone behind it who feels just as vulnerable as you at times. Who doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing ALL the time. Who’s just trying to make it LOOK like they have it together. The truth is, once you can accept everyone else is trying their best to make it look like they have it together, you can start to accept your own process of getting there, too.
2. Feed your brain, your heart, your soul, whatever needs FEEDING. This one means a lot of different things to me at different times, for different creative ruts, but the underlying point is always the same. I try to listen to what part of me is lacking, be it my creative writing, my photography, my voice, my vision, and I try to make a conscious effort to feed it. That means, instead of binge watching certain shows in my downtime (don’t get me wrong, I love Riverdale, too!), I try to turn something on that adds a bit of substance while I work, like the Joan Didion documentary I watched last weekend.
Of course, the more I dive into the logistics of managing my own business, making time to read JUST FOR ME, is also hard to come by. Lately, I’ve been making more of a point to read poetry before bed. I find there’s a lot of solace in being able to digest a poem or two before bed — it requires less reacquainting than some of the novels that I’m also reading, but it actually also gives my imagination a lot to mull over before I fall asleep. I feel much more satiated because of it.
Sometimes, when the weather permits it, this means I also opt to just walk as much as possible. There’s something about walking around New York that always manages to make me see things differently, be it the people I meet along the way, a building I hadn’t noticed before or the way the sunset casts interesting shadows at a certain intersection. Does New York have to be your backdrop? Of course not. The point is to find the beauty already around you, no matter where you are.
3. Reflect. More often than not, the best way to move forward, is to (briefly) look back at how far you have come. Honestly. Give it a try. I used to be deathly afraid of quitting my full time marketing job. Then I did. Now that I’m past that hurdle, I have to remind myself I was capable of doing it in the first place, and there’s no valid reason why I can’t pass the next hurdle.
4. Don’t be precious about it. This one is about perspective — the easiest thing to lose when you get wrapped up in your own world and your own creative work. I find, the longer I concentrate and overthink something, the more I end up feeling directionless with it. Essentially, the more I want it to be perfect, the less perfect it becomes. Instead, I allow myself to get, well, messy with it. I take what might be a traditional approach to a project, and I try to turn it on it’s head. I’ll give myself very random writing prompts (most of which don’t make it on here, but perhaps they should?) just to allow my head the time to roam wildly for a minute. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling to make something that you’re not smothering along the way — even if it comes out slightly strange or different or not what you normally see in an Instagram feed or perhaps it doesn’t get shared at all — the choice is yours! But make it. And let it be weird. And strange. And different. And odd. And I bet you’ll probably have some fun along the way and come up with a whole slew of new ideas to try out for your next creative endeavor.
5. Find collaborators who are hungry like you! Nothing gets me invigorated to work and create like meeting other like-minded creatives! Seriously. It’s quite possibly the best medicine I prescribe to you. Whenever I’m feeling a bit drained or in need of a creative revival, I start digging around for new blood — new brands to approach for styling editorials, new photographers I admire on Instagram who might be open to working together, new influencer friends who might be up for grabbing coffee and shooting together. You’ll be surprised how far it propels you and makes you see things with a whole new light.