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!

Creativity

Keeping your creative focus

 

Sometimes I get so many ideas that I can’t focus on just one. I get really inspired and feel myself being pulled in a hundred different directions.

I start new journals, come up with new blog ideas, buy new art supplies, sign up for new courses… only to find those initial feelings of inspiration giving way to feelings of overwhelm.

When I finally get a moment to myself to spend doing my own thing, I feel paralysed by indecision. Do I finally start writing the novel I’ve been planning? Or do I break out my new stencils? Or maybe I should be planning the e-book for my new blog? Or art journaling in one of my many art journals? Or journaling in my written journal? Or blogging on this blog? Or, or or…

It all becomes a bit much.

As much as I love feeling inspired and creative, I find myself with 15 different projects that are unfinished, abandoned for the next thing. This is no way to make progress!

In her book Renaissance Souls, Margaret Lobenstine explores people like me – what she calls, ‘people who have too many passions to pick just one’. I am so one of these people! I quickly move from one thing to the next, easily bored and distracted by something new that’s caught my eye.

The thing is, I would really like to finish something that I start. I want to finish writing my novel. I want to develop a blog to the point that it’s financially successful (which is not likely to happen if I keep getting distracted by coming up with ideas for new blogs).

In other words, I want to focus my attention and get results on the few things that are really important to me.

Lobenstine suggests picking three or four ‘focal points’ – these are the areas of interest that you choose to focus your attention. I think this is especially helpful advice for someone like me who, without limits, could easily have 10-15 different projects on the go at once. Four sounds good. Four sounds like I will actually have time and energy to focus and achieve something!

So right now I’m working on eliminating distractions and choosing the areas that are most important for my attention.

Journaling is an extremely helpful tool to remind ourselves of what is important, what we most want to focus on. It can also be a good way to remind ourselves by reading back through past entries. I’ve found that while sometimes my priorities have changed, often I’ve just gotten distracted and not followed through on what really mattered to me.

How do you remain focused on the things that are important to you?

Creativity

New art journal – an altered book

I’ve started a new art journal, and I wanted to share what I’m doing. As a journal lover, a writer and an avid reader, I’ve been really fascinated with the idea of altered books.

I recently came across this neat old French text-book when clearing out a really old cupboard at school. I think it’s from the 1970s. It’s fantastic as an altered journal because the pages are sewn, not stapled, so they will hold up well. It is sturdy and bound well, and the paper is quite thick.

Most of the writing is in French, but there is some English inside, plus lots of interesting pictures of Paris and other French things I can incorporate into future journal pages.

The reason I’m creating this altered book journal in addiction to my other art journals is because I need something low-stakes I can make a mess in. It cost me nothing and there are lots of pages I can play with. I simply slap on a coat of gesso, then set about using my gelli plate, paints, stamps, stencils, washi tape and pens to play.

My other art journals are a bit more precious, and I find myself wanting to create something that is pretty, rather than actually playing and exploring different media. I felt like I needed a place I could make a mess and be ok with it.

This, of course, is going to be a pretty strong theme throughout!

I want this journal to be sort of like a normal journal in that I can explore and express how I’m feeling at the time, but visually. I’m new to art journaling so I’m just trying to teach myself various techniques and things as I go. But, the point is, to keep doing. Keep making a mess, because from that mess comes something interesting.

Here are a few pages I’ve made so far, and a few close-ups on details I particularly like.

make-mistakes

butterfly-play

an-essential-aspect-of-creativity-close-up

create-be-fearless

i-wish-to-be-fearless

the-time-is-now

Creativity, Self Empowerment

The risk to blossom

 

Anais Nin famously said:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

I love this quote, so much. It is only recently that I have come to realise that it is too painful for me to remain tight in a bud – I am now taking the risk to blossom.

I think this quote means that we stay in our comfort zones, we deny our true feelings and we try to protect ourselves.

Since starting a regular journaling routine, I have come to realise that I can blossom – it isn’t as scary or dangerous as it seems. I have all the courage I need inside.

Here are a few of the ways I used to ‘remain tight in a bud’:

  • Drinking
  • Watching a lot of television
  • Spending hours online
  • Napping
  • Overeating
  • Spending time with people I didn’t really care for, just so I wouldn’t have to be alone
  • Overworking, becoming exhausted
  • Denying that I had any control over my life
  • Shopping aimlessly
  • Dieting relentlessly
  • Perfectionism and procrastination

But now that I’ve created an ongoing dialogue with my true, authentic self through my daily journaling routine, I am finding the courage to ‘blossom’ in these ways:

  • Starting (and continuing) a creative practice
  • Experimenting with different art supplies and techniques, such as acrylic paint, watercolour, mixed media, crayons, pencils, pens, etc
  • Building a tiny house
  • Starting my own creative business
  • Acknowledging my deepest desires and daring to believe I can make them a reality
  • Sharing my work, my thoughts and ideas with others
  • Accepting myself as a flawed but deeply lovable human being
  • Quitting dieting

These are just a few of the ways I have sought to change my life over the past 6 months. Looking back now it seems like I’ve made quite a few big changes – most of them are internal. Most of them are shifts in my sense of courage, of determination. the external changes have naturally flowed on from there.

