DarkEco

Advice on Channeling Creativity from Anxiety

8 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. 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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