It’s been an exciting ride. You’ve been working on your art regularly. You’ve made excellent progress and you are proud of your efforts. It feels wonderful to have been true to yourself.
But recently it hasn’t felt so good. You don’t feel you’re advancing. You are putting in the same effort but you don’t feel that it is taking you as far. You wish you were further ahead.
Now you feel as though you’re not sure whether to continue. Is it worth it? Does anybody care? Is it right to keep pushing yourself to produce? How can you tell if you are doing the right thing?
Sometimes we hit a creative plateau
Sometimes you will have a creative plateau and when this happens it is natural to have doubts about whether you are doing the right thing.
It’s like losing weight. You eat less and move more for a number of weeks and the pounds fall off. Then you reach a point where your weight doesn’t drop, even though you are still doing the same routine. It can be disheartening but you have to continue with the regime.
During the plateau your body is adjusting to the new world and making unseen changes. Weight loss usually resumes after a couple of weeks but this will only happen if you continue with the effort. It is also an opportunity to review your habits and see if any tweaks are necessary.
If you give up at the point of plateau and start eating pies and cakes again then that will be the end of your weight loss journey. Similarly, it would be such a shame to give up on your creative journey because you’ve hit a patch that feels less productive.
Creativity is not a linear journey
It is a misconception that creativity is a linear journey. A+ B will not always equal C. You will have phases where something new is brewing but you can’t tangibly see it yet. The next stage needs time before it reveals itself. There might be profound inner changes happening within you that will bloom eventually, but not yet.
The daffodil is one of my favourite flowers but if I looked at the bulb in July I would conclude that nothing was happening. However the growth starts below ground from August onwards and there is no evidence of this happening above ground until late December or January. Imagine if I gave up on the flower and ripped out the bulbs in July; there would be nothing to enjoy next Spring.
Plateau or expectations not being met?
Recently I feel as though I have hit a plateau. I am proud of the consistency of writing that I have achieved over the past year and I have had some success in terms of on-line publications that I write for and subscribers to my email list. However, for the last month these numbers haven’t grown. Hardly anyone has subscribed to my email list and new followers on Medium have slowed to a trickle. Even though I have been accepted into a large publication and had my work syndicated to another large website this hasn’t resulted in more people seeing and recommending my work.
So if I am honest with myself, the plateau is about external factors and validation not about my writing. The trouble is that being concerned with these matters can affect my writing. It shouldn’t, but it does!
You have to be comfortable with who you are
Therefore I think that the way through a creative plateau is about being comfortable with who we are. We need to accept that we are not Ed Sheeran, Eddie Redmayne or Tracey Emin. For me, it would be lovely to be like the people who have a large following on Medium and are translating their writing into money. But they are those people and I am me. I can only write like me. I can only write from my life. I can only live my life and not someone else’s.
This isn’t always easy as we often want more for ourselves. However, self acceptance is the key to unlocking profound happiness – happiness that originates in where we are now, not where we want to be. The irony of this is that getting happy now often then leads to the results we are seeking.
When you are striving towards your artistic goals, if the goal is about an external factor like fame, or likes, or sales, then you can’t control the outcome of that goal. You can only control the process. You can paint a picture that you are proud of or write a blog that you know has hit upon your truth, but that doesn’t mean it will get huge external validation like the people you admire.
When you hit a creative plateau it is important to remember to nourish yourself, both your physical body and your creative soul. Perhaps this is the ingredient that has fallen by the wayside without you noticing and this is why everything is feeling a bit flat now.
You have to keep plodding forward, regularly tending to yourself and your art. Sometimes your artistic output will be tangible. Other times it will look as if nothing is happening. But if you keep in mind this natural rhythm then you will bloom again in the future.
Over to you
Have you hit a creative plateau? What do you think is behind it? Or are you just not noticing intangible progress?
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.