DarkEco

Advice on Channeling Creativity from Anxiety

15 posts in this topic

I find that thinking about my creative endeavours often fills me with anxiety, to the point where I'm compelled to avoid them at all costs. Things like knowing I have no ideas, or being afraid to return to a half finished piece of music because I don't know how to improve it further.

I often read when looking for anxiety management tips that channeling your anxious thoughts into something creative can be a great outlet, but when it's your creative outlet that is causing the problem how do you learn to reprogram your mindset?

Any help is much appreciated. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Find out what you need to increase your creativity/productivity and not focus on your lack of ideas or issues with finishing your work.  For example I know I respond best in a competitive environment and when I am not engaged like that my productivity goes south no matter how much time I put into working on my stuff.  So in order to put myself into that mindset I try to keep in mind that:

"Right now, there is someone doing something similar to you that is getting better by the day and is trying to attain what you want."

And that pretty much does the trick to get me to get a track out of creative purgatory and complete something.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Creatively I have two "sides" - the performer side and the composer/arranger (writer) side.  As a result I have the benefit of stepping away from one to the other.

Bit of preface:
French horn is my primary instrument, and that is a very central part of my identity as a person.  If I have to go without the horn for a few days nothing feels right and my life seems to wander.  Getting the horn out and doing a daily routine on it seems to put my life on track. 

I suffer from anxiety, and although it is being managed it causes many problems, especially with performance anxiety.  I have almost completely quit classical performance because the anxiety is too debilitating. 
As a writer, I experience anxiety when my perceived quality of work is challenged.  I finish something I'm proud of, come to find out I'm the only one proud of it.  This usually triggers about a month of not doing any writing whatsoever.  In a professional sense, some clients wont give me any references, just tell me to write, then nothing I do satisfies what they want, "I don't know what I want, but that certainly isn't it."  That leads to a slow period of just beating head against wall.

What I do to combat the anxiety and the sense of inferiority is to pinpoint what triggers anxiety about what I'm doing and work specifically on that. 
Some examples:

On horn, I was noticing that my fluency and dexterity was causing problems in playing.  I would not be producing recorded tracks as quickly and easily as I should.  As a result it felt like I was struggling to keep up with other musicians who also recorded.  I spent 12 weeks practicing only scales several hours a day, one week per key center.  Starting the scales very slow and medium volume, then gradually getting faster and going to more volume extremes.  I noticed by doing this I had more ease when playing, which helped a lot. 

But, my writing productivity also increased.  I opened some old files from a long time ago and was able to finish them rather quickly.  What was a block was no longer a block.

The reverse is also true.  Would seem to stagnate on horn, and would focus on weaknesses as a writer.  Do short projects with strict limitations to force me to be creative in new ways (write a piece that does not use thirds or triads for example).  These would expand my vocabulary and lead to new things I hadn't previously thought of.

Basically I focus on my weaknesses that trigger the anxiety and in some cases make those a strength.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To actually have creativity itself cause anxiety is a new one for me. I've not heard of that before.

I'll skip the overlong response that is at least 30% explaining about ME than the actual problem and just suggest that the only real way to conquer it is to go through it. Face the anxiety head on, start with small creative projects, release them, learn from them in a detached way (like thinking of them as experiments designed to yield data) and work on it little by little until experience begins to trump anxiety.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, DarkEco said:

I find that thinking about my creative endeavours often fills me with anxiety, to the point where I'm compelled to avoid them at all costs. Things like knowing I have no ideas, or being afraid to return to a half finished piece of music because I don't know how to improve it further.

I've seen a number of posts from you over the last couple years where you're stressing over this stuff and IMO, I really think you're just taking it all waaay to seriously, man.

