Sketchbook #13

Photography, Writing

[FYI: This is kind of long. Feel free to skip it if you’re not interested in reading my stream-of-consciousness artistic angst.]

Ugh. This month.

I mean… it’s not as bad as I probably make it sound. I’ve made real progress in figuring out what’s going on in my NaNoWriMo story: I know who my main character is, and who the antagonist is, and I sorted out the big worldbuilding issue I was having. I’ve started to figure out how the backstory I’ve been thinking about fits into the main story, and I know (generally) what’s driving the plot.

I’ve also been (slowly) building my daily writing practice back into something that I’m happy with, and that will put me on track to be able to hit the word counts I’ll need to make it through NaNoWriMo.

So far, so good.

But.

I’m not feeling even remotely inspired. In anything.

Photography has stalled. Photo editing has stalled. (Which bugs me, because I’ve still got some really good photos from May that I want to share with you, but I just can’t convince myself to fire up Photoshop.) I’m even struggling with the 52-Week Project, almost exactly half-way through. (Part of this is because a recent prompt needed specific natural light, which I just wasn’t getting. And, while I knew that that sort of thing was going to happen a few times over the course of the year, it’s still frustrating, and it’s still affected my motivation.)

And even though I’m still making progress with writing… I’ve hit the point where, in recent months (or years), I’d decide to give up. My enthusiasm has faded, and literally the only thing keeping me going right now is the public commitment I’ve made to do NaNoWriMo this year.

The last time I really felt like this, I wound up booking a trip to Montréal. And while you can’t really run away from your problems, there is something to be said for spending a few days alone in an unfamiliar city, where you barely speak the (main) language, with nothing to do but force yourself out of your comfort zone, take pictures of things you’ve never seen before, and think. But that sort of thing isn’t in the budget right now. (Not that that’s stopped me from browsing airfares and hotel websites. In case you’re wondering, it costs a small fortune to fly anywhere from here.)

I know that most of the problems I’m having are things that I’ve always struggled with—perfectionism’s a big one, and so is my love/hate relationship with routine. And, on top of that, I don’t really have a creative community right now, and I miss it. I miss having people to bounce ideas off of, and commiserate with, and whom I can trust for objective critique. (Friends and family are great, but rarely objective.)

I’m also remembering that my love/hate relationship with routine also affects how I feel about story outlines. On one hand, the structure is good: it keeps me focussed and doing the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, it’s stifling and uninspiring. And, since I’m looking at outlining this story for the next four months (I know from experience that I can’t make it through NaNoWriMo without an outline), it’s hard to get myself motivated.

So. Where does that leave me?

I know that, every so often, this sort of creative ennui kicks my ass. I know that it’ll eventually pass, but “eventually” isn’t really good enough; I’ve lost so many promising projects this way.

I know that I’m still determined to get through this 52-Week Photo Project.

I know that I’m still absolutely committed to doing National Novel Writing Month this year.

I know that I want to be making things. I want to write. I want to take photos. I want to make art.

And I know that forcing myself to create when I feel like this only makes things worse—the work becomes too much of a chore, and I only do it to say it’s done. I stop caring about whether it’s any good, and when I stop caring, it stops being good. And then I start to resent the fact that I’m doing the work at all when it’s clearly terrible, and then I burn out.

I don’t know how to reconcile these things.

I need to figure out a creative practice that works for me: something that doesn’t rely too heavily on routine, but still feels productive. Something that doesn’t fall apart entirely when I’ve got to take a few days off. Ideally, something that I can keep up (at least enough to maintain my momentum) when I’m travelling, or spending a week baking Christmas cookies. I need to figure out a way to outline stories that doesn’t suck all the energy out of them before they’re even written. I need to find a creative community that clicks. Most importantly, I need to find a way to be objective about my own work—I need to figure out how to recognize the good parts, and figure out how to live with (or, you know, fix) the parts that aren’t amazing.

For now, I think I can maintain the progress I’ve made. I can keep writing 500 words a day, and I can keep working on the 52-Week Photo Project. I can draw for a few minutes every day. I can keep NaNoWriMo in my sights and hopefully not fall too far behind on my preparations. But I’m going to hold off on trying to increase my daily word count, at least for now. I’m going to focus more on editing and sharing the photos that are sitting on my hard drive than on taking a tonne of new pictures. I’m going to look at outlining techniques I haven’t tried yet, and see if they might suit me better than the methods I’ve been using.

I think I can do that without putting too much pressure on myself.

And, while I’m trying, I guess I’ll try to figure out the rest of it.