Monday, March 14, 2011

Embrace negative feelings? Yeah right... Part 1

You stumble, as humans are bound to do. But this time it isn't a skinned knee, it's a wound to your creative soul, and it hurts enough to make you want to go back to bed with a bag of cookies and someone else's novel. Your inner critic takes control, pummeling you with its negativity:

This is too hard.

I thought I'd be farther along by now.

I'm not as good at this as I first thought.

The economy will not support what I'm trying to do.

Do any of these emotions sound familiar to you? As someone whose personal growth began while ensconced in an emotionally abusive relationship, then tried to heal from her husband's suicide while powering up a creative writing career, I've adopted a few strategies for engaging with negative emotions.

1. Allow yourself these feelings. I'm done with people telling me that what I feel is wrong or unimportant—and that includes myself. Denying my feelings only separates me from my personal truth. Remaining optimistic isn't about hypnotizing yourself into always thinking good thoughts, it's about being able to regain your equilibrium once bad thoughts try to knock you down.

2. Change the script. As with all feedback, creative perception can help us transform discouraging words into something that's helpful to hear.
This is too hard = I need rest or some additional skills to face this challenge.

I thought I'd be farther along by now = I must reinvigorate those things I can affect—my attitude and effort—and stop focusing on what I can't control.

I'm not as good as I first thought I was = I need to take stock of the ways in which I've made progress.

The economy will not support what I'm trying to do
= All of us are struggling within the same conditions, and together our struggle can change the world.

3. Thank negative emotions for the information they bring. When I was a choreographer, the start of each new dance felt like a love affair. But the initial euphoria of creative expression was soon supplanted by the doubt that I could ever master the skills needed to complete the task. Two-thirds of the way through, quite predictably, I tired of it. I failed to believe in it. Convinced myself it was drivel.

I've interviewed many artists who feel the same way, during the difficult yet critical transition from initial inspiration to full creative birth. A comparison to miscarriage is apt, since most miscarriages occur after hormones alone can no longer support the pregnancy and before the sustaining connection to the mother is yet established. We need not allow emotional shifts to end our work. We can expect them, thank the negative emotions for the information they bring, and send them on their way.

4. Embrace negative emotions for all they're worth. Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend." As creative individuals, our negative emotions can seem like enemies—but they're crucial. Befriend them. If you've never lived conflict, and experienced heartbreak, how can you write, or sing, or paint of it? This is the material that drives creative effort. Thank God for our trials and our missteps!

Embracing negative emotions can nurture sustained artistic endeavor. More on that in my next post.


prutsels said...

I am thinking you would make an excellent life coach!

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, P. Hard-earned perspective I thought I'd share--then go back and reference when I need it myself!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful advice, for any low you have in life - I think! Thanks for the inspiration - Donna G

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, Donna. Our conversation at Saturday's Craftwriting session had me thinking further about this, so thought I'd pour it into a blog post or three. More to come!

Lisa R. Tomarelli said...

I just love reading your posts. Thanks for this reminder at the perfect time!

Amy Hart said...

(New to your blog--I guess this would be my hello!)

It's kind of interesting to see how many different creative-type people go through this sort of thing. The same thing happens to me whenever I draw, so it's nice to hear that writers and dancers go through it as well. Well not nice, exactly--it's not exactly fun to feel that way--but it helps to know I'm not alone. :)

Looking forward to your next installments!

Kathryn Craft said...

Nice to meet you, and thanks for stopping by. I've noticed many similarities between creative types, to be sure. You'll definitley hear more about it in the next few posts!

Lisa: I'm so glad you found it meaningful. :)

Marie Gilbert said...

I love reading your blogs, and always come away feeling that I have learned a valuable lesson.

Kathryn Craft said...

Marie: Thanks for bringing your thoughts and experiences to the posts, and allowing that to happen.