Creative advice from working artists
If you’ve pursued a craft for any number of years, you know how easy it is to get discouraged or wrestle with creative frustration: that periodic loss of motivation that afflicts amateurs and professionals alike.
Studying the great masters of your art form, or comparing your work to that of your contemporaries, can be a source of inspiration. But it’s also easy to lose confidence in your own abilities. Why continue making art, if you’ll never be as good as _____? (You can fill in the blank.)
Oftentimes the best advice for dealing with artistic frustration comes from fellow artists who have overcome it themselves (like Humane Pursuits editor Joseph Cunningham).
If you’re stuck in a creative rut, check out the following tips from artists who’ve been there. Over the next few weeks I’ll share the creative processes and encouraging words of five artists who know the work that goes into the creative life, and will show you how to find your own artistic groove.
Step 1: Trust the Process
Mark Beaver is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. After publishing multiple pieces in literary journals like North American Review and Crazyhorse, Beaver released his first book this past April. Suburban Gospel is a memoir which follows the author’s boyhood in the Bible Belt during the 70s and 80s.
Beaver encourages artists who struggle with self-doubt to invest time in their creative process.
“I don’t really believe in writer’s block,” he says. What we may perceive as writer’s block—a creative “dry spell”—is just the subconscious mind working through ideas we can’t consciously discern yet.
When our minds seem to halt—frustratingly—on the cusp of a good idea, giving ourselves time to think is the easiest solution.
“Everything that I have ever written has come slower than I might have wanted it to come,” Beaver says. “There have been times when I’ve had to set [a piece] aside and let it continue to gestate, until I was ready to hear it.”
Though we may not be able to grasp it immediately, each piece of art we produce has a unique time frame and reason for being. If we’re patient, says Beaver, the work will eventually reveal whatever it’s trying to tell us. He mentions the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, who believed that his chisel merely “freed” the figures he saw lurking in rough blocks of marble.
Beaver adds a caveat to this advice, however: idle waiting can be ineffective.
“Trust the process,” says Beaver. “Spend time, almost every day if possible, writing.” Forcing yourself to practice your craft regularly—even if you feel listless or unmotivated—gives your mind the time and raw material it needs to create satisfying work.
So, when you’re dealing with creative frustration, make traditional methods like daily practice do your grunt work. In Beaver’s words: “You have to put yourself in a position where the process is going to reward you.”
This article is the first of a 5-step series of artist interviews, dedicated to helping you find your artistic groove. Get the rest of the steps here.
Image by Evan Clark via Unsplash.
Elizabeth hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and finds inspiration for her creative writing through personal conversations—often by chatting with other people about their professional work.