Do you know that moment in the creative process where you feel like you are wrestling a demon, and when you finally feel like you’re about to wrangle the dang thing to the ground, it breaks free, roaring toward you with renewed ferocity?
I’m working on a new project, and this is what my creative process has felt like recently.
When demon-slaying is at a standstill, I talk to my husband—a terrific strategy until, after several hours of me talking in circles and him doing his best to ask supportive, non-fixing questions while not checking his phone, he trepidatiously asks: Would it be cool if we watch Ted Lasso now?
Of course, I take his attempt to put a pin in this conversation that is going nowhere EXTREMELY PERSONALLY.
Fine. I mumble, with the subtext: You don’t think my work is endlessly compelling? And: Aren’t we going to bust through my creative blocks TONIGHT no matter how long it takes?
Thankfully we’ve been together long enough to know that sometimes the best thing you can do for marital conflict is to go binge-watch a feel-good tv show and come back later.
The next day, I meet with an advisor who is helping me shape this new project, and after hearing me yammer on about my stuckness, she asks: How do you feel about this?
Um…Okay! I say fake cheerily. I think it can work?
Pause. We both know I can’t lie.
Tired. I say. I feel tired about what I am making.
She goes on to zero in on the one or two elements of the work that are the most me, scrapping the pages that are me trying to be who I am not.
I am astonished. I am studying with this woman to elevate my professional game. I thought those were the parts I was going to have to take out because they were too esoteric and weird, and because they didn’t fit in with industry standards.
But she gave me permission to go all in to my most unique parts. This is what the best advisors do.
I had been confusing the project of taking my work to the next level with sounding more like the male leaders in my field.
Even though I know better. Even though I spend my days coaching women to do the opposite of this.
When we are caught between these two pervasive cultural messages—that our most important job is to fit in, be appealing, and please everyone and their mother, and—women’s voices are a threat to the system—we risk losing everything about ourselves and our work that is original.
In fact, one of the most critical elements in taking our creative work to the next level is radically accepting all of the parts of ourselves that we were taught to think are too weird, too much, too non-conformist, or countercultural.
With the confidence that comes from owning—not betraying—my original voice, I went back and started working again and it felt fun. Free. A bit electric. The path cleared, ideas flowed, and I felt alive.
The demon was gone. And I remembered that the demon is not me. Or my project. In my initial metaphor, I felt like I (the warrior) was trying to wrestle and battle my project (the demon) to the ground.
It’s an easy trope to fall back on, because many of us were raised on the concept that art is meant to be a war, and if we’re not suffering and slaying demons, we’re not making good work. Of course, we now know that this is a lie, but many of us still lose endless amounts of time, opportunities, money, and energy because we think we are supposed to be in a violent relationship with our creative process.
No one told us that our creative demons are actually a dying culture trying to keep us from our original voice.
We ourselves are not the creative block (what it often feels like) but rather the block is a culture that thrives on our fitting in and being out of trust with ourselves (so we can buy more products and follow more power-hungry leaders).
The day a creator realizes that she is not her block is the day she takes back her creative power.
In case you, too, have been feeling any of this in your creative life and work, I give you permission to radically embrace your most original voice, in all of her non-conforming greatness, and see how that shifts things in your process.
Your creativity loves you. She has always loved you. And though she enjoys a healthy amount of dynamic tension (which is not the same as relentless demon wrestling), she would much rather dance than fight.
And I’m curious:
Where in your creative process, are you trying to fit in to the status quo of your industry? How might you be trying to please people in your work at the risk of betraying your most original self, ideas, and contributions? What happens when you choose your creativity over the dying culture?
A client recently said to me that she didn’t feel like she was doing enough to save our troubled world. This client is hard at work on the greatest work of her creative life (not hyperbole), and I invited her like I’ll invite you now, to consider this:
Trusting yourself and your creativity is a disruptive, future-building act.
Sourcing your original voice in a culture that is trying to get you to do anything but—this is progress.