I can’t say it enough: it is the simple act of journaling each day that has allowed me to get to this point. It is the ongoing conversation with my true self, with my inner wisdom and courage. It is being awake in my life, rather than numbing my feelings through the things in the first list above.

So I challenge you: in what ways do you attempt to remain tight in a bud, and how can you find the courage to blossom?

Creativity

Art journal play: The first two art journal prompts from the 30 Day Journal Project

I finally made some time to play in my art journal this evening.

I’m quite new to art journaling and I’m just trying to see what others do and pick up things from them. I also try to see what I feel inspired to do at the time. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t.

I love playing with different media such as stamps, washi tape, acrylic paint, watercolours, markers, collage etc. I also love the idea that I can just cover anything I don’t like.

I really feel my perfectionism creeping in when I’m working in my art journal.

grow

I’d like to learn to relax a bit and go with the process, rather than worrying about how it’s going to look in the end. I want my  art journaling to be more about the process than the result.

I haven’t shared much of my art journaling on here. I don’t actually do it as often as I’d like – it’s more time-consuming than pen and paper journaling, and also I guess I worry about it not being ‘good enough’. Which is silly really, because it’s not about that.

At the moment I’m following the prompts from Lisa Sonora’s 30 Day Journal Project. I love how she starts each list of prompts with ‘do one, some, all, or none, as you wish’. It really helps me to feel free to choose and journal how I most feel like it. One thing that I have found to be really difficult with projects like this are too many rules.

The first prompt is about beginnings. Lisa provided the quote, from Henry David Thoreau:

There is no beginning too small.

no-beginning-too-small

I wanted to bring in the idea of the beginning being like a journey. I’m starting where I am, which is literally Auckland, New Zealand on this map. But it’s also about starting where I am in my life right now – with the skills, feelings, and desires I currently hold.

So often I put things off because I’m waiting for ‘the right time’ – whatever that is.

But more and more I’m realising that starting where I am is fine. Starting now, in fact, is better. Start where you are. You are here. Move forward from here.

Have faith.

you-are-here

These words appear so often in my journaling. Faith is a ‘being value’ I’m forever working on – a character trait that I would like to possess. I so often doubt myself, my work, my dreams, my skills, the possibilities for the future. I remind myself daily to have faith that things will work out. It never fails to reassure me, and keep me on track.

have-faith2

Be bold.

Courage is another being value I’m working with. In case you haven’t noticed, fear is something that seems to follow me around! Reminding myself to be bold kicks its butt, though.

be-bold

The second prompt is to do with commitment. This is something I really struggle with.

I’m fine with romantic commitment (I’ve been with my partner for over 5 years) but most other forms of commitment are tough for me. The thought of a mortgage terrifies me. I usually don’t stay in a job for more than a couple of years. I move house a lot. I change my mind a lot about things: I lose interest, lose motivation, lose faith. In fact, blogging every day as part of this 100 Day Project is one of my best commitments so far.

I think I’m afraid of getting trapped in something I don’t want. And I’m also afraid that I won’t see things through, so committing to something can be really hard when I doubt that I’ll finish it. I worry about over-committing to things and getting too busy and stressed.

I love my freedom and like to make choices based on how I feel at any given time (this is why I find full-time employment quite hard). But, I also think there are benefits to really committing to something worthwhile and seeing it through.

commit

Most of all, I think it’s important to be gentle and kind to ourselves. You can only ever do the best that you can at any one time. You are doing the best you can. Go gently.

It’s a very strange coincidence – I didn’t read the text before I put it down and painted over the top. Then I noticed these words:

make-a-commitment

Just try it. Experiment…make a commitment. Respond kindly.

Or perhaps it’s not a coincidence at all. The universe works in mysterious ways when you invite creativity into your life.

Creativity

25 Days into the 100 Day Project: A reflection

Today is the 25th day of the 100 Days Project. I’m a quarter of the way through the project, and I want to reflect on how it’s going.

It’s hard.

I know I’m probably not supposed to say that, but in the interest of being authentic and vulnerable, I should be honest.

I’m actually really enjoying the challenge of coming up with new topics and things to post. I’m enjoying the daily journaling and creativity, the daily commitment. I’m enjoying getting comments and support from readers and other bloggers – that has been such a huge pleasure.

This is the first time I have blogged this consistently.

It keeps me focused on what matters in my life: creativity and sharing my creativity with others.

But some days I am tired. I work as a teacher which requires a great deal of energy. It is especially difficult at the moment because I have moved to a new school which is further away – so I have to get up extra early if I want to journal before work. That is fine, but then it means that I have little energy in the evenings to blog, or do any other creative work, such as my art journal, or poetry.

