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.

89 thoughts on “The Contradiction of Creating

  1. This post is right on time for me. I feel like this most days. The photographs I take do not come out the way I Invision and I am never sure how to edit so to keep from disappointing myself I do not go out as often. But then that I creates a bigger problem because I did not work through and solve my issue.

    1. We all have those periods of time. I certainly know so all too well the disappointment you write about. But I also know from myself that the only way around is to go back and photograph more, trying to see whatever I do as sketches for something that will transcend in the future.

  2. Your statement that “We throw up roadblocks on our path in order to maintain an illusion of control” is very true for a lot of people, even for routine tasks, and not just the attempt to create something artistic. Perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with procrastination, and that fear of imperfection can be totally incapacitating – even to a reluctance to make comments, such as this one, for fear that they are pointless, repetitive, or may be misconstrued. So, I’ve made a comment, despite doubts. However, I’ll hold off on jumping into a rejuvenating stream, since the rivers here still have a foot or two of ice on them! 🙂

    1. I agree, those rivers may still be a wee bit cold… You are also right about the fear of imperfection can make us totally incapacitated. All the better that you took the chance and wrote a comment, which I appreciate very much. Thank you, Robert.

  3. Oh Otto, this hits home and is RIGHT ON point!!!! Have you read the book Art and Fear Bayles/Orland? It was very helpful. Unfortunately it’s out on loan to a friend – but I sure could have used it last week – just to touch base with it again. Though you are on a higher playing field than me – we all have our insecurities when it comes to creating.. Hoping that you push through this ‘fleeting’ moment and are “in-flow” again soon. Sending much love from Wine Country California!

    1. Thank you Deb. I am happy if my post can be at some inspiration. Yes, I have read Art and Fear some time ago, and I thought it was a book with many good points. I hope you will be in flow, too. 🙂

  4. Ah those wonderful twins, fear and insecurity…they haunt me more on some days than others. Once I can send them to their room I can get on with things. It always surprises me that photographers at your level of expertise can have these issues, I always think you guys are exempt from this kind of thing 🙂

  5. Somedays are harder than others, and it could be easy to just ignore and do something else. Like yesterday, I wasn’t feeling so creative so I spent the afternoon cleaning out my lightroom. 10,000 images is just too many. Anyway, in the process of clearing out I find old images that I think I can give new life to. I marked them in a separate file, to revisit.

    1. It’s always good to go over all images. Like you I find ones I have previously not seen. For that reason I never delete any images I capture. But then of course, you end up with a significantly bigger archive than 10.000…

  6. I often imagine on how much pressure to those who work for a living to produce creative works (e.g. photographers, writers etc.) within a confined limit of time as you posted here. It seems to more you try to come up with something anything, it is like looking into an empty well or dark deep tunnel that you see no light at the end. Paradox indeed!

  7. There certainly are days when I “can’t get going.” But fear, insecurity, or doubt don’t seem to contribute to my avoidance as often as they once did. Sometimes I have too many irons in the fire. Sometimes I’m bored, or lazy. Sometimes I’m just tired, physically or mentally, and a change of focus — or a nap! — is just the thing I need. I think the most important first step is to identify what’s really at issue, and then deal with that. One day the hesitation will be rooted in one place, and the next day in another. If we can learn to know ourselves as well as we know our art, things will work out.

  8. Great quotes, and good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this at times. Maybe it’s a good sign that we have enough humility to keep striving to improve despite the fears and procrastination?

  9. Fear is one thing that hinder people from progress, sometimes we need to put fear aside to thrive in life

  10. I can certainly relate to the experience you describe but, I suspect, so do many (most?) people whether or not they are creative artists. It’s a personal battle that has to be resolved by each individual. But it’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone! I just wonder about Beethoven, Michelangelo, Shakespeare et al??

  11. Great blog Otto! I have been at this point many times. If find if I procrastinate long enough, I come through with something pretty good – almost like I quit worrying about creating and just do it. I enjoyed the quotes also.

  12. yes, a regular practice… i have a little etsy store where i sell mugs, so a friend saw me floundering and said ‘just promise me that you will put up one design per day’ and i said ‘ok, i promise’ and because i love and respect him so much, i have kept that promise… things do get easier, much easier, but there are still ‘THOSE days’… where it feels utterly impossible to do it, but i struggle thru, and remind myself at the end ‘oh, yes, recall that this is easy and fun’ lol… but i am NEVER making such a promise again haha

  13. Sounds much too familiar for comfort… 😀 😀 😀 But maybe it may help next time to know that when I’m suiffering through it again, I’m not alone… 😉

      1. What I am “hearing” is that “rising spirit” of anticipation and determination (if that is the correct word) that is helping lift you above the concerns you had earlier about the direction of your blog and work. Undoubtedly, anyone involved in any creative endeavor is going to have to deal with success and also those darker times when inspiration, production, and even the joy of our creative work seems to just stop dead. I sensed some jubilation in your article–and that is contagious. So, thank you for that melody. I can’t wait to hear more of it.

  14. I’d never thought of it like this before. I have the same feeling and really have to push myself sometimes. It is so easy to stay within your comfort zones. Thankfully I have two flurry friends (well Bertie at least) who help motivate me! Great post. Really resonated with it!

  15. Wonderful quotes of inspiration, Otto. You provide so much encouragement, my friend. If you, with your skill, have a hard time getting started at times, then it explains to me why I can certainly get stuck! Thank you for your persistence.

  16. It has been, oh my, decades since I read Rollo May’s book, “The Courage to Create” ,but I remember about destruction being part of creativity, not destruction to wreck things, except maybe to replace with new ideas and possibly letting go of preconceived thinking. however since it has been so long , I think I will check the library and see how i view this today.

  17. This may sound trite but I think Nike said it well in their tagline … ‘Just Do It!’. I’ve often said, and felt, that getting started on a project is the most difficult part, especially when fear of failure has taken hold.

  18. A very insightful post, Otto. Reading it I realized that “can’t get going” is true for creativity, but it is also true for other types of projects. I’ve experienced some of it lately…and yes, I believe that it is the fear of not being able to do (to our own high standard) whatever lies ahead that makes it so difficult to get going.

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