The Contradiction of Creating

Some days I can’t get going. I know I have a deadline tomorrow, but I still can’t push myself to start editing the pictures. Or, in another setting, I am travelling in a new country, and I just can’t get myself out on the streets to photograph. Or I need to write an article – or a new post for this blog – but I can’t get myself to do it.

Some days I just can’t get going.

It all comes down to fears, insecurities or doubts. It’s the big contradiction of the creating process. On the one hand it’s the joy I feel when I am creating, on the other hand it’s this big obstacle inside of me which sometimes makes it impossible to get there. This resistance is something all creatives have to fight. It’s part of the creative process, the dark side one may say. But as strange as it might sound, it’s also a necessary part of being creative. Only by overcoming the fears, insecurities or doubts inside of us, are we able to reach our full creative potentials. It’s like entering a cold stream after a long hike. It doesn’t make you feel good until you have submerged your body into the water. But then it’s like rejuvenation.

Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step in an act of faith.
Mickey Heart, drummer in Greateful Dead.

The fact is, creativity requires faith. We are heading down a road we don’t know where it will take us. Thus this faith we need to have requires us to relinquish control. That is frightening, and we resist it. We throw up roadblocks on our path in order to maintain an illusion of control. This resistance to our creativity is a form of self-destruction. To overcome it, having a regular practice is a must, whether it’s journal writing, sketching freely, taking photographs casually and spontaneously, or tilling our garden without an eye to the result. The energy is in the effort.

Don’t fear mistakes – there are none.
Miles Davis.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
Albert Einstein.

What we fear the most is the very thing that we are called to confront and work with. Where we find fear, where we feel the most inadequate, is where the energy resides, where great potential hides, waiting to emerge into the full light of day. Once we begin, and move vigorously in the direction of our aim, a joyful moment comes when fear and resistance move into the background and become part of our experience, but not the dominating feature. Our bliss then often emerges from behind this dark, smoky wall of fear.

It is one of the paradoxes of the creative process that it is both immensely challenging and demanding and, at the same time, the source of real joy and true satisfaction.
David Ulrich in The Widening Stream.

96 thoughts on “The Contradiction of Creating

  1. Hahaha, Otto, I have been to all those “places” many times, and it is rewarding reading other’s tales about not getting to it, even if it is the thing we love to do. I agree to most of it but want to add another distraction from creativity: overload. I notice it more now when digital cameras make it easy to do a lot of photographs, not to mention all the possibilities there are for editing these days.

    1. Overload does kill creativity. The clue is to develop an efficient workflow in the editing process. Another way around the problem, is simply to shoot less. I used to work with the Canon 1D cameras, and could just keep shooting as fast and as much as I wanted (even when using RAW). When I changed to Canon 5D I quickly filled up the camera’s buffer and had to wait for the camera to process the pictures. Now I have simply learned to shoot at a slower pace – and I think I am captured better pictures – and have less work in the editing process.

  2. I think it is easy to get overwhelmed there is a lot of time consuming activites other then just the joy of taking photos. I wish I felt that same joy with the editing process and organising as I do taking the photos. I also can be hard on myself but as i think about it after reading your article maybe all of this is part of the creative process coming together. I enjoyed the quotes. I also find resting for myself is really an important part of the creative process. Some times it seems like I’m doing nothing but I’m actually working on a project or just gathering up more new creative energy :+)

    1. For me certainly the editing is part of the creative process – which I like (with the exception of keywording pictures I have to add). And, yes, is rest is important to replenish the creative well.

  3. Alas it is as if you have been reading my thoughts once again. Currently being stuck is a place I would be in for who knows how long. Matter of fact I linked your Set Sail post to the last post on my blog, DUSK at the SEASHORE.

  4. The paradox of the human condition spreads through your post. Our lives are filled with the yin/yang, which can have complementary or opposing forces. I always allow the Nike saying to surface, “Just Do It.” Sometimes it seems trite but at others it is profound.

  5. wonderful post… there are really times that words overflow in my mind whenever i write my blogpost, but there are times that no matter how i try to write, i just stare blankly on my screen and well, just log off wishing for another time to get the creativity juice flowing. nice to read your words of encouragement otto..

  6. I’ve lived 343 days with this fear! Some days easier than others to just put the day’s photo out there. And then I hit the publish button and have woken up during the night thinking I should go delete what I posted. But, too late…someone has already clicked the “like” button. I thought this fear would go away. It hasn’t yet, but I refuse to give in to it.

    1. I don’t think the fear will go away. We just have to learn to live with it and turn in into something positive. Doing a project 356 is a brave encounter with the internal fear.

