Magpie Speak: Managing the Crazy

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Managing the Crazy
 

Creative personalities are often a little bit up and down. We struggle with depression. The highs and lows of the creative cycle toss us around. We at once need creative input, and shirk from being over-stimulated.  

I believe creative people see things differently. Sometimes this makes you feel a bit mad. The key is to manage the crazy, so the madness becomes an asset.

Once while talking with my amazing life coach, Jena Strong, I mused out loud:

“I wonder what it would be like to be even-keeled?”

To which she immediately replied:

“Why would you even wonder about that?”

Clearly, I am never going to be even keeled. Why waste energy wanting it to be otherwise? I might as well turn it into a super power.

Managing the Crazy is a big field of study. In my book, it includes Abundance -vs- Jealousy, Seasonal Patterns, HSC Power Moves, and Confidence Schizophrenia. But for today, we’ll look at what I consider to be the bedrock concept you need to Manage the Crazy, the Creative Cycle.

Understanding Your Creative Cycle

Over the years I’ve noticed that most creative people have a pattern to their work. Whether you paint, plant churches, or launch a businesses – this birth cycle will be familiar to you. Just being able to recognizing the stages is a good first step towards feeling less nuts in the midst of it.

The Creative Download
 In this stage you are full of ideas. You might make lots of lists, or wake up in the middle of the night with plans running through your head. This often fluctuates with the seasons, or even with the stars. (I usually experience a download when the Winter turns into Spring, and again when the kids go back to school in the Fall.)
Common Emotions: excitement, euphoria, anticipation, panic, anxiety. 
Handy Mantra:  “The Right Thing will come at the Right Time.”

Decision Making
 At this point you have do some soulwork in order to decide which of your gazillion projects you want to lay your hand to. You may be tempted to rush past this important step – especially if you are the parent of young children, or if you are working full-time while also pursuing your creative projects. The idea that you are “wasting time” can loom large in this stage. You may feel pressure to just get started on something. Yet it is essential that you spend time playing with your various ideas – researching what you’d need to execute them; checking out how others have done similar work; and doing some preliminary “sketches” and tests.  It’s also important to learn how to redefine “failure” as “the learning process.”  (More on that at some future date.)
Common Emotions: confusion, flip-floppiness, curiosity
Handy Mantra: “Nothing is Ever Wasted.”

Active Labor
Anyone who has given birth knows this is when the hard work really kicks in. (Well, actually, what they don’t tell you is that the hard part is the NEXT FIVE-TO-EIGHTEEN YEARS…. But I digress.) To push the birth metaphor a little further, this stage is when you have to stop decorating your dream nursery and get to the dirty work. Now you actually have to write/paint/learn how to use your camera/show you work/accepting critique/attach price tags. This is where people often get stuck. You’ll need doulas and midwives, and quite possibly, cheerleaders. If you can get well into this stage, you’re mostly there.
Common Emotions: excitement, fear, resistance, doubt, confidence, impatience, anticipation
Handy Mantra: “One Step at a Time.”

Finishing
In this stage you’ve got the bulk of the work done. You are probably in the final edits; or you are waiting for the last piece of artwork to get finished; or you need to overcome one more technical difficulty. Some people are great finishers. But a lot of creative souls flounder here. The end is almost in sight – and then you get stuck in a slow motion run to the finish.  If you follow me on Twitter, you can tell I’m in the Finishing stage when I threaten to never, ever write again. (I am not a good finisher.) If that sounds familiar, you probably need a partner who is good at the final stretch. Other helpful things include: detailed lists of what’s left, rewarding yourself for getting bits done, and a solid due date or deadline.
Common Emotions: despair, befuddlement, reluctance (Sorry, I couldn’t think of any positive ones here. Maybe you can?)
Handy Mantra: “Breathe the next breath. Write the next line.”

Post Partum Depression
Actually, there’s another stage before this, The Launch – in which you actually give your gift to the world. But that’s usually pretty euphoric. (Are you saying, “Au contraire?” Tell me all about it so we can grow the pool of wisdom!)

