Creativity

How to deal with creative overwhelm

If you’re anything like me, you love to be creative. You seek out new sources of inspiration. You devour blog posts, courses, books, stationery and art supplies – anything and everything that fuels that creative fire inside you. If you’re not careful, while this can lead to overwhelm.

Lately I’ve been noticing, well… it’s a bit much. I feel a bit like a creative butterfly, flitting from one thing to the next. Or maybe I’m more like a creative magpie, always drawn to the next shiny thing.

Either way, I find I have trouble sticking with one thing before I get excited about the next.

Before long, I’ve signed up for fifteen online courses, ordered six new sets of stamps, bought eight new rolls of washi tape, got five new books on journaling, started three new journals and yet somehow I suddenly feel a bit creatively stuck.

Why? I’m experiencing creative overwhelm.

What is creative overwhelm?

I define it as being so excited and inspired by everything you see that you are unable to focus on just one, or a few, things. You sign up for lots of courses, buy lots of books, collect lots of art supplies – all to feed that creative hunger inside you.

You decide that along with written journaling, you want to try art journaling too. And collage. What about stamp carving? Before long, you’re drawn to hand lettering. And scrapbooking. And it might be fun to get a few pen pals. And you love the look of the planners you see online, so you’ll get one of those too. And there’s so many supplies you want to buy – and techniques you want to try!

But instead of feeling inspired, you feel a bit overwhelmed and exhausted. Your creative space is in disarray. You’re feeling pulled in lots of directions.

Suddenly, it’s too much.

Why is it a problem?

You might be thinking – too many creative outlets? Too much inspiration? No, that’s not an issue.

But I’ve found that when I take time out to create, I don’t know where to begin. I could do this, or that. But what supplies do I use? Which project am I working on? Do I feel like writing, or glueing, or painting, or stamping, or spraying, or stenciling, or – nothing at all?

It’s easy enough to let resistance and fear stop you from creating so the last thing you need is more reason to hesitate when sitting down to create.

It can be hard to make time to be creative, so when you finally have 30 minutes or an hour, you don’t want to battle an overcrowded space and then have to decide between many projects. You don’t need anything else to make it difficult to get creating.

Not only that, I’ve noticed that I feel as though I never complete anything. I don’t get a sense of achievement with a project because I get distracted by the next thing. That’s if I do much work on it at all – the more overwhelmed I am, the easier it is to just flick the TV on instead.

I’ve been on a mission to tackle creative overwhelm in my life so that I can get creating without resistance, distraction or avoidance. In fact, my word for 2015 was ‘focus’ so that I could be guided to stay on my path.

Here’s what I found helpful.

1. Prioritize: Pick a focus (or a few)

Decide what it is that is most important, most exciting, most rewarding for you right now. What are you really wanting to achieve, to make progress with?

You may be excited to sign up for a new course you’ve heard about, but what about the courses you’re already enrolled in? You may have ideas for a new novel, but what about the novel you’re already working on?

Remember: you aren’t obligated to do anything and you can change your mind if something is not working. It’s just that you’re wanting to pick something that is truly rewarding you can continue with, in order to see real progress.

If you’re enrolled in a course (or courses) or you’re reading a book (or books) or using supplies that aren’t fulfilling you – then stop. You don’t have to continue with them because you think you should. This isn’t a chance for you to beat yourself up. It is a chance for you to find what really lights you up and hone in on it.

I found it especially helpful to make a huge list of all the things that are on my ‘creative radar’ at the moment. This includes all the books, courses, supplies, audios, email subscriptions, workbooks, journals, and so on. I got it all out on paper in front of me, then I highlighted the few things that were most important, right now.

In the meantime, I have the list of other things and I can always come back to it if I want to later. If I come across a new course or book I want to explore – instead of diving in, I note down the name on the list for later.

2. Clear your creative space

Set aside some time to unclutter your desk, organise your supplies and clear some (literal) creative space. A cluttered environment can contribute to feelings of overwhelm.

Make sure the supplies you use most often are within easy reach. If there are some you’re not so interested in right now, then maybe put them in a box somewhere else. Make it easy to reach for your supplies without having to decide between crayons/acrylics/watercolour/pencils/markers each time you open a page. Pick one or two to focus on for a while – it is actually believed that setting creative limits can spark creativity.

Make sure your creative space feels inviting. If you have an old vision board that’s been sitting there for months, it might be time to refresh that. If you’ve got a bunch of old candles, maybe choose your favourite and put it out ready for the next creative session. Place an inspiration or oracle card somewhere you will see it whenever you sit down. Make sure there is a big, clear, space for you to make your next creative mess.

If your creative space is stuffed with books, choose the one or two that you’re most interested in right now. Take the others and put them somewhere else – back on the shelf, in a box, whatever. Have the one you’re focusing on right there in front of you.

And hopefully it goes without saying that you should do a quick tidy up at the end of each creative session, so your space stays inviting. Everything should have a place, so that it’s easy to tidy up.

3. Hit ‘unsubscribe’

This is a biggie for me. I get so excited each time I find a new blog about journaling or art journaling or anything creative that I race to put my email address in the ‘subscribe’ box. I want the free ebook and the newsletter. I want the journal prompts and tips and I don’t want to miss out.

But in truth… I’m subscribed to too many things. I actually don’t read the emails I get most of the time. I don’t do the prompts, I don’t use the tips. I can’t read the ebook because I have 36 other books waiting to be read.

