When every idea you have sounds stupid

A drawing from my childhood "Alien Photo Album". Oh to create with such abandon....

A drawing from my childhood "Alien Photo Album". Oh to create with such abandon....

To keep this blog happening every week, I usually plan topics a month or two ahead of time so that I’m not scrambling on Monday trying to decide what to write. Usually it works quite well. But every now and then I look at the calendar and I despise every single thing in it. No I do not want to write about my feelings today. Who could possibly care about that time I went on that trip? Everything on the list is boring, stupid, lame, and dumb. So what do I do? Scroll Facebook, scroll Instagram, look at the calendar, scroll some more. And then, eventually, I sit down and write a post.

Here’s something I have learned lately: when I am in the grip of anxiety, even the most delightful things seems dark and gloomy. It’s hard for me to think of anything that would make me feel good. In other words, every idea about what might make me feel good sounds stupid. But then I start moving. I get some exercise, text a friend, work on some art, go outside. And often, little by little, I start feeling better. Things seem less gloomy and it becomes easier and easier to think of things that will make me feel good.

The same thing happens with a “stupid” creative idea. You engage with it, you try it out and see where it takes you. And even if it doesn’t end up being the best blog post ever (or the best painting, or knit scarf, or short story), after loosening the stuck feeling, things don’t seem so stupid any more.

Here’s my plan for working through my incredibly stupid, terrible, no-good blogging calendar. Maybe some of these ideas will help you with your own “stupid” ideas:

  1. Embrace the stupidity. Okay, I have this idea that clearly no one will want to read but I have to write something so I’m gonna do it anyway and I’m going to make it sound as dumb as possible. While I work on a new series of collages, I'm going to make 10 “good” ones and 10 “terrible” ones. Giving myself permission to make something stupid takes the pressure off and gets me moving. With enough movement, something good will inevitably happen. For more on this idea, check out the book Make it Mighty Ugly by Kim Werker.

  2. Get away from screens. A lot of the time I need to step away from the computer and seek out some magic. This means doing the same kinds of things that help me overcome anxiety because they also help with creative blocks. I will go for long walks and bike rides and spend as much time outside as possible.

  3. Set a timer. I will write for 30 minutes without stopping to check email, Facebook or Instagram. I will just keep moving my fingers on the keys until something comes out. It will probably be terrible. Then I will take a break and do something from step #2.

  4. Give it space. I like to write rough drafts on Wednesdays and then leave them completely alone until Monday. With all that room to breathe it makes it easier to see what is useful and what isn’t. Also, things that seemed terrible at the time often look a lot better with distance.

  5. Remember that done is better than perfect. And good enough is GREAT if it means that I can check something off my list. I will also remember that this blog, and everything I do, is a work in progress. It’s okay if my output doesn’t match my vision, in fact, it’s a good thing. It means I have somewhere to go from here. I’m not finished. For more, check out this post I wrote on settling for good enough.

  6. Be gentle with myself. Because calling someone, especially myself, names, never helps anyone and is the fastest way to shut down creativity completely.

  7. Follow impulses. I will act on every idea to see if it turns into something, no matter what the critical voice in my head says. I’ve been doing this with my mail art subscriptions. Because I have so many to make each month, I don’t have time to hem and haw and make them perfect. As soon as an idea comes into my head, no matter how ridiculous-seeming, I act on it. You want to write a story about a chicken changing genders? Okay, do it. That’s one is done, what’s next? You feel like illustrating and writing out what you made for dinner last night? Check! A random image of ladies in bathing suit popped into your head? Great! Draw it. The more I do this, the more ideas I have and there’s bound to be a good one in there somewhere. If something is truly terribly I’ll throw it out, but no one has complained so far! Here’s a post I wrote about following impulses. (And here's where you can buy your own mail art subscription.)

In the week between drafting and publishing this post, I’ve already started to feel the resistance and frustration loosen. When I wrote this draft I thought it was awful—five days later it’s not too bad. Little by little, I’ll work my way through the calendar and I know that before long I’ll be excited about my ideas again, with new ones coming in all the time.

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