Today’s Halloween, the day we celebrate all things that go bump in the night. But while Halloween boogies might be imaginary, I’d like to talk about some monsters that are very real: creative monsters. What are creative monsters, you ask? Creative monsters are those people in get in the way of our creative journey. Often they mean well–it’s not like they’re trying to rip our creative selves to shreds–but that doesn’t make their words or behaviors any less painful.
These creative monsters can take many forms. That boss who conveniently remembers to give you an assignment just as you’re getting ready to leave so you can go home and finish your book… that’s a creative monster. Another is the friend who keeps asking when you plan on getting published, even though you’ve been querying diligently and feel like you’re making good progress. Or the spouse who calls you with a crisis just as you’re making an important discovery in your novel’s plot. The one trait these figures all have in common is their uncanny knack for attacking right when you’re about to make some sort of creative breakthrough.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the boss really does have an important assignment to give you, your friend is probably just curious about how the writing’s going and your spouse might actually be having a crisis. These things might actually all be real, but don’t be fooled. Just because these are real, that doesn’t make the words or actions that accompany those reasons any less damaging to your creative progress.
So, how do we deal with these creative monsters?
Here are two tricks and one treat I’ve picked up over time for dealing with my creative monsters.
1) Recognize that it’s not you, it’s them.
99% of the time, the reason creative monsters attack is because they’re feeling threatened. Sort of like a wild animal, actually. If you mind your own business, they’ll usually stay away but if you accidentally invade their space, they’ll gnash their teeth and start roaring. Creative monsters make a lot of noise and a big spectacle of it all, but usually they only lash out because your creative progress has threatened them in some way.
Wait, what? They’re feeling threatened? But they’re the ones attacking me. This makes no sense.
I know it doesn’t. It seems like you’re the one being vulnerable by spilling your words on the page, but the truth is that when you start getting creative, you threaten the fragile world-view of your creative monsters.
For these people, the world makes sense as long as everyone fits their neat little roles. Suppose you’ve always been a lawyer or a teacher or a full-time mom or whatever, but then you decide to add writing to the mix. Suddenly you’re threatening the world-view of the creative monsters around you. Because you’re making changes in your life, you’re forcing them to change as well. They have to accept this new way of perceiving you and in some cases, they’ll even have to change their routines if they want to spend time with you now that writing is worked into your schedule.
Not to mention that people who are closest to you are often the biggest creative monsters of all because your creative progress causes them to change the most. Some friend you rarely talk to except through holiday cards will likely not be threatened by your creative growth, but someone who sees you everyday and suddenly has to adjust their needs and requirements so you can have writing time… they’re much more likely to feel threatened. Ultimately, you can’t control how others see you, but you can control how you let their words and actions affect you. By recognizing that it’s not you–it’s them, you can start to learn how to evade their attacks.
2) Avoid giving them ammunition.
If someone falls into that creative monster category, don’t complain to them about how hard writing is. Come to think of it, don’t tell them anything about your writing. Trust me on this one. Even if something really exciting happens (like you get a positive response from an agent or you finish a first draft), don’t share that information with creative monsters. You can share it all you like with trusted writer-friends. After all, they’ll not only understand how huge these milestones really are, they also won’t pester you about them after the fact. But creative monsters will latch onto this information and keep bugging you about it. “Is the book done yet?” “Have you signed with that agent yet?” “When will you start actually making money from this writing thing?”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s often quite tempting to share these milestones with creative monsters as a way of validating your progress. But it’s a trap. The truth is, they won’t understand what these milestones really mean and the frustration you’ll deal with afterwards is not worth the one minute of satisfaction in sharing the news with them now. Instead, find a couple of like-minded writer friends who will offer support and be excited for you. Tell them. But when it comes to the creative monsters, zip the lip.
3) Treat yourself to something nice to celebrate your victories.
Since you often can’t rely on the creative monsters close to you to treat your writer-self nicely, you’ll have to do it yourself. Find ways to celebrate when you make really good progress or hit a major milestone. I give myself stickers whenever I make a breakthrough in a writing project. My drafts and journals are covered in gold stars and smiley-faces. When I hit a milestone, I treat myself to something small but meaningful to my writing: a notebook, a couple of colorful pens, or maybe a book on writing craft. Learn to celebrate yourself and you won’t have to depend on other people celebrating you.