  7. I call it “Monkey Mind” – there are times it just wont stop chattering in my ear.

    My word the photo is brilliant. My sincere congratulations Otto. 🙂

  8. oh ugh, i’m sorry, i’ve got the world’s worst version of the common cold and there’s no mind for creating anything in me tonight…. it’s amazing how sorry for myself having a cold makes me feel 🙂 lovely picture btw

  9. Otto, I would love to know more from you regarding the physical aspects of creative energy and how much bone tired exhaustion plays into these slumps. Best wishes to you for all you have to do with articles, deadlines and a fresh look next time you hit the streets!

    1. I do believe physical depletion affects the creativity. Of course, we have all experience that. But I also believe that with mental strength it’s possible to overcome almost any physical exhaustion. That’s how those 100-miles runners make that impossible run.

  10. I needed this right now, Otto. Thank you. I just released my first novel. I have not felt so vulnerable since middle school. My feelings are exactly what you write of here.

    1. I agree, but I also think the important thing to focus on when being creative is not what others think, but your own joy in creating – and creating from your heart.

  11. Igjen, takk for en interessant post! Jeg venter på at du skal utgi bok ; )
    Tusen takk for tilbakemelding på bilde -er helt enig i det du sier! Å jeg setter virkelig pris på konstruktiv tilbakemelding!
    Jeg vet at jeg må bli bedre på å komponere, bruke mere tid før jeg trykker på knappen ; ) Jeg kunne også ha “fjernet taket” om jeg hadde photoshop, men jeg har kun Aperture som redigeringsprogram.
    En GOD dag ønsker jeg deg!

  12. and once we get past the fear and boogedy boo, it usually turns out better than we thought. I wonder if the fear makes us better creators? Makes us work harder and strive to be more imaginative?

  13. The last Ulrich quote is just a perfect summation! Creativity is a wonderful part of being human, but we can also suffer from a form of productivity fatigue, I think. I find that when I pull back and give myself permission to disconnect from a project that upon my return I am often energized and ready to give it my full attention. Your photo is really beautiful. You create such beautiful posts you make it seem easy, which of course, it isn’t. I always feel refreshed and ready to look at things from a different angle after you share with us.

    1. I agree with you. I think all creatives need to pull back and take a rest to renew the creative energy, or replenish the well as I have written about before. Thanks for the lovely words, Debra.

  14. I think we all have those days, Otto. The days that make us feel our feet are stuck in the mud and we can’t move. Sometimes we have to sit down in that mud and make mud pies. Get dirty. Just abandon what you think you are supposed to do and enjoy the mess you are making. The creativity will pop back pretty quickly.
    Wonderful use of quotes. You have some gems there.

  15. Once again Otto, your words encourage us to face the fears that often keep that drive to create dormant. I like the image of the runner because getting started is half the battle but once we start, things seem to flow smoothly and we find our task completed quicker than we had hoped for.
    Thanks for this mornings jump start… 🙂

  16. Great post, I like this fear thing. When making photo we can choice which way to go, just inside our comfort zone and being sure of a medium result or experiencing a new way, with the risk of a failure but also the possibility of something excellent. It’s up to us to decide which way to choice.

  17. I have so many days like these, “Some days I just can’t get going.” There are times, work wears me out or the responsibilities of a family man. My average sleep when I work 12 hour shifts is 5-6 hours and after the night shift, go straight to whatever day activities lies ahead. I wish I can have time for everything but we can only do our best. I agree, once we do the things we are passionate about, the personal satisfaction is amazing.

    1. Despite the cravings for being creative, we all have to make a living somehow, and that does take a toll on us, not the least when it comes to have energy to be creative after a long day’s work. But life would be empty without the creative spark.

  18. Yes, getting going is half the battle, and yes again, the whole process is just so contradictory for me, too. Otherwise, why would I use the word “battle” when referring to something I love doing!

  19. I agree it’s important to stay creative even when others don’t know that we are… a regular discipline without self-imposed pressure. It helps to have an intention too… why am I doing this? TY! 🙂

  20. Muchísimas veces me encuentro así, sin animo de ponerme en marcha, y con trabajo por hacer, pero es verdad que cuando se acaba, recompensa muchísimo, besos Otto y gracias de nuevo por tus post

  21. Another wonderful post, Otto. I love this: “Our bliss then often emerges from behind this dark, smoky wall of fear.” So true. 🙂

  22. This is a great post and I must add that any creative work is the hardest work that you can do. It’s natural to put it off because you know that it is going to cost you in all the ways you mention in addition to being just plain hard.
    Thank you for your recent likes on my blog and your support in this down time for my blog!

  23. At first when I was reading this I thought “Oh my, that must suck being stifled like that”. I thought how i was glad that didn’t happen to me because my main problem is time. I never seem to have enough time to do all the things I want to do creativley. And then by the time I finsished reading your post I had remembered my draft folder and all the stories and photos I have put off because of fear.
    I really must do something about that.

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