An Artist’s Guide to Weathering the Storm
Updated: May 17, 2020
No matter where you are in your career as an artist, we all experience seasons. Moments where we feel like booking machines. Where the gigs keep piling in and we feel unstoppable. And other times? We feel that lull. That senseless onset of no auditions. Of nothing lined up. (Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting while he was alive.) If we are doing our work as an artist, both seasons will be inevitable. Because that's the industry. Because nothing in the world is ever guaranteed.
So how do we weather that? How do we as storytellers navigate those times when we aren’t actively employed? Or those moments when we feel like we are no longer getting to be creative on a regular, daily basis?
“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.”
― Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
Let’s start here.
Be Gentle & Replenish: Feed your basic needs first.
If you feel down, Name it. Acknowledge that. Go do something that reminds you that you are worthy. But do so with gentleness. Stay kind to yourself.
None of us can fill from an empty cup. All around social media are those memes about how Mozart wrote his Requiem on his deathbed or somewhere some other artist created something during a drought or natural disaster.
Good for them.
But for now, let’s maybe not focus on what artists were able to create in spite of their circumstances. We are all each individuals. With our individual sets of baggage and emotional challenges. It’s an unfair comparison to expect the same productivity or the same outcome in ourselves before we’ve even acknowledged where we are.
If someone robbed you of 50% of your pantry and then you were told you had to cook dinner for a family of 6, you couldn’t really do anything without first opening your cabinets and seeing what was there. Seeing what was left. Seeing what needed replenishing and seeing what you still have left that you can work with.
And so we must do this with ourselves. We need to look inward and take stock of what we still have. Take that time to really listen to ourselves. Attend to your basic needs. Do we need sleep? Then SLEEP. Do we need to eat? EAT. Do we need sunlight? Then soak up those rays. Deal with what is most pressing. If it’s money — then let that be the thing you work towards resolving first. Before you try to write a novel or film a song.
Until we acknowledge those needs, Until we set out and replenish, Until we open the channels to communicate with our partners about what we need to function— we are only blindly cooking with a half-empty pantry.
“You are loved. Massively. Ferociously. Unconditionally. The Universe is totally freaking out about how awesome you are. It’s got you wrapped in a warm gorilla hug of adoration. It wants to give you everything you desire. It wants you to be happy. It wants you to see what it sees in you.”
― Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life
Celebrate the win.
I know. It’s hard to see what constitutes a win these days. And in our creative careers we often take for granted so many awesome accomplishments because we’ve misnamed them.
Whether we are goal setting or celebrating, it’s really integral to remember a WIN is any time we put ourselves out there and take a risk when we could have chosen not to. It’s any time we show up for ourselves, instead of choosing to blindly do something out of obligation... or not do something out of avoidance.
We can only win at what we can control.
Our attitudes. Our responses. Our choices.
What does that mean?
A booking isn’t a win-- Hear me out here. We can’t control our bookings. We can’t control our outcomes. Those things lie just beyond our control. Can we be grateful for a booking? You betcha! But there are dozens of humans who made that opportunity happen (our agents, casting directors, producers, our teachers, even the other actors who showed up to keep pushing ourselves to grow).
Book something? Cool! Celebrate all those beautiful people and remind yourself that you are enough. Success is a variable, like the weather, that comes and goes.
But here is the good news. If a booking isn’t a win, guess what? When you aren’t booking anything: it’s not a loss. By all means, feel your feelings. Acknowledge what hurts, what sucks, what you coulda-woulda-shoulda. But then: let that shit go. Because future you --- you 10 years from now --- won’t even give it a second thought. So every moment spent obsessing or worrying is just less time and energy you could be using to cultivate something joyful and wonderful.
So what is a win?
For some of us, it could be as simple as putting on pants. It could be waking up before 10:00 am. It might be making some tea and choosing not to look at your phone for an entire day. A win might be choosing to do that audition. It also might be choosing to turn down an audition because you really needed to get some rest or spend time with your family.
Celebrating your wins means that you are being your own strongest cheerleader.
You are saying FUCK Yeah I did it!
You are celebrating each time you show up for yourself.
So, if for you, showing up to the morning pages and journaling makes you feel like you showed up for yourself... then celebrate that! If for you, working out or baking a kick ass cake or walking your dog or playing your banjo makes you feel like you showed up for yourself, then bust out the party hats and celebrate that.
All that matters is that you know and understand what it means to be your authentic self. And let that be your measure of success. Because then you realize nothing outside of yourself can ever be the measurement you compare yourself to.
You know your enoughness is an unshakable force that can never be destroyed.
“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Be childlike. Embrace playful wonderment.
When we are born and we first start our journey out in the world, we immediately engage with our environment on the basis of play. Everything is a game. Everything is an opportunity to imagine. A cardboard box is a spaceship. A towel is a cape. Our mashed potatoes, a fortress to keep out the evil peas.
Somewhere down the line, as we get older, we get told that unless the thing makes us money — unless we see a profit --- it’s not worth doing. We feel that unless we are professionally flawless at a skill, we shouldn't even bother trying. Perfectionism, at its worst, cripples us from ever being able to do anything.
And we forget to play. We think that, because our skill set isn’t competitive enough to make a living at painting or writing or acting, there isn’t a point. And we simply stop trying. We stop exploring, and we forget how to have fun.
What a colossal loss! Apart from that, it's counterintuitive to how skill development works anyhow. We can actually only get better at any given craft or skill by choosing to continue to practice. And the wild thing is, the earlier we begin that practice, the more growth we will experience just from the act of DOING the thing.
All around the social sphere are folks jumping around asking: “If I did a video on x would anyone watch?”
And it makes me want to assault them with this gentle reminder:
You don’t need permission to be creative.
We don’t need viewers. We don’t need permission. We don’t need anything outside of ourselves to create.
When you recall your own childlike wonderment-- when you engage in play for the sake of its own joy-- the only question you need to ask is “What excites me?” And then gleefully go chase that puppy around until you no longer want to.
“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Lastly, Do the work.
When you are ready. When you feel inspired.
Bring your whole creative self, and do the work. Feel free to dig into your new routine. Let yourself get inspired to write or paint or sing or do what moves you. Knock out those things on your to-do list. Manage all the things you’ve been putting off. Deep clean the house. Organize your 2020 receipts. Make that website or fix up your cover letter. Edit your screenplay or create something entirely new.
And if at any point you feel yourself slipping into the old pitfalls of burn out... If you catch yourself reverting to those tired habits of doing something out of obligation, or the need of external validation--
Pause. Go back. Return to step one and Be Gentle.
Be Gentle & Replenish yourself.
Celebrate the win.
Be childlike: Embrace play.
Do the work.
As Jen Sincero says, "What you choose to focus on becomes your reality."
Resources to doing this inner work and feeding your creative self:
The Artist’s Way – By Julia Cameron
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Vortex: Where the Law of Attraction Assembles All Cooperative Relationships by Esther Hicks , Jerry Hicks