My creative mojo is back, and I can't get off the couch.
August 3, 2018 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I recently surmounted an enormous creative block which put me off-course for nearly two decades. This is hugely exciting. Since doing so, however, I've fallen into a pretty cavernous state of lethargy. This is hugely problematic.

(n.b.: This question is inspired by my particular art form, but the situation could apply to anyone in music, writing, visual arts, whatever, so I'm leaving it vague.)

So, I've spent my entire life identifying as someone who is passionate about, and was for many years very prolific in, a creative practice. I began as a frighteningly prolific child/adolescent and became a working professional by my mid-twenties ... at which point I suddenly suffered a kind of creative exhaustion, for lack of a better term, which lasted the next 15 years.

Starting in 2015, the mojo came back out of nowhere, and I began working on a major "comeback" project, of sorts. My initial goal was simply to finish it, since I'd spent so many years not finishing things or half-assing them. Once it was finished - at great length and great expense - I was so enamored of the results that I now wanted it to be out there in the world in a bigger way. I spent months getting myself reacquainted with the business / marketing / etc., angles of putting something out in 2018, and while it was overwhelming, it also felt manageable if I could break it into small enough pieces.

By all objective measures, this is precisely the time when I should have been ramping up my efforts, trying to make connections, getting other people as excited about this work as I was about making it. But, over the last several months, with my proposed date of release/unveiling fast approaching, I've felt less and less compelled to continue. I've tried drawing up a daily creative schedule to put in time on practice, promotion, and other segmented things, but I've failed time and again to stick with it. Even on a day-to-day level, trying to put one organizational foot in front of the other, I feel myself lapsing back into a kind of useless repose. Basically, I feel depressed - physically incapable of helping myself - and I haven't a clue why.

A few thoughts: I am indeed happy with the thing as it exists, and I recognize and celebrate that as an achievement unto itself. I'm trying not to exert too much pressure to do this "perfectly," or to judge myself about whether I'm getting enough recognition or praise from random people out in the world. But I am mystified by this precipitous and seemingly instantaneous drop in my ability to push forward with a lifelong dream. I've spent a lot of time trying to source the feeling - fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgment, some other unconscious expression? - but I can't get a handle on it.

Is this common? Has anyone else returned to a "calling" after years away and experienced this kind of paralyzing lassitude? How on Earth does this happen, and how can I help myself kick the old engine back into gear now that (one would think) the hardest work is over?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I am going through something similar, though after a momentous career change that put a pause on my creative work for a few years -- I'm happy writing, but less than eager to put what I've written out into the world. And after much struggling to figure this out, I am leaning towards thinking that this is just a reflection of my own relation to my creative practice, that I enjoy writing but not publishing, and as a result of the aforementioned career change I don't feel like I must publish like I did before. And I wonder if your case could be similar, that you've loved the process of making this thing and perhaps that is enough?
posted by spindle at 7:53 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you ever been evaluated for attention deficit disorder? The desire to "put one organizational foot in front of the other" and do the seemingly small things to achieve a goal that you care passionately about, coupled with a maddening near paralyzing lack of motivation without any good explanation is something I have direct experience with, and I can tell you that there are medications which can make a huge difference and help you get up and do what needs to be done.
posted by Reverend John at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hey, OP, memail me if you have any questions about what its like to get diagnosed and treated for ADD.
posted by Reverend John at 8:48 AM on August 3, 2018

Yeah this is pretty normal. I make comics. Love doing that. I @#$%^ing hate doing all the marketing and promotion and organizing Kickstarters or whatever. Hate it. It's not at all the same skillset as making the thing, it's a whole bunch of ways to make some very expensive mistakes.

Right now I am regularly getting people encouraging me to make a reprint of my Tarot deck happen and I am just so damn burnt out on anything to do with self-publishing after the giant hassle that printing the final collection of my last comic became. I made some mistakes and I dealt with them but I just do not want to deal with trying to do it again right now, not when I've also got a new comic picking up steam.
posted by egypturnash at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2018

...basically, making the thing is what you're good at, marketing the thing is a completely new uncharted abyss of scariness, and it's real easy to procrastinate on that!
posted by egypturnash at 9:36 AM on August 3, 2018

How on Earth does this happen, and how can I help myself kick the old engine back into gear now that (one would think) the hardest work is over?

Because the hard work is just now starting. If this is a comeback project, you have so much hard work ahead - more complex projects, more focused practice, more demands for promotion. More opportunities for success. More opportunities for failure. More to prove. The light beckoning you from the end of the tunnel isn't a point of release; it's the point at which you'll have to come to terms with the inadequacies of your previous work and make the decision to either continue the hard work of improving yourself or pack up your tools and go home.

That's frightening.

I'm also an artist who went from being productive and well received in my younger years, to completely paralyzed for most of my early adult life, to trying to make a comeback in middle age. In my case, I have managed to release my comeback project to the world, but I now find myself in the frightening "what now?" phase that I described above. I haven't entirely turned the corner yet, so while I don't have time-tested advice to share, I will say that a simple recognition of this fear has done a lot to keep me motivated. I lost too many years to fear and paralysis and I won't let that happen again. The only option is to keep moving forward, so that's what I do.
posted by jal0021 at 10:05 AM on August 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

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