I don’t know if there’s anything more frustrating than returning to your creative practice after a long hiatus. For one thing, there’s a reason you took a break and there’s a good chance that it had something to do with creative trauma. For another thing, where you once felt practiced at making your art, you might now feel stiff and awkward in your process. You know what creative embodiment feels like and this isn’t it.
Like muscles healing from an injury, your creative practice also needs time and rehabilitation to knit itself back together again. And while your body gives you little choice but to accept your limits, your creative recovery process can feel less tangible when it comes to what is and isn’t possible. So while it’s understandable that you want your initial post-hiatus project to be of a certain caliber, sometimes part of your recovery process means making bad art.
One of the ways we hide as creatives is by drowning ourselves in insurmountable expectations. It’s not enough that you’ve returned to making, the thing you’re creating must also be good. Like an athlete in a race, you not only want to cross the finish line your first time back, you want a personal best as well. When that feels too impossible, you give yourself permission to not create anything at all. And the cycle of hiding continues.
As much as creative recovery can be frustrating, lowering your expectations of what you’re creating can feel like its own kind of defeat. It can trigger shame and a paralyzing fear that you’ll never make anything you can be proud of ever again. In particularly overwhelming moments, it might feel like finishing something won’t be enough. Like you need more than that in order to feel reassured that you’re on your way back to creative wellbeing.
I get it. When I started on the road to creative recovery this past February, I was kicking and screaming. Every doubt I had came out to play and the bigger the project got, the more scared I became that I would finish it and it would be terrible and then I would die. It feels like I’ve spent the past seven months holding my breath in expectation of armageddon. Fortunately, I have set myself up so that not finishing the project isn’t an option.
There’s no doubt that walking the path of a creative is an emotionally and financially tumultuous experience. And while you might not have a choice in the misery you feel when you’re not making your art, you do have the ability to choose how you hold yourself through that process. In the case of your creative recovery, you can decide to finish something. Even if it’s not perfect. Because that’s the first step in creating work that you’re proud of. So finish it.
What happens when you focus on finishing and not perfecting?