It’s yet another sultry day, and I slouch against the bed lazily and haul my phone above my face. My fingers are getting numb from all the scrolling. At this point, I don’t even know what I’m really looking at. The monotonous whir of the fan, the lazy buzz of vehicles on the street and the drowsy weather aren’t really helping me get out of this slump.
Today is one of those rare occasions when I have no deadlines, no assignments due, or no ongoing projects to attend to. “Let’s watch a good movie and then sleep through the rest of the noon”, I think to myself. Just as I decide to put my phone away, I instinctively hit the “Refresh” on Instagram once more...and my heart stops for a second. There it is- she has posted again!
A bright, glamorous branding project. I sit up and swipe through the photos in a rush. She has made yet another neat packaging mockup and an effortlessly elegant logo to go with it. The post has hundreds of likes already and a bunch of excited people commenting on her choice of colour, the perfect font she has paired with it, and how she was always consistent with her incredible work. I read the comments and as much as I don’t want to, I reluctantly double-tap on it - because deep within, I can’t help but admire how it has turned out. “How put-together she always seemed, even in class”, I sigh. She seemed to be perennially organized, brimming with ideas, constantly doodling something on her sketchbook. It wasn’t fair.
I would have loved to take a nap, but now, my mind is up and running. I just need to get to work right away. I am already falling behind. Here she is, putting out something new every week, and then there’s me, planning to take a day off. No way. I can’t lose this race.
I drag myself to my desk and pick up a sheet of paper and a pen to ideate.
Wait. Ideate on what?
I scratch my head and think of a project I could begin right away. Nope. Nothing comes to my mind. I open my laptop and search for prompts. Nothing seems interesting. I pick one anyway and decide to create a logo. If she could do it, I could too, right?
I start sketching, my eyes drooping, my pen refusing to move. I am slowly getting frustrated. Why am I not getting ideas? What is going on? My breath starts getting heavier. I can feel the anger rising slowly. I keep striking out whatever I’ve doodled. Such boring ideas. Hers were so cool. How unfair!
It’s been 20 minutes. Not a single doodle has turned out well. “This is it”, I grumble to myself as I crush the paper, slam the laptop shut and get back into bed. The frustration has peaked. I stare at the fan and immediately I can feel all the negativity and self doubt rush back into my head.
“Why did I choose to become a designer if I can’t get ideas instantly? What has happened to my creativity? Should I start reading more books? Maybe take an extra class from Coursera? Or maybe deactivate instagram and focus on working? Yes, that’s it, I should do that first. But if I did that how would I know what she is doing next? I’m sure she’s up to something epic”.
Before I know it, my eyes have shut and I have fallen asleep.
A few days pass by. She hasn't posted anything new yet. I can’t help but feel a bit relieved.
I open the blinds and decide to start working. These past couple of days, I have actually started to work on a project that I found cool. I take out my notebook and start brainstorming. Patiently. The notebook fills with ideas, one at a time, with the next ones following in quick succession. Doodle after doodle, iteration after iteration.
Before I know it, I’m absolutely engrossed in the process. In fifteen minutes, I have pages filled with ideas- quick notes, simple doodles and defined sketches. The best part? I’m still not done. I can’t help but smile to myself as I continue sketching. That sweet feeling of reassurance that “I am meant to be doing this” dawns on me. In fact, I’m surprised at how I am the same person who was ready to quit all of this last week. But I shake off these thoughts and continue.
A couple of hours later, my fingers have gone sore - from the work, not from bouts of Instagram jealousy. But it’s that ache I don’t mind, for I know how long it’s been since I felt this kind of motivation to create. I step back for a moment and look at what I have just made. And I can’t recall the last time I felt so satisfied from within. I take a deep breath and just smile.
An important lesson I have learnt as a creative is that the process of creation is never linear; it has its highs and lows and we need to experience and acknowledge this as a part of the journey. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that being a creative demands constant motivation and thinking. As humans, it isn’t always possible to perform at our best- and the process of creation takes time and patience, repeated efforts and more than anything, a lot of willpower. One unproductive day (or a string of such days, for that matter) doesn’t mean you’ve lost your creativity. Nor does it mean that you are worthless, below average or a misfit.
From my experience of living in this day and age of cut-throat competition, I absolutely know what it feels like to lose whatever little motivation you have when you see other creators’ works, often because they just seem to know exactly what they’re up to. It’s as though they’ve figured it all out. But think about it- how much do we know about what they go through on a daily basis?
Maybe posting online and getting a nod of validation keeps their confidence going. Maybe even they doubt themselves, wondering if people genuinely like their work. Maybe they have found where their interest truly lies and they’ve really got it all sorted indeed. Well, good for them. And lastly, maybe, just maybe, all of that has no relevance to our growth as a creative.
At the end of the day, we are fortunate to be doing what we enjoy the most. If we are true to this discipline, we will pick ourselves back up and keep trying. If we keep at it, we’re blessed with those days when our ideas flow and the pen glides over our sketchbooks- the days we creatives live and die for. And at least on those days we can rest easy knowing that we haven’t chosen design; design has chosen us.