We’ll skip ahead to the bit just after the birth, where your project is out there in the world. It’s probably getting a lot of nice things said about it. Maybe it’s getting some criticism as well. But overall I bet it’s going pretty well.

So, why are you so depressed? 

It’s the hormone stew. In the past weeks/months/years you’ve been up, you’ve been down. You’ve put your soul into something – and probably your free time and money to boot. You’ve risked. You’ve cried. You’ve celebrated. Your emotions have been all over the place. And you’re probably a little worn out to boot. It’s okay. That bubbling pot of postpartum hormone stew will slow to a simmer. Things will settle down eventually.
Common Emotions: feeling “let down” or lost, vague disappointment, itching for the next thing (but what?)
Handy Mantra: “This Too Shall Pass”

Fallow Time
This stage can actually come at various places in this cycle. Sometimes it is quite subtle, but it’s an important part of the process. Smart farmers know that you need to let the land go uncultivated from time to time. A field might be covered with a layer of compost for a growing season. Or it could be planted with a cover crop which when plowed under puts nutrients back into the soil. Our creative growing cycles need fallow time as well.
Common Emotions: “laziness,” a desire for rest, “mindless” entertainment, hermit-y-ness
Handy Mantra: “Honoring the need for rest is good for creative recovery.”

Which stages of the cycle stand out for you? How do you manage them? Do you have other stages that aren’t listed here? Tell us more, and add to our giant pool of wisdom.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jadyn May 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I just wanted to say that this really made a lot of sense to me and I find this extremely helpful! I am so glad to know that there are others out there who experience things similarly to the way I experience them…Especially the post-partum depression thing, it just never makes sense to me but I’ve learned to be kind to myself during this stage. It is helpful to know that others go through this too! And finishing…yes, i am a bad finisher too.
I love the mantras you came up with for every stage, I will have to make use of those! Thank you!

Shawn May 31, 2010 at 10:42 pm

This is a great post. I’ve also noticed this ebb and flow of creative energy. I have certain seasons when I write and then seasons when I don’t. Now that I’ve recognized this — only took, oh, 11 years — I am able to push myself harder in the slumps. For me, I’m talking about writing a book. I started it when I was 22. Moved, got a job as a journalist — a creativity killer, no less — met a man, got married, was a newlywed, bought a new house, suffered infertility, got preggo — with twins — had the twins, raised the twins. i have been actively writing through this creative process the last year. Most actively in the last six months or so. I’m happy to report that through all my seasons — and I’ve had many in the last decade — I am almost finished! I had to be here, though. I had to be in this very special place called DONE. My life is complete — as complete as it can be. I work full time in non-writing, have a very scheduled life thanks to that job and the twins and I long for nothing … other than writing and being creative. It took a long time to get here. The only thing I will add to this novella is that I’ve never actually finished anything important so I haven’t felt those emotions yet. I will report to you when I do!!! : )

Jan O June 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm

What an amazing post. I feel so encouraged after reading it. Its so easy to get discouraged and set your intentions aside. I suppose I am firmly in a fallow time, although I have been trying to push myself into being active and getting things accomplished. Now I see that I was trying to do things out of turn. Its not time right now for me to push and strive. Its time for me to be still. Which can be surprisingly difficult. Thanks for the insight.

Jennifer November 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I wanted to add some positives about the finishing stage: a sense of completion and accomplishment. And relief! Don’t forget relief. I love the feeling that comes with nearing and reaching the end. I love the ta-da of seeing less and less on the to-do list, actually being able to envision the final scrapbook/cake/blog entry/etc., the feeling that now I can plan that celebratory margarita/book/bath/whatever because I see the end in sight. It’s different than the wild euphoric high of the Launch. It’s more a quiet sense of, “I know I can do this. I know I can finish this. Look – I DID IT.”

I think you’ve covered the stages very well. For me, these stages tend to mirror a more seasonal metaphor, rather than childbirth (since I am childfree). And I just wanted to add, for those souls whose creative processes don’t fit any kinds of stages, that’s OK too. Your journey is your journey.

