Bad Creative Habits

Bad habits. We all have ’em. And they wreak havoc in different areas of our lives. But when it starts crossing over into our ability to create to the best of our ability, then it can severely hamper our growth as artists and individuals. I tend to notice when I get into a pattern of behavior. It may take a while for me to fully acknowledge it, and then to take action against it, but I keep bumping up against the bad habit until I do. So I wanted to make this post pointing out some traps I constantly fight against, and also to go through the various disciplines I have experience in both doing and helping others do so that maybe it will assist you on your journey. This post will deal with the general “life” bad habits, and I think I’ll get into more specific ones (writing, art, music) in later blogs

  • “Ooo, shiny syndrome” – I suffer from this greatly. This is where the new project or potential project always holds more allure than whatever project you are currently in the midst of. And yes, it’s important to be planning ahead while still accomplishing the current work or else you could find yourself with no creative work at all to be doing, but the risk of battling “ooo, shiny syndrome” is that you wind up with these really great half-thought out ideas that never go anywhere or become realized. And some people actually try to make a living selling just ideas, or garnering support to realize a dream (you’ve seen these ads on Craigslist, I’m sure – “I’ve got this amazing idea for a novel! I just need a writer to put in the hours to write it on spec!  And then we’ll turn it into a movie where film crew and actors donate their time for free now, and we’ll all be rich when we sell it later!”) Not the way I operate. So, the way I battle this bad habit of putting off the hard work I should be doing because the dreaming and scheming is more alluring is to negotiate with myself – I give  myself a little bit of time for the fun work AFTER I do the hard work as a reward.
  • Needing everything perfect – This is one that a lot of my friends fall into. Many of us creatives have rituals we set up for ourselves: always drinking coffee or tea out of one mug while we write, always playing certain music while we paint, always lighting a candle and laying out inspiration in a certain way, always going to the same coffee shop or sitting in the same spot in the park, etc. The problem is that eventually the mug or your music player breaks, you can’t find your matches or lighter, and your favorite coffee shop closes, leaving you feeling betrayed and unable to do any work. This is something I’ll get into a little later more deeply, but essentially, you’ve come to believe the magic of creation can only work in one certain way and you get stuck in that rut. The tools you thought were helping you are now a hindrance. So to get through this bad habit, mix up your routine. If you always write at home, try writing at a coffee shop. If you only listen to one type of music, force yourself to work in silence or to listen to a completely different genre. Make the magic work in the midst of both calm and chaos, because life is a mixture of both. It will allow you to work steadier.
  • The deliberate distraction – Another trap that I’ve noticed many of my creative friends get into is the deliberate distraction, which can be somewhat constructive (all the dishes HAVE to be done before I can sit down and create) or wasteful (I’ll just check all 8 of my social networking sites before I get cracking on this story). Or you sit down to write and decide instead to spend six hours creating the perfect playlist or inspiration board for your book but then that book languors for years and years unfinished, because you’re always tweaking the pre-writing. Essentially, it comes down to a fear of beginning. I’ve experienced this in my past but have worked beyond it because I’ve had to with looming deadlines and being a parent. If I have twenty precious minutes to write or paint, I have to jump right in rather than dipping my toe in. Again, giving a time limit here is a good thing. Tell yourself “I’ve carved out this hour to write. I will allow myself twenty minutes to make a playlist and then spend forty writing.” Or make yourself write with a pile of dirty dishes and leave that social networking unseen. It’s not the end of the world.
  • The addiction – This runs the gamut from hard chemical substances to substances we consider “ligher”, media consumption, sex, certain foods, even things we think of as “good” and healthy like meditation and outdoor activities. Anything done to excess can (and frequently is) an addiction, and, as creatives, I really believe we are at a higher risk of becoming addicted than those that are not. I think the reason for that is that we are constantly straddling the line between the outer world in which we operate with each other and our own rich inner worlds, which can be very difficult to balance. We have a lot more personal demons we wind up fighting because of the way we’re hardwired. I wrote about it a couple of years ago a bit when Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Also, many of us are living lives that are stressful beyond anything we’re meant to be coping with, and so we reach for tools to help us cope or to become more spiritual or to access our inner worlds easier and diminish the noise of the outer, and what frequently happens is that the tool that was meant to help us has trapped us and made it so we’re unable to do the creative work that we love to do. My general rule of thumb that I apply to my life is to think “can I imagine going a month with this? A week? Does the thought of going even 24 hours without <blank> fill me with a kind of dread?” And if I feel any kind of qualms about it, then I really examine my relationship with that particular thing and if I have a problem, I’ll work to get a better relationship with it. It might take me a couple of months to implement, but at least I’m being honest with myself about the problem. I really started thinking about this a couple of months ago when I was beginning a big creative project for work and I felt like I really needed a glass or two of wine or a generous pour of bourbon on hand to start the process. For some reason, when I first start sketching ideas out in the preliminary stage, I find it extremely helpful to loosen up with a moderate serving of alcohol as part of the process. Being pregnant, I couldn’t do that for my last two projects, and it surprised me how difficult I found it to begin. I obviously overcame that initial need and my projects have been their normal standard, but it was very difficult. I don’t want to get to the point where I rely on alcohol to create. I also noticed that I allowed myself to get hooked into a Facebook addiction when I was feeling lousy with my iron deficiency back in December, where I would hope to take advantage of my son being in the bath to get a little writing done and would instead just scroll and scroll down my feed. I noticed the addiction by the end of January, and I am only just implementing a “check Facebook once a day” rule on myself. I will be strict on this for the next month, just to get myself in the habit, and then see what happens from there. Because while social networking has become an important part of keeping up with my friends who live far from me as well as keeping myself in people’s eyes as far as my creative work goes, it becomes a massive time suck that could be better spent being creative.

Are there any general bad habits inhibiting your ability to create that you have that you can add to the this list? Do you find that you fit in to any of the categories here? Any tips for getting out of your own way to do the creative work you love to do?

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4 thoughts on “Bad Creative Habits

  1. Not necessarily in the “creative” camp, though it pops up here, too. It’s the emotional freeze/paralysis that kicks in when there’s I next step I don’t feel prepared for or sense myself adequate to the task. (Maybe this is a first cousin to your Perfection setup?) Or even a sense of futility kicks in. Think of submitting to a literary journal or sending out query letters or approaching an agent or scheduling an event for the public and getting the promotion out. Replastering a hallway. Even taking a trip. So what do we even call it?

    • Fear of change or fear of failure? Extreme dislike to the disruption of routine? I’ve been feeling that lately with my new house. I had a mini-breakdown that came super close to a panic attack this weekend just thinking about everything that has to happen before we move, once we move, and then once the new baby comes in August. Thankfully, I was able to talk things out with my husband and come off my mental ledge, but it was not a fun couple of days until I finally let it all out.

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