This morning has not been good so far, and the forecast for the afternoon doesn’t look so great either. It’s not because anything out of the ordinary or unfortunate has happened. The weather’s beautiful. I laughed at my baby son trying to dance and eat banana at the same time. I kissed my husband as he went off to work. It’s not a simple complaint.
Today is a day when I’ve lost faith. I know I’m not alone. I think anyone who is creative must face times when they believe they are nothing, they achieve nothing, and that this will never change. Here some of the biggest challenges that derail self-confidence and how you can tackle them:
- Thinking ‘I’m no good’. Well, I can’t tell you categorically that you’re amazing, but I can say that just because you’re having this thought, doesn’t mean that your work isn’t up to scratch. It is naturally for us to be our own worst critics. We know our work more intimately than anyone else, and that means close-up knowledge of all the flaws as well as the strengths. In the end though, it’s important to face up to the issues inherent in our pieces and either correct them or accept them. Some flaws are just the arse-end of a strength. Take Picasso’s Guernica for example. Arguably it’s harsh, it’s ugly, it’s primitive, and is still viewed as such by many today. Yet it is a colossally important work of art. That harshness, ugliness and primitive brutality is the backside of an immense intellectual achievement.
- Feeling as though no one gives a damn. This is one I’ve wrestled with many a time, and it’s rough. It’s just not as easy as you might think to get people into your work. If your friends and family aren’t jumping up and down to look at your artwork/read your stuff/listen to your music, it probably isn’t because it’s bad. I’ve commented upon the fact that my novel isn’t necessarily an easy read before. I don’t know that many people who are into fantasy either. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve come around to the idea that the fact that only I handful of people whom I know personally have taken a real interest in my work is not an indictment of my failings. They just aren’t my target audience. Here’s a great article on the subject from Kelsey Humphreys.
- Plain old hitting rock bottom.There’s a reason why an ‘artistic temperament’ is a thing. I don’t mean refusing to work when the air conditioning isn’t quite right either! The mental forces that drive the imagination stereotypically lead to a turbulent personality. If you’re anything like me, you try and do your best not to face up to the situation. My favourite strategy is to sleep it out, hoping vainly that the lack of confidence will have got bored and wandered off. I’ve been shopping around for an addiction, which would be a bit more rock and roll, but alcohol is expensive and drugs even more so, so I’m stuck with trying to beat it into submission with my snoring. This is not a constructive or adult technique, I’ll admit. A black mood- stifling productivity, damaging relationships- is not easy to get a handle on and I don’t think there’s a quick fix. My advice is to do tackle the issues surrounding what has you looking into the abyss, and for god’s sake stop…
- …Beating yourself up. I frequently find myself trapped in a cycle of feeling sad because I can’t find success, feeling guilty because that’s such a ridiculous first-world problem and feeling sad again. It could be that you feel you’ve dedicated too much time to something that leads nowhere. You might feel angry with yourself for not being productive enough. No matter what it is, self-flagellation doesn’t get you anywhere. Creative pursuits are rife with pitfalls. You will make mistakes. Then again, if you didn’t, what would they put in your biography? Take it from someone who made enough damn-fool errors to fill War and Peace. It’s the obstacles in life (even ones you place in your own way) that will help you develop. Smooth sailing makes for crap sailors.
- Feeling alone. This one rather leads on from all these other problems. It’s very common to feel isolated- as though no-one ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do, and no-one understands your position- but it’s not altogether real. It’s also a really simple fix. There are dozens of communities online. Go find one. Go get involved. Writers and Artists, for example has lots of forums where you can air questions and give advice. It also has some excellent competitions for various things. Courses like the one I attended on Screenwriting with UEA are another way to make great connections and help with…
- Feeling stale/writer’s block. A lack of confidence goes hand in hand with this I feel.
When I’m on top of the world, sublimely convinced of my own genius (which I usually am), I can’t stop writing. When I’m down I can’t even pick up a pen to jot down a shopping list. Luckily this is far from a rare issue. Stop brainstorming, stop making spider diagrams where the poor creature only has one leg and a doodle of an eye beside it. Go do something else. Take a walk. Read a book. Refresh yourself. If these don’t work, go try something new. A new format- writing a play, an article etc. as supposed to poetry for example- or a new angle might be just the kick-start you need. Take a step back. Go look at a (writing) prompt. Get involved online in a community or even on Twitter. If you feel like you lack the skills to branch out, try a free course. If none of that’s working, remember that you are not alone. Not by a very, very long way.
I hope my suggestions have helped. I know that the list of issues I’ve highlighted is by no means exhaustive, so if you have some bugbears you’d like light shed upon, I’d love to hear them. The most important thing I want to say is that what you’re going through is normal. We take chances everyday in what we do, and only a sociopath wouldn’t find that stressful. A lack of confidence is part of being creative. Indeed, it’s what makes us strive for perfection.