One of the cleverest smokescreens in writing is creative apathy.
This is the point with a project where you suddenly get bored or lose interest in your writing. It tends to crop up at key stages in your writing project, like midway through or even just shy of the end.
When you hit it, you’ll start thinking maybe you’re just not that interested in this project and maybe it’s time to move on to something else.
But is that your highest truth?
I call creative apathy a smokescreen because it tricks you into thinking you’ve lost interest. It obscures the fact that you’ve encountered resistance to your project. It sends you off on a tangent, looking for other projects, wondering why you’ve lost interest, thinking maybe you never should have picked the project in the first place.
In my experience working with writers this creative apathy usually comes up as a response to either fear or creative burnout. The latter, creative burnout, comes about from pushing ourselves too hard or too long and becoming creatively exhausted. The former, fear, happens when we bump up against the places in our writing where we feel uncomfortable.
This fear could be as simple as being afraid to do the hard work, not knowing what comes next, or not knowing how to solve a story problem. It can be triggered by not having enough information about how to proceed with a task.
The fear can also arise from beliefs about your ability and talent, like a belief you should already know exactly how to do something before you even try.
I find that many, many writers hold this idea that writing should come naturally. That it should be easy, and that if it isn’t, it is a matter of a lack of talent or ability.
Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success*, suggests that this belief demonstrates a “fixed mindset” – that we have everything we are capable of having from birth, that we cannot improve or increase our skills, etc. She contrasts this with a “growth mindset”, which says that we are capable of more if we focus on learning and applying ourselves.
I was struck by this comment she made:
“People are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it. Think of a time you were enjoying something – doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”
What if the next time you feel bored with a project, you consider the possibility that fear is coming up and sending you into a fixed mindset place – the very opposite of creativity – and instead choose to believe that you are capable of solving whatever problem you’re avoiding, even if it means getting help, brainstorming longer, or doing research to help you tackle it?
In other words, what if you adopted a perspective that said, “I can do this, somehow, even if I can’t see how yet“?
Perhaps it helps to also hold the belief that if you conceived of the project, you are also capable of seeing it through.
Do you fall for creative apathy or forge through it? What’s your approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
You may also be interested in: