If you’ve been in the performing arts you’ve probably heard about the circularity of the creative process. It goes something like this:
This is awesome!
This is tricky
This is crap
I am crap
This might be good
This is awesome!
As a recent graduate of a performing arts school, this progression is something I am familiar with. Now that I’m doing some community theatre for fun I’m even more aware of it. The show I’m currently in here in Vancouver has had a bit of a rocky path to opening night. Multiple serious illnesses, challenging music, and technical troubles have lead to a rough few weeks. This is also the first piece of theatre I’m doing after finishing my degree. There are a lot of emotions tied up inthat, and a lot of pressure for a feeling of success. There are plenty of external issues in getting the show off the ground, but it’s the internal struggles that have been keeping me up at night.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in a creative industry that their worst critic will be themselves; we get so hung up on the inadequacies of our art. But why? Why are we so racked with anxiety about what we create?
Well, one answer might come from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Just in case you’ve never heard of Abraham Maslow, he is an American psychologist famous for his triangular creation, the Hierarchy of Needs (see image below). It suggests that humans cannot attain a higher level of thinking and doing until we have met our most basic needs.
If you look at the picture, self-esteem sits right below self-actualization (which creativity is a part of). Maslow suggests that to be able to achieve at our highest level, we must meet our other needs first. I know this seems like a no-brainer to anyone who has even tried to focus while hungry, but I promise you that is it more complicated than I have time to get into here. The important point, according to Maslow, is that we need self-esteem to be able to achieve at our highest levels.
Have you ever tried to write something (fiction or non-), only to find yourself erasing it all because you tell yourself it’s not good enough? To be able to create, we have to believe that what we are doing is good, otherwise, why would we waste our time on it? We wrap ourselves so tightly in our self-esteem because we have to convince ourselves of our success. Otherwise, we would just give up.
This is why I think it’s so important that we all remember the progression of creativity. There will be times when everything seems terrible, and everything we create feels wrong. There will be times when we create something that can only prompt the response, “I am crap.” It is at those moments that we MUST continue. Remember that those feelings will go away. Bear in mind that our feelings will swing in the other direction soon enough because what we do can be awesome.