One thing that might help you with the "half-finished" thing is realize that there is no objective definition of "finished". Who cares if it's 30 minutes or 30 seconds? If you've run out of ideas on it. Maybe just call it finished there and move on to the next piece?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just remember... if you like it, it is good. At it's core don't worry about pleasing others. Please yourself. If you like it then thats fantastic. If you don't, work on it until you do. Other people don't need to be involved, but if you're struggling, a second opinion might help you make sense of what you're making. The end result makes the self-doubt worth it. Fight through it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know I've suggested it before, but I really can't say enough about how helpful transcription is for me.  If I'm feeling like I don't have much creative juice in the tank, transcribing takes a lot of the stress of "being creative" out of the process, and I always learn something when I'm so closely analyzing someone else's music.  Just getting something out, even if it's a straight transcription, comes with the added bonus of feeling accomplished for finishing something, which I think is important for building confidence.  If you find yourself inspired in the middle of the process and feel like changing some stuff around, roll with it and have fun - it could even turn into a remix if you're really feeling it (but doesn't have to!).

I keep a notepad document on my desktop with suggestions for myself with games and specific tracks from those games that I like and feel I could learn something from.  My go-to right now is the Mega Man X: Corrupted soundtrack by Dominic Ninmark - a fanmade game with some super great SNES-inspired MMX tunes.  It's completely unrelated to what I'm working on outside of the transcription, but that separation further helps me find my motivation again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I cycle between creative phases. Sometimes I can write with ease. Sometimes I can't. So then I do something else. It might not be music, I have other interests as well. Music-related things I do when I can't write new stuff:

Mix old stuff (something will eventually be finished, for sure)

Create cool new sounds

Making old cool sounds into presets and sorting those

Find new cool sounds in synth preset patches and such

Study, eg on youtube, new techniques and concepts

Experiment with new techniques and concepts

Discover new music to listen to and get inspired

Play along (poorly) with the music, be it my own or someone else's

It can last quite a while, that non-writing phase, but it'll come back. It always has. It always does. Your shortage of ideas is similar. Do something else. Prepare for when you have ideas again. Develop your skillset and your tools while you wait.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The most important thing that prolific artists and composers will tell you is that this stuff becomes incredibly easy if you just do it all the time and consistently. Anxiety about being creative is self-fulfilling, since the issues you talk about (not having ideas, not knowing what to do) come from being unpracticed.

Do you ask someone to run a 5-minute mile if they've been a couch potato for the last 3 years? Being a creative is like being an athlete. If you don't keep those muscles in shape, they'll never, ever work when you ask them to.

Just make stuff, and stop worrying about if it's bad. Bad art can improve, non-existent art can not. And remember:
 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone has a different take; for me, I think you just HAVE to come to the creative process with a goal of making something that makes YOU happy. There can be flaws, there can be things you'd do differently next time, you can digest & consider constructive criticism, but if there's an idea SOMEWHERE in there that, regardless of anything else, you think deserves to exist in the world, which you're proud of, you can draw strength from that.

Applied to something like poetry: If I write a poem, and there's a single line, or even a phrase within a line, that I love, that I am proud of, that I want to exist within a context that facilitates it... I'm good.

With music, arrangement in particular, if there's a single melodic or harmonic idea that's not obvious, that works, that feels like something personal that only I might have done "that way"... I'm good.

Obviously, it's better if there are multiple ideas, and it's better if the context in which they exist is polished, strong, etc. overall, but even if it's the most professional-sounding piece of music in the world, if there ISN'T an idea/moment like that in there, I won't love it.

So, to paraphrase: "Draw creative strength from your moments of light, no matter how dark their surroundings may sometimes seem"? Something like that!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, PRYZM said:

Anxiety about being creative is self-fulfilling, since the issues you talk about (not having ideas, not knowing what to do) come from being unpracticed.

Do you ask someone to run a 5-minute mile if they've been a couch potato for the last 3 years? Being a creative is like being an athlete. If you don't keep those muscles in shape, they'll never, ever work when you ask them to.