Leah March 6, 2011 at 11:34 am

Thank you so much for this post Rachelle! I Identify with all of these phases, and many more. You articulated them so well. I love how you talk about accepting yourself as an ‘uneven keel person'(beautiful), and that creatives see things differently. It is so powerful to simply accept that you see things differently, and to embrace the ups and downs, and not fight them. I appreciate all your mantras, I’m sure I use variations of them, sprinkled randomly throughout my life, I like the idea of trying to find a specific mantra for a specific phase of process.

So often I find myself only wanting the euphoria, the inspiration in those moments of brewing up and creating. but when I look back on the other moments- the doubt, swoop of despair and questioning, anxiety – I see that they feed my high moments with desire for change and momentum. Somehow, it all works together for the great and the good!

Rachelle March 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Leah,

As I get ready to launch a new class I’m in Active Labor and I keep mumurring “One Step at a Time.” But I know as soon as I launch my Gremlins will get chatty and I’ll start second-guessing my work. Got any mantras to share for that one?

-Rachelle

Leah March 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Rachelle,

Well, let me encourage you – I’m sure your new class will be wonderful! All of your writing is full of insight and inspiration! A mantra I use sometimes for “after” things are done and there’s nothing more I can do (whether a life choice, or a piece of art), is “It is what it is”. It kind of takes the pressure off. My part is done now, and it is what it is. and “it is” most likely fabulous, in your case :)

-Leah

kraftykkitten April 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Rachelle, thank you!!
Your email was just what I needed this morning, I’ve had a hellish week and I’ve blogged about it and then your email came so I’ve cut and pasted the whole lot to my blog, if you’d like to go and have a read thank you! i’d appreicate it. Read the post before this one so ypu can see what’s been going on.
http://kraftykkitten.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/introducing-self-sabotage-the-demon/

This week I’m in the postpartum depression cycle and looking forward to moving onto the Fallow time…… thank you I felt like you were talking to me!! I wish I could hug you!! xox

Rachelle April 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Leah,

Thank you for your encouraging words. You have no idea how much they helped today.

Much Warmth,

Rachelle

Rachelle April 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

KK,

What fun to see Serendipity at work. I read both of your posts, and can see you are gaining clarity and strength.

YEAH YOU!

Much Warmth,

Rachelle

ANI September 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm

And this is why I LOVE the internet… information super highway…. logic helps me put overwhelming feelings in a comfy place. I finally created something (a song) damn near almost to completion. The high was amazing… til ATTEMPTED to shared it (THE LAUGH & POST PARTUM ARE MY WORST ENEMY). I’m always so exited to share and then I step away to real life and indulge in my high but get to thinking about the feedback or lack of feedback as my artistic history boasts and my high starts to come down like a crash to the earth. I then return back for a listen to what I shared and immediately hate it and delete… esp if feedback is lacking. Cue the feeling of indequacy & fear of not being accepted…A massive self-doubt has commenced… at which point I want to completely give up but I get depressed at the realization that I REALLY don’t wanna quit. I just feel cursed because I wanna give up but can’t… I don’t wanna give up cuz I feel like it will always haunt me yet I feel not good enough and thus I will never soar as I dream of… a self-defeating cycle that eventually leads to a shutdown. Anxiety takes over then avoidance. AHHHHH! Soooooooooo Managing the crazies, huh?? And this is now what I must realize… it is NATURAL! A Natural process for “the ARTIST” AND I AM AN ARTIST :) *sings* HALLELUAH!! Wait… did I just say normal and me in the same sentence.

Reese July 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I love this! Super helpful! The rest/fallow time is particularly hard for me – embracing it is such a challenge – I want to GET OUT OF IT asap. I like how you put it in a positive light – resting is a necessary part of the creative process. Truthfully every step is challenging for me so it is just great to have this little handy tool – complete with definitions, pros and cons, helpful mantras – PERFECTION! I printed it – I might even make a pretty book from it – using one page for each step and playing with the fonts and colors. :) Thank you!

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