When we believe in ourselves, we produce better work, but what happens when we can’t find that belief?
Have you ever had a crushing life event that took the wind out of your sails but you still had to find a way to go on because your livelihood depended on it? Your kids depended on it? That’s where I have found myself since 2021. I thought 2023 would promise a flow, ease of daily life, elevated creativity, ambition, and confidence. But 2023 laughed at me. One event after the other has rained down hard. Even while I was in the middle of coping with one circumstance, another has come through. I wasn’t sure how I could handle it. I’m still not sure how I will, but I’m learning a lot about myself and how intertwined my own creativity is with my confidence.
As creatives, it’s hard not to let personal emotions interfere with the work we’re making because so much of what we make comes straight from our heart. Maybe we should let more of what we feel affect the work? Maybe I fight that part too much? Personally, when my heart is in a state of weakness, my work feels weak as well. Or when I’m frustrated, I don’t create easily.
They say grief can help produce beauty from pain if we learn how to channel the pain, but what happens when the pain prevents you from approaching the work at all?
What if you can’t bring yourself to the easel because you fear the results? You already feel the work isn’t good enough because deep inside you don’t feel good enough, and so you don’t even begin. What happens when it’s that paralyzing? Or what happens when you try but everything you touch feels inadequate? You feel like you’re spinning in circles.
I let this story play in my head for months. I’ve agonized over edits, dreaded dipping my brush into paint, and hesitated to pick up a pencil because I didn’t feel like I was good enough, so how could I produce work that was?
You might wonder, how could I, someone who has overcome so much, earned a MFA in the face of recovery after leaving domestic abuse, landed a stellar literary agent at the best kidlit agency there is, published a novel and picture book at one of the big five (with amazing editors)…someone who runs her own business, homeschools her kids, advocates for survivors, helps injured birds, raises monarchs, and and and…how could I feel like I’m not good enough?
While it looks like my career has been bustling like the bees, I’ve been grasping to stay afloat.
Without going into detail, several events have taken place in my personal life that have affected the results in my creative practice. But once I started doing the work, the confidence followed—slowly, but it followed. It’s a daily practice, a daily struggle, but one I am determined to continue.
The hardest part is that gap between the dread and getting your feet to your art table or desk. Once I’m there with hands on the keyboard or brush dipped in paint, the rest becomes easier. It’s a matter of training yourself to know this happens before you feel it happening. It’s a matter of trusting the process to be there for you.
When someone says, “I wish I could do that. You’re so talented,” it pains me a little because of the internal fight I’m in the middle of. If they only knew how hard some days were. But I don’t go into that, I just smile, say “thank you” and tell them, “I couldn’t do this without practice.” Nothing about keeping a creative practice is easy, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love this work, and it loves me back if I show up.
I’m still figuring out how to tell myself I can do it when I don’t believe I can— because once I do the hard thing, it doesn’t seem as painful as I had imagined. Making work and reaching goals always lifts my spirits.
Creativity may be affected by confidence, but finding a way to be creative, even if difficult, produces a confidence that leads to more creativity, and the journey smooths out one step at a time.