Instead, I tend to go through my inbox and mark everything as read, without reading most of it. But I’m reluctant to unsubscribe, because I don’t want to miss out.

This is ironic, because in subscribing for everything and not reading any of it I’m actually missing out on a lot!

What if I subscribed to just one or two that I really loved? And then savoured each email, did the prompts, and waited for the next update? In reality, this would be so much more rewarding and help to decrease some of these feelings of overwhelm.

Try this: go through your inbox and see what you actually read. How many promotional emails, newsletters, courses and so on do you receive but practically ignore? And which are the ones you really look forward to getting? Do an inbox cull and unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t make your heart sing, that you don’t look forward to getting.

Worried about missing out? Add the website/book/mailing list to the list you made earlier of the things you’re interested in. You can always come back to it later. Alternatively, follow the blog through a service like Bloglovin to stay updated but still have control of your inbox.

4. Use whatever tools you need to help you stay on track

I love books. I collect books on creativity, blogging, journaling, art journaling…and when I don’t buy books, I get them out from the library. Last week I had 19 books out from the library. Even I can’t read that many.

I find that I don’t so much read my books as I do collect them. But I want to read them. I want to learn from them, be inspired by them. So I’ve come up with a solution: a reading journal.

I note down the ONE book I’m currently reading, the date I began, and then take notes on the things that inspire me as I read. As a writer this is crucial to my reading process. Then when I finish, I note the date I finished reading. This helps me to feel a sense of achievement, and I also have a whole collection of ideas for blog posts and other writing.

When I am finished one book, I begin the next. In the back I keep a running list of the books I want to read. I do NOT buy or loan them until it is time to start reading that book. One at a time!

This tool helps to keep me on track with reading and enjoying my books. You may use a similar tool, or come up with something else entirely. What matters is that you do what you need to do to keep on track. You may put reminders up in your creative space. You may start the day by listing your MITs (most important tasks). You may publicly blog about your project so you’re accountable.

Use whatever tool you have to use to keep you on track.

Oh, and I returned 18 of the library books so I can focus on the one I’m most interested right now. Progress!

*  *  *

I hope this has in some way been helpful to someone. I hate feeling overwhelmed because it makes me shut down and puts a huge wall between me and my creative expression. I’ve found that by setting limits and getting creatively clear, I’m so much more inspired!

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17 thoughts on “How to deal with creative overwhelm”

  1. Great ideas!! It actually helps to know I’m not the only one who does this. I currently have new stacks of supplies I want to try but haven’t gotten around to. Luckily I’ve stayed fairly focused on one thing so far!! Also, the “unsubscribe”, I literally just did this the other day. I realized I was deleting all these emails rather than reading. Thank you for your wisdom!! Words I needed to read!! 🙂

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    1. Hi Sheena! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. This is something I think about a lot, but as I was writing this post I was wondering if maybe it was just me! I think it’s that it’s too easy to just sign up for things and then only later do we reconsider. I just did a massive unsubscribe too, feels good! So glad to know I’m not the only one who feels swamped with all this sometimes! 🙂

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  2. I have felt this many times in the past several years as online inspirations grow exponentially, available at a tap of fingers on the screen. Creative paralysis takes hold then and I feel directionless and frustrated, with nothing made to enjoy. Thank you for this post. You have looked at this problem directly and with manageable actions to make changes. And as Sheena says, it is good to read that you are not alone in doing this.

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    1. Hi Nancy, thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found it helpful. I agree about the online inspiration – that is one of the hardest things with so much available all the time. We have to put up our own boundaries or it becomes too much!

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  3. Hopped over from IG and catching up
    With this post. It was worth the wait!! t too suffer from project/idea/course overwhelm. Will be adding a list of resources & courses in my planner. GOSh I’ve needed a better system for focusing on what I’m learning. Thank you for the suggestions!

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  4. ‘You don’t need anything else to make it difficult to get creating’ – love love love this line, and so true.
    This post couldn’t have come at a better time, I was writing about how overwhelmed I was with everything I said I would do. Thank you for such well-timed post. And I have so been there with the library books!

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    1. Hi Akiyo, isn’t it funny how things come to us most when we need them? Haha yes I’m terrible with library books, always think I’ll read them and then never do!

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  5. So glad I found your blog! What you say about being overwhelmed is spot on for me. I do exactly what you do, then I start thinking I just don’t have what it takes to be creative simply becasue I can’t figure out what to do first! Thank you!

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  6. So true! I think it’s so easy to fall into overwhelm when you have projects on the go that are all related in some way (creative) but are also very different, have certain deadlines or that should have been completed already and then they bring about even more tasks and by then you feel annoyed or guilty that you haven’t actually created anything physically in a journal or on canvas. Three MITs and a list I header with ‘Things I can do now’ are total life savers for me starting where I am again.

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  7. I feel so relieved to find this post and to discover I’m not alone. I’ve spent so much money and time on courses, blogs, art supplies etc. My New Year’s resolution was to stop buying more stuff and use what I already have. However, I have signed up to a number of things already and been buying more books. There are just so many wonderful and inspiring things out there and I just want to be part of it all. It’s almost like an addiction (perhaps it is).
    Of course the result usually amounts to overwhelm and an inability to do much of anything before I’m off finding more to inspire me.
    Thank you so much for this guidance.

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