Creating Under Pressure
We're not good with it.
We do everything we can to avoid it.
It can come in the form of a 9-5 job where we can't be late and are watched by a supervisor constantly.
It can come in the form of a spouse who is critical and demanding.
It can come in the form of a helpless child who just can't help but to constantly cry out for you or need you for every little thing.
It can come from the lack of a job, the lack of stability, the lack of a safety net or a support system in your life.
All these things and more can affect our creative spirit. Whether we are writer, painters, performance artists, sculptors, graphic designers, YouTubers, you name it...pressure can zap us of the energy we need to create.
You might say 'Aww, Mrs. A, I'm fine. I can handle it.' Yet, when you finally sit down at night, do you have that pain in your neck you constantly find yourself rubbing? How about that sore spot in your back that hasn't gone away in quite a while? Do you maybe have trouble falling asleep from being overly tired?
Sometimes, those physical aches and pains have a stress-related element. It can be aggravated from being under pressure. And after a while, just dealing with the physical pains can zap us of the creative energy we desire. All you want to do is have everything stop. The thought of getting back to a point where you don't hurt and actually want to create again can seem like a mountain you'll never cross.
It Makes Us Emotional Perhaps you're physically fine, but find yourself feeling hyper sensitive towards any feedback on any creating you DO get done. Did the editor send back pages of red marks and make your latest manuscript look like a splattered piece of scenery out of the latest episode of 'The Walking Dead'? It can make you sit down and cry, feeling broken to the point where you don't want to create anymore. And you know that's not the real you, but you can't help feeling emotional.
Pressure can lead us to places where we would not normally go when we were rested and rejuvenated. The stress can manifest all sorts of ways so that we can't function, let alone create new worlds of words or translate our visions into a tangible art form.
What can we do?
My good friend, Al, asks me every week what 'star time' I gave myself lately. Every week without fail. He's known me long enough to know that I am one to overwork and not rest when it comes to helping others. He can see it in my writing. So he insists I remember to take time weekly to step away from writing and do something for myself that renews my energy.
Do you love shopping? Maybe walking in your local park? How about exploring the world with your camera? Stamp collecting? Binge watching your favorite show that's been waiting for you on your DVR? Whatever it is, put down the pen, step away from the computer or easel or potter's wheel and go DO something else. Give yourself time to relax and enjoy part of every day. You're a star, you deserve it. Changing gears can really allow you to recharge and come back to your project with renewed energy and perspective.
Acknowledge Self-Induced Pressure
Evaluate all you have on your plate these days. Manuscripts, newsletters, videos, tweet schedules, giveaways, short story ideas, social media groups...just a handful of items in relation to our writing and marketing our stories can be enough to fill a day. Add family, day job, laundry and you are creating a recipe for pressure and stress.
Sit yourself down and write out everything you do and everything you expect yourself to do in a normal week. Honestly ask yourself if you would expect your best friend to carry all that weight on their shoulders and complete every task and do it all 100% perfectly. Now why would you expect all that of yourself? Are you putting all that on your plate because you think everyone expects that of you? Do you do it because you want to prove to someone that you're not a failure? Do you do it to prove to yourself that you're not a lazy hack?
You're not a hack and you're certainly not lazy. And what do we care, ultimately, what others think of how much we finish by way of laundry and marketing? Honestly! If their feedback makes or breaks our whole day, it's time to possibly re-define what we consider success. Creating in and of itself should be a joy for us regardless of overall feedback. Being good should be enough to validate that we are good. Don't live or die by what others say. They'll never know you and your heart better than YOU do.
Nobody knows you better than you - don't let others define what they do not know!
Set Structured Creating Time
Sometimes, we look at word counts and force ourselves to sit at our desk until all hours of the night to get at least something on paper. Perhaps we pressure ourselves to avoid other tasks to strike while the iron is hot, whenever that might be. Spontaneous creation is always good and I always urge writers to take a journal with them everywhere. You never know when a good idea will strike!
