My mum always likes to remind me, as all mothers do, of my childhood.
I wrote recently that one memory in particular seems to pop up time and time again, and that’s a young me sitting at the dining room table, pen in hand, drawing to my heart’s content. What she also likes to remind me is that when things didn’t go quite right, that said bit of paper would be discarded in the blink of an eye. It was this part of my mum’s reminiscence of the creative journey and its highest highs and lowest lows that put me in mind of what’s lovingly known as the ‘creative pain barrier’.
Creativity is a remarkable journey that often leads us through unforeseen territories of imagination and expression. Whether you’re an artist, writer, musician, or any other kind of creator, you’ve likely encountered the ‘creative pain barrier’ at some point in time. It’s that daunting hurdle that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary, the grounded from the groundbreaking. Whilst it can be incredibly challenging to navigate, the feeling that awaits on the other side is one that simply cannot be replicated, cheated, or reproduced.
In this blog post, I’ll explore the creative pain barrier and the unparalleled joy of breaking through it. So, join me as I open up about what it means to me and hopefully together we can find a way through.
Journeying through darkness
The creative pain barrier commonly arises when we push the boundaries of our comfort zone and venture into the unknown. It’s a terrible mixture of relentless self-doubt, the struggle to find inspiration, and the fear of failure, making the creative process feel excruciatingly difficult. And, it’s during these moments that many creators find themselves questioning their abilities and contemplate giving up. We sometimes call this ‘imposter syndrome’ and it can strike at any time. All eyes seem to be looking at you, and you alone, knowing that at any moment you’ll be called upon to answer for yourself, crashing, burning and being exposed as a fraud.
But, the creative pain barrier is a natural part of the process. It signifies growth and evolution as a creator. Embracing the discomfort and persevering through the darkness can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs. And it’s through this journey that we truly test our resilience, dedication, and passion for our craft.
As my younger self perfectly demonstrates it can be easy to rip up, screw up or simply discard your ideas without giving it a second thought. I’ve developed a few tricks that have helped me at mark-making* and maybe, just maybe they’ll help
Seek inspiration: Engage with different forms of art, immerse yourself in nature, explore new cultures, or connect with other creatives. Inspiration can often be found in unexpected places and can reignite your creative spark. Ask for help, search for solutions with others. Loneliness is the worst of feelings, so seek out your team, at work, at home, or online. I turn to my wife for her thoughts, an outsider as such that can give me a no holds barred opinion (this happens A LOT).
Break the routine: Experiment with different techniques, styles, or mediums. Stepping outside your comfort zone can help you see things from a fresh perspective and inspire new ideas. How often have you sat at your desk looking at the same screen in the same four walls hoping that something might change? Get up, get moving and embrace freedom (even if it is just putting the kettle on).
Embrace failure: Failure is an inevitable part of the creative process. Instead of viewing it as a setback, see it as an opportunity for growth. Learn from your mistakes, adapt, and keep moving forward. This can so often be out of your control so don’t feel like it’s a personal attack. Things happen. Life happens. But, remember this is where that team can step in. But, only if you ask them to. So do (Wife, husband, partner included).
Accept discomfort: This is horrible and I’m not sure if this one actually gets any easier but Instead of shying away from the pain, acknowledge it as an integral part of the creative process. Accept that creativity requires effort and perseverance, and use the discomfort as fuel to propel you forward. This might sound easier at some times than others. Again that’s normal and only you will know what comfort level you’re at, so please don’t overthink this.
When you finally break through the creative pain barrier, the feeling is indescribable. It’s an exhilarating rush that fills you with an intoxicating sense of accomplishment. The joy of finding a solution, creating something unique, or realising your vision is unparalleled.
This is where the true magic of creativity lies – in the triumph over adversity, in defying the inner critic, and in discovering the untapped depths of your creativity.
In short, it’s worth it (some days more than others). While the creative pain barrier may be hard to overcome, it is an integral part of the creative journey. The struggle, doubt, and discomfort we face as creators ultimately pave the way for extraordinary breakthroughs. The euphoria that follows when we push through is a triumph like no other. So, embrace the challenges, persist in your creative endeavours, and relish the joy.
It is a feeling of joy, sadness, excitement and despair that reaffirms the power of human imagination, resilience, and artistic expression.
One that’s unique to you and you alone, but that’s what makes it so special.