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5 Nov 2021

Moving past creative frustration

By Stephanie Christie

Creative Development & Creative Coach at Creative Waikato 

It’s pretty common for people to get frustrated with their current creative work. It can happen when we feel stuck on a particular piece of work, or we can’t work out how to make it come to life. Given that the creative state is a place that a lot of us go to for our sense of connection with ourselves, this frustration can be extremely challenging.

I want to let you know: You can develop strategies that can help with this. You may not be able to banish frustration forever, but you can move through this state faster, so you can get back to enjoying your work again.

Here are a couple of things that you can try out, next time you feel frustrated with your creative work…

Firstly, think about the balance of pressure and release that you’re using in your approach. Sometimes when people are stuck, they intensify the focus on the work, attempting to smash through whatever the problem is. This can cause people to feel more unhappy and even hate what they’re making.

On the other hand, people may walk away from the work, telling themselves that they’re going to leave it to gestate. Unfortunately, although the discomfort stops in the short term, it’s usually be replaced by anxiety around engaging with the work again.

It’s more effective to intentionally alternate between these states, applying both focused pressure and time away from the work. You need both, and in this way you can avoid the pitfalls of either.

Secondly, you can talk or write as a way to process what’s going on. If you prefer talking to another person, choose that person carefully. (You can let them know that you want their help to think through your problem, and that you’d like them to listen, ask questions, and not give advice unless you ask for it.)

If you prefer writing or journaling, you can write 3 or 4 questions at the top of pieces of paper, and then answer them. Questions might include: What’s different about this project? What expectations am I putting on myself? What problems do I need to solve to move forward?

The great thing about talking and writing is that we get bored of repeating ourselves. This forces us to move past the thoughts that circle in our heads, into new ideas and insights. And these often contain the seeds of a solution.

There may be no way to avoid occasionally being frustrated with your creative work. But you can help yourself to take the pressure off, stay engaged, and look more deeply into what’s happening. And before too long, with luck, you’ll be back in the state of creative flow.

Try not to remove something just because it looks difficult or boring. If it’s difficult, add in “Get help from….”, or break the chunks down even more. If it’s boring, add in “Make a plan for how to make this task doable.”

Choose one thing off the list per day, and do it.

You may want to schedule in this time. Evenings are probably okay, because the activities aren’t going to be that creative in themselves, so may not require your best and brightest energy. Choose whatever on the list speaks to you the most at the time. Whatever you do is going to be more than you would have done otherwise, and this allows for variation day to day.

Reward yourself!

Plan a small reward to give yourself after each time you spend time on this. This reward isn’t dependent on whether you got to an outcome or not; it’s about showing up for your creative life and putting the time in. If you find long-term rewards motivating, you could set a goal with a suitable reward attached. Star charts for life!

This process can be adapted in any way that suits you. You can also use this process when you’re deep in a creative project and just want to ignore everything else. It’s all about making a little time and giving yourself a structure, so that you can work on the non-creative aspects of your creative life. Even in limbo, you can move forward with your creative life. You’ll feel better for it…


Stephanie is available for free creative coaching sessions through Creative Waikato. To book yours – contact stephanie@creativewaikato.co.nz