Oh, and my best friend and I are planning our own online business, which takes a lot of time and energy too! But it’s the good kind.

heart close upSo what does this mean for my blogging? Nothing much. I’ve thought about stopping the 100 Days Project but in truth I don’t want to. I enjoy the challenge. I like being committed to something. I like having to share my thoughts and my creative practice regularly. I think if you want to achieve something creative, particularly writing or art, doing it every day is important.

Can I keep going for another 75 days? I don’t see why not. When I read about amazing inspiring people like Lisa Sonora’s 1008 paintings project I am just blown away. It makes me laugh about my 25 days of blogging.

Lisa says throughout the course of the project she dealt with questions such as:

‘How do we stay on track with a big goal?
How do we start again when we’ve gotten sidelined?
What supports constructive action and creating? And what undermines?’

These are things I should explore in my own journal. If I’m feeling like I want to give up, why is that?

why I want to blog

Susannah Conway has said that every week she worries she has run out of good blogging material. Anne Lamott says that she often worries she has run out of ideas. So I guess the mild panic I feel each day about what to blog about is only normal.

I like the fact that it keeps me on my toes. The discomfort and challenge of blogging every day is good for me as a writer and artist. It keeps me pushing forward towards a goal, even when it feels a little uncomfortable.

So, on that note, here’s to 75 more days of getting outside my comfort zone!

Creativity, Self Empowerment

One hundred days of scaring away fear

I’m starting something new. I have signed up to do something called the 100 Days Project. Basically all I have to do is choose one action then do it for the next 100 days. Sounds easy enough, right?

Um, no.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I have trouble starting new ventures. My good old friends fear and procrastination are right here with me, making me question my every move. I’m trying my best to tune them out, and I guess that’s what the next 100 days will be about.

My plan is to journal every day in some form, although I’m using the word ‘journaling’ pretty loosely: I will write in my journal, create in my art journal, do work in my visioning journal(s), create found poetry or practise my handwritten typography. I guess I count these things as journaling in some sense because I do them all in some sort of journal. Some days I might use a prompt, other days I will just go where my creativity takes me.

Then, I will share what I have done here: what I learn, an image, a quote, an insight, or just something to (hopefully) inspire you for the day. Some days I may have a lot to say, others very little. But the main thing is to show up every day.*

There are a few things I’m hoping to achieve, or make some progress towards, over the next 100 days:

  • Get comfortable with blogging (yes, it still terrifies me each time I press ‘publish’)
  • Vary the way I blog – some longer posts, some shorter posts, some mostly photographs, some lists, etc
  • Get into the habit of blogging regularly
  • Overcome perfectionism and procrastination around blogging
  • Build a following of readers
  • Challenge myself to be vulnerable, to stick with something, to take risks and push myself
  • Challenge myself to find inspiration each day

I guess the idea of blogging each day is quite simple to some, and it probably seems like I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But for me, it is a big deal. I’m not a blogger. Not yet anyway.

I’m excited and terrified. But I guess that’s the point. Seth Godin said,

In the long run, the enemy of fear is creativity. I’m sure of it.

Here’s hoping I can scare fear away using creativity. I guess that is my true goal for the next 100 days.

*The irony is that as soon as I’ve posted this I have to pack for a trip I’m taking this weekend where there is no internet… But, I will still type up posts and share them when I am home on Sunday – I promise!

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Fear and the art of starting something new

fear

I’ve only just recently realised how much of my life is influenced by fear.

I don’t mean the I-can’t-leave-the-house-because-the-world-will-end kind, but just a general background hum that rears its head when it’s time to try something new or different, when I dare to think about taking some sort of risk.

In a way, this fear is more destructive because it isn’t as obvious. It took me a long time to recognise it for what it actually is, because it has many disguises: discomfort, procrastination, perfectionism, busyness, uncertainty… these are just fancy names for fear.

I recently saw John Marsden speak at the Auckland Writers Festival, and he said:

What you are afraid to look at has power over you. What you confront loses its power.

So I decided to examine my fears in more detail through journaling. Turns out I’m afraid of a lot of things, but one thing that kept coming up was regret. I’m afraid of feeling regret for things I’ve done – or, more so, not done. Which of course ties into the famous words of Mark Twain:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do.

So, yes, fearful of regretting not doing things with my life. But, ironically, also very fearful about trying new things and ‘sailing away from the safe harbour’. Just fearful all round, it would seem.

Creativity is often accompanied by fear. It’s the feeling of being exposed, vulnerable. It’s doing something new. It’s taking a risk. Starting this blog has been a slow process. Often, I’ve let fear get the better of me. I’ve been fighting my old enemies of perfectionism and procrastination the whole way.

But a friend of mine once told me to think of the feelings of discomfort when doing something new as a good sign – a sign you’re on the right track. If it didn’t feel a bit uncomfortable then it wouldn’t be new, I wouldn’t be growing. So I must really be stretching myself here! And some days, of course, I just stay in bed with a cup of tea.