What To Do When You Doubt Your Creativity


I wrote this last week as Post It Note Poetry was coming to a close. For the month of February I was writing something new every day on the spur of the moment with very little editing or development. Dedicated crafting and revision is not the point of Post It Note Poetry.

Side Note: Post It Note Poetry presents its own set of creative issues and problems. I’ve reflected on them at the end of the month in 2013 (Post It Note Poetry Wrap Up) and 2014 (Lessons Learned from Post It Note Poetry). There is no need to revisit them again.

It has been a long while since I have written something new as I’ve been trying to complete the first drafts on some longer pieces (one of which is the stupid novella I’ve been saying I’ll write for the past 2 years). I have another short story (approx. 3.5K) that still needs work and has been revised and reworked numerous times.

What it all means is the process from idea to first draft, then edits, more drafts and finally, completion, is time consuming.

It’s the long drag between first draft and end of first draft (when you know the work has potential but it’s not yet realised) that makes me doubt. Even the short story mentioned above has been languishing for almost 12 months as I sort through various drafts, comments and plot issues.

Similarly, my novella and verse novel need some serious reworking in terms of plot. I started the novella with an outline but have realised it needs further revision. The verse novel started without an outline (trying different methodologies) and it needs a clear direction and focus. 

On top of that, the latter half of last year was a creative wasteland in some respects. Work demands were a high priority and a creative sink hole as I worked through marking papers, editing students’ major works and completed edits on a friend’s 104K sci-fi novel.

It meant I approached January as a time to rebuild myself creatively. But it didn’t happen. Everything I returned to felt like drinking a cup of sand. It was exhausting. And I seriously contemplated bailing on Post It Note Poetry as I doubted myself and my creative abilities.

What to do, then, if you are beginning to doubt your creativity? I have 2 solutions.

1. Stick with your creative community.

Your creative community is your most valuable asset. I have a group of people I can rely on to listen when I vent, whinge, complain, throw a tantrum, doubt, despair, consider chucking it all in.

They were there either via text or Facebook or messaging. Most of the time they simply listened. Occasionally they offered advice or encouragement. I have a creative colleague at school and we have our “Mea Cuppa” sessions, talking through ideas or talking rubbish while having cups of tea.

If you’re not part of a community, seek one out either in real life or online.

2. Keep turning up to the page as persistence pays off.

Deciding to complete Post It Note Poetry meant I had to turn up to the page Every. Single. Day. to complete a poem. Some poems came easier than others but I was compelled to keep going.

Even if you think you are creating rubbish, it is all about priming and preparing yourself for the next project whether it’s something new or returning to complete something older. It’s like training is for an athlete. Do the practice, complete the exercises in readiness for the main event.

For me, March (and the coming months) brings new vision and clarity for the projects I want to complete and the new ones on the horizon. For right now, I’ll keep turning up to the page and pressing on.

How do you keep your creativity flowing when you have doubts? Leave your ideas in the comments.

8 responses to “What To Do When You Doubt Your Creativity

  1. Tonya R. Moore

    I just take a break from my current project. Sometimes, all it takes is a little time to sort things out in my head without forcing creativity. I do my best writing when I’m enjoying myself, so once I start having doubts or feeling fed up, I know it’s time to break away for a little while.

    • That’s a good idea. I’ve spent time away from my current WIP and they have benefitted from the space to think through plot and character issues. I might start writing something new, and short, as a way back into my writing.

  2. I’ve realized that I cannot stray too far from the core of my writing focus. The energy I waste yo-yo-ing to and from that core is always better spent on the project itself. I also carry around my writing with me everywhere now. I feel obligated to open the files, the journals, the character spreadsheets and keep breathing new life in to them. It isn’t easy when there is so much going around with family, teaching, and other obligations. But writing is too important to me. The more I stay immersed in it, the better my writing is, and I want to publish the best that’s in me in these moments of creativity.

    • The immersion is a hard thing to do, but so necessary. At times we go back to where the water is at our ankles or our knees because it feels safer there. All the while we know there is great reward for going out to the depths.
      Sometimes we need the lifesaver to throw us the rope, or we tether ourselves to the guard tower and take it step by uneasy step.

  3. You have to write a Mea Cuppa poem, see Peter Meinke for inspiration on punning with Latin

  4. Persistence and focus are my driving forces in all my projects. Doubts are often results of exposure to some negativity of some kind in one way or the other. I do my best to avoid exposure to any negative thinking or thinkers.

    A quote from my recent post: “Only listen to people who are where you wanna be.”

    • Agreed. Sometimes I think the most dangerous source of negativity is ourselves. Something to combat and think positively.

  5. This is good advice Adam. Similarly I have felt adrift and “as if” I’m not producing enough creative work and largely for the same reasons, although different work, that you experienced. I have kept my creative community close, but have realised I am every day worried that I’m not doing enough. My practice is a mix of writing and installation art and in the past year I have worked on two collaborative projects involving text, visual art and installation. A commitment to collaboration means I must work and the relationship with another artists enriches and inspires my new work. I have just joined another “group of 5” to work on an ongoing collaboration, and today I’m applying with an Iowa based collaboration to develop work for a text and art exhibition in Iowa. So while I didn’t turn up to the page every day – and yes I only realised I missed Post it Note Challenge today – I did create meaningful work. So yes, I think turning up every day even for minutes is a good idea, and I think seeking trusted collaborators is another way to keep the creativity in your otherwise occupied lived hours.

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