I disagree... I reckon I keep myself fairly musically consistent (I'm just as prolific as I ever was imo) and I get certainly get plagued by issues of not knowing what to do next, wondering if its good enough, wondering if I'm repeating myself... I'll have amazing ideas one day that I like, then i'll hit a wall. Come back later, wall is still there, no good ideas, I go away, do something else, wall is still there. I make other stuff in the meantime but I have loads of unfinished tracks currently that i'm STUCK on. Often the reason is because i've made and heard SO MUCH music that coming up with new, unique ideas gets harder and harder. I will say I agree with your hypothesis that you should ignore this and just make something, good or bad and build into it until you like it (thats how I sometimes do it - turn shit into gold) but I reckon this can happen to anyone, of any amount of practice. Half the tracks i've finished I have a little voice in my head saying "Not creative enough! Not that good! People will hate this!" but I ignore it best I can, and it doesn't matter how much music I make, this voice is always there. Best thing you can do is just fight through it and make something until it sounds good. Thats how I do it, and ignore the voice in my head trying to tell me i'm no good. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can relate so much to this, and I dealt with the same issue for years. After studying music in college, I felt burned out and thought I was done with music. Years later, what I've finally realized is that I was so worried about being successful that I didn't let myself make the kind of music that I love, and I stopped enjoying it. I realized that not only did I have unrealistically high expectations of myself, I projected those expectations onto everyone around me, especially my mentors. I spent so much time studying composition but so little time actually composing, and that was the most stressful part. I'd say the stress comes from thinking about it, and the only release is doing it.

But the thing is, music isn't about being the best. It's about getting people to feel something. People aren't expecting masterworks from you (yet!), but you might feel like they are. Until you're through this anxiety, just enjoy making it. Know that until you choose to share your work, it can go through as many wild/shitty/insane/vulgar/dumb stages as you need it to. It's safe in your hands until you choose to show it to people. All the unfinished stuff, don't think of it as failure, because that's just a recipe for creative anxiety. There's always going to be a huge pile of discarded ideas relative to finished works. That's just part of the process.

I think often about kids making sand castles at the beach. They get so fascinated by the process and the desire to see it finished that they don't even feel the time pass. They don't say, "I'm going to make the best sand castle in the world! People are going to line up and give me money to see this! I'll be known the world over!" They usually don't even start with a plan. They're just having fun doing it, really getting into all the little details for no other reason than their own satisfaction.

That said, I also agree with Garpocalypse. Competitive drive is often a good motivator. I just released my first indie game online, and even though it's completely free, the first comments were all negative. After the initial sting, I found I wasn't angry. I was actually really motivated to get it right next time. I think that forcing yourself to release your best work and subjecting it to criticism can help you gain perspective. You feel so close to this thing you've made, but as soon as it's out in public, you can suddenly see it objectively, as if you were looking at someone else's creation. And you can learn so much from people's reactions about where to go next. It pushes you to reach new levels.

It's easy to silo yourself off and then get into a really stressful negative feedback loop. I still haven't found my best work process, but I feel like I'm getting there. Right now, it's "Feel safe working on things in private, and then once in a while, release your top choices and see if they survive on their own out in the wild."

I hope you find what works for you. It's a lifelong journey, and your creating music or any other art can only have a net positive effect. You've got this, dude.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here are a few small ideas I've gathered over the years...

It's natural to be anxious when revisiting an old piece. It's like 'massaging a corpse' to borrow someone's description. Or like trying to rekindle a fizzled relationship. The fire/ideas won't restart most of the time. Said in a different way, the old well-worn ruts and dead ends will be too strong to break free from.

The silence and lack of ideas is also natural. Different people have different degrees of difficulty here and different ways to push through. You have to find your own way. But whatever way you chose, it will probably require some degree of vulnerability and anxiety, but also love and enjoyment. It will also require practice.

Because of these natural barriers, certain personality qualities will serve you well. The ability to keep trying, to forgive yourself to the point of ego-mania, to not be a perfectionist, and maybe the need to prove yourself continually to others... lots of qualities like that, good and bad, will help a person not avoid the creative task, so you can keep coming back, learn, improve, etc. It all comes back to practice at the end of the day.