That being said, it's also a good idea to set aside specific time each day to create. Aim for the most productive time of your day. If you're a morning person, set aside an hour in the morning to write before you tackle the rest of your tasks. Turn off the news at night and spend that last hour working on your latest project if you're a night owl. Honor when you're at your lowest amount of energy and don't force yourself through pots of coffee to create sub-par creations you know you'll hate later.
Knowing you have an hour in your schedule every day just for creating can help alleviate stress. Without the pressure of 'when will I ever get this done?' you can count on that time as a highlight of your day to put everything else down and just write, just paint, just whatever.
When You Have To Push Through
We don't always have time to relax in our creations, especially if we are procrastinators who put off everything until the last minute. Is your book going live next week and you haven't yet started an author's website or marketing of any sort? Do you have an art festival coming up this weekend and you haven't even started business cards to take with you? We all put off things related to our creating, no matter what it is.
Write out everything you HAVE to do and everything you WISH you could do. If you only have 2 or 3 days until a deadline, there are always things that are necessary and things that are optional. An artistic PowerPoint to play at your table during an event showcasing all your services might be amazing, but in the least, get the business cards printed (Grab blank packs from Wal-Mart to run through your printer) or overnighted (from VistaPrint). Prioritize what you absolutely need and stick with getting that done at least!
Don't fill your tank with junk. Even if you have to pull an all nighter finishing this project and the coffee is a must, don't top that off with a bag of Doritos. Slice an apple. Pop some popcorn. Try to keep it healthy for the best energy.
Remember to be gentle with yourself. If you've set yourself up for this, don't make it worse by beating yourself up for procrastinating. The main goal is to meet your project's deadline. Forget the guilt trip. It's counter-productive. Cheer yourself on. Surround yourself with positive thoughts and images. Pull them up online if that helps!
Eliminate distractions around you. Yes, if that means turning off the WiFi until you get your blog post written, do it. Bye bye, Facebook. Turn off your cellphone if possible and get off of Instagram. Turn off the TV; unplug it if you can. Make your creative project a priority. If digital temptations are too much, write out a scene in longhand on paper outside. You owe it to your creation, your painting, your inner world. Facebook will (annoyingly) remind you what you missed when you get back. The world will keep on turning. And when you go back, you'll have a finished creation to crow about online!
Talk back to those negative voices. If you have a dark angel on your shoulder, reminding you that you'll never be good enough, sass them back. Tell them they don't know anything. Remind them that, for everything they've thrown at you, that you're still here and still trying. Don't give up. For those real life people who are diminishing your efforts with a negative atmosphere, keep calm. They might very well be projecting onto you how they feel about their own failed creative attempts in the past. Let it go. Forgive them silently and don't lower yourself to slinging mud back at them. That uses your energy for a counter-productive effort.
Try to understand that your creating might intimidate them because they don't understand it. Everyone has something in life they don't understand that intimidates them. We just express that intimidation in different ways. Respect that they might not be ready to deal with that and keep doing what you love. Don't let their journey pull you off course!
In The End, Pressure Never Stops
Ultimately, we will always feel pressure as our lives change and evolve. Our writing or our creating will grow and change and bring us new challenges and new obstacles. Family might grow or our priorities in other areas will shift and we might need to put down creating for a while. Strive to simply make the most of each day and to make time to create something each day. We only have today. Even if we only write one paragraph or create one bracelet, it's a great start!
Don't think of a lifetime of deadlines and stress as too much to handle. We each live a tiny lifetime in one single day. Don't overwhelm yourself. Break down your projects into steps. Be able to lay your head down at night satisfied that you did the best you could to be good and do good for yourself and others that day. In the end, that is what matters most. Be the best you that you can be today. Do the most good you can do in your world today. Don't measure 'BEST' against every other person in the world. They are on a different path. Honor your path - here and now.
Most of all, remember that I think you're awesome. You made it through yesterday are are still here to try again. THAT is a wonderful thing. That shows power and inner strength. You lived through yesterday. Everything that happened before this moment was unable to force you to throw in the towel. You're still here and still fighting to create and be the best you that you can be. That, in my mind, is really amazing to me. You got this. You can do it. As Johnny Cash sang,
"I'm just an old chunk of coal, but I'm gonna be a diamond some day."
How do you create under pressure? Let me know in the comments!