From embarrassing teenage poetry to carefully collated colour palettes for grown-up interior design, creativity is a retreat for many of us throughout our lives. In lots of ways, the modern world has empowered people to become more creative than ever, with the Internet ensuring that anyone can build an audience if their work is interesting enough. At the same time, this advancement may be holding us back, stifling our creativity and limiting the way we think. I feel as if producing my own creative work has got more difficult since my teens and early twenties. Thinking about why this is, I’ve come up with a few ideas.
Stress and a Full Schedule
I’m the sort of person who’s always being told that they’re laid back, but really I’m anything but. Rather than being naturally unflappable, I’ve spent my life assiduously avoiding stress, the merest hint of which sends me into a panicky tail-spin. This means that any free time I have has to be carefully managed so I don’t end up taking on too much and stressing myself out, and sometimes committing to getting a creative project finished can feel like too much.
Stress seems pretty epidemic in the modern world, and while creative work can be a form of self-care, it can also be yet another thing to do on an already long list. This is even more true if it’s also how you make a living. I love my creative job, but after a day squeezing my brain for bright sparks all I want to do when I get home is have a snooze.
Stress actively hinders our creativity by encouraging us to think in short term, strained and myopic ways, making it extremely difficult to get in “the zone” and capture the effortless focus that comes when a creative project is going really well. I’ve been trying to tackle this is through better planning, plenty of sleep and meditation, which has been shown to actively reduce stress hormones and help people become more creative. It is all starting to make a difference, which makes me think that having less stress in our lives might be a key to creativity.
It cannot be denied that the Internet is an amazing, liberating thing that has vastly improved our lives. However, it’s also the source of all distraction and a kind of procrastination demon which tempts you with endless Wikipedia articles and more GIFs than are strictly necessary. In addition to this, while finding inspiration is easier than ever, it’s equally easy to compare ourselves (unfavorably) to others. Looking at all the talent displayed online, suddenly my own work can look about as skillful as stubbing a toe, and it can be a little off-putting.
Self- confidence is a key factor in this, of course, but sometimes you just need to close the laptop and seek inspiration elsewhere. Heading out for a walk in nature, snapping photos in an interesting urban environment or just getting stuck in a book can spark ideas, and if nothing else they’ll clear your mind.
The Pressure of a Personal Brand
I’m one of those older millennials who can remember the transition from thinking that the things you put on the Internet were between you and your mates, to realizing that everyone can see it, forever. From that point, we were all struck with “a potential employer will definitely be typing my name into Google” self-consciousness, and the need to maintain a professional public image online began. Alongside this came the need to “image craft”, as the social image we presented to our peers and followers became ever more important.
Gone were the days when we used to do things like upload horribly embarrassing photos of ourselves to make our friends laugh, and as creatives sharing our work, our outlook became similarly constrained. If we want to share something we’ve made, we have to consider how other people will interpret it – will they think it’s rubbish, or controversial, or that the creator is an unemployable weirdo?
Furthermore, if your personal brand is something you use to further your professional life, breaking out of it to do something different can be very difficult. As any corporation knows, re-brands are risky and potentially expensive, and this is a responsibility we all (to one extent or another) are starting to consider. I began to move away from this strange modern self-consciousness by thinking about why I started drawing and writing in the first place. It wasn’t for Likes and Shares from people I don’t know, it was to have an outlet of self-expression and amuse my friends. It’s easier to be original if you’re making something just for you and those closest to you, and if you decide to share your work more widely afterwards that’s great. It’s just a case of trying not to create work with the audience already in mind.
I guess the issue is that as we get older – and the need to create commercial work in order to make a living gets more intense – we can forget about what used to drive and inspire us. Letting go of the layers of worry and pre-conceived ideas that have taken hold can re-ignite that teenage enjoyment, making sure that our creativity isn’t stifled by the modern world.