Lastly, I've spent large stretches of my life trying to practice hearing music in my dreams. It's never comfortable, especially when trying to control it. At least for a brief moment, you have to be open to stupid/disturbing/anxious/embarrassing/sudden things, like certain kinds of imagined thoughts/feelings/movements, etc. It's like a starter system, and once you break through, a different engine takes over and it can create something beautiful.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't say that I quite know what the answer to this is. I've found that my own creative drives and abilities have been stunted by anxiety over recent years. I've always dabbled in a lot of things, from audio to spoken word to prose and poetry to cosplay, and I've had issues with all of these at points over past two and a half years. Partly because I started to rely too heavily on other people's opinions of what I create, and stopped caring about my own opinions on these.

Before I talk about my own personal examples, I have to say that djp had it entirely correct with that summary line.

On 7/25/2018 at 1:47 PM, djpretzel said:

"Draw creative strength from your moments of light, no matter how dark their surroundings may sometimes seem"

That was literally what got me through some of the roughest creative times in my life, especially moments of writers block with university deadlines coming up hard. I'm slowly learning how to do that again, partly to help keep me sane through my current difficulties. It's hardly going to be easy, rewiring how you think never is. But it's always worth it in the long run.

 

Examples of me working through my anxiety? I've had issues as a guitarist and musician after the head of the music department of my high school told me to my face that I do not have the talent or drive to make it as a guitarist, and as such I was the only student who ever asked for the chance to perform solo to never receive it. As such, I've only just started noodling around on my guitar in recent years, with my purchase of REAPER all those years ago getting some work through recording freeform poetry for university. So I'm starting to find my drive to play music (and hopefully one day submit remixes here) again after six of being out of high school.

University stunted my drive to write in a similar way. Everything had to have meaning, had to be 100% literary perfection. I studied psychology with a second major in creative writing, so while my works were often interesting, there were times where, on workshopping, I'd be criticized for not having enough meaning or in my work. Again, I'm slowly trying to figure out how to write for myself again, rather than for what other people want to read. Also if people want to hear the spoken word poetry; even if it's not that professionally recorded or done considering it was me in my bedroom with a performance mic and no idea how to work REAPER properly, I can give links to the set of five on Soundcloud.

The cosplay is stunted mostly through my own cumbersome lack of skill to actually work with fabric or wigs or makeup easily, especially compounded by a recent argument with one of my key cosplay partners; the person who basically did my wigs and makeup. So that one is more anxiety about losing my contacts there and the inspiration that brought for me, and hopefully things will fix up again before too long.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/25/2018 at 10:39 PM, SquareWave said:

(Paraphrased): I can relate so much to this, and I dealt with the same issue for years. After studying music in college, I felt burned out and thought I was done with music. Years later, what I've finally realized is that I was so worried about being successful that I didn't let myself make the kind of music that I love, and I stopped enjoying it. I realized that not only did I have unrealistically high expectations of myself, I projected those expectations onto everyone around me, especially my mentors. I spent so much time studying composition but so little time actually composing, and that was the most stressful part. I'd say the stress comes from thinking about it, and the only release is doing it.

All the unfinished stuff, don't think of it as failure, because that's just a recipe for creative anxiety. There's always going to be a huge pile of discarded ideas relative to finished works. That's just part of the process.

It's easy to silo yourself off and then get into a really stressful negative feedback loop. I still haven't found my best work process, but I feel like I'm getting there. Right now, it's "Feel safe working on things in private, and then once in a while, release your top choices and see if they survive on their own out in the wild."

This hits home man. The "I've finally realized is that I was so worried about being successful that I didn't let myself make the kind of music that I love" and "having unrealistically high expectations" mindset can be hell to work through sometimes (hence my other post lol). 

I mean, it's good to set a standard and expectation for oneself, but when does that go too far into an over-expectation & being unrealistic. I'm still trying to find that balance and make it a habit over time, but as @SquareWave is saying. Go through as many compositions as you can (without burning yourself out), there's always going to be discarded works for sure. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now