Yesterday I was listening to music in the car, and the song Working Day, written by author Nick Hornby and composed by Ben Folds, started playing. I was immediately taken with the lyrics. It’s a perfect encapsulation of life as an artist, whether you’re writing a novel, creating a song, or drawing in your sketchbook.
I can do this, really, I’m good enough
I’m as good as them, but don’t take it from me
Ask my friends, ask my sister
They all think my stuff is great
Up there with any of them
I just need a break
The narrator continues, going a little deeper into their own ego. They ignore their possible need for a break, instead letting in comparison and competition:
I’m a genius, really, I’m excellent
Better than them, I kick their asses
All of them, even that guy
Who thinks he’s f***in’ cool Gets all of the attention He doesn’t sell shit does he
Then, while the narrator is up on his high-horse, thinking he’s the best there is, he’s catapulted back to Earth with a single criticism of his work:
Some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know
He’s got his own blog
The narrator absorbs this random guy’s opinion as truth and his previous self-confidence crumbles:
I’m a loser
I’m a poser
Yeah really, it’s over
I mean it and I quit
Everything I write is shit
The self-assured tone is completely gone now, replaced with despair, imposter syndrome, and extreme self-doubt. The song finishes:
It’s a working day
It’s a working day
The Cycle of Creativity
On first pass, this song may seem depressing. Overall, it’s about the ongoing cycle through confidence and self-doubt that is a normal part of an artist’s life. We will forever be cycling between states of enlightened creation and rock-bottom urges to quit, and everything in between.
There will never be a point where despair, imposter syndrome, and self-doubt are not possible. There will never be a time when jealousy, competition, and comparison won’t be lurking in the back of our minds. There will never be a time when we don’t have fleeting (or maybe more serious) considerations of just giving up. It’s a cycle, and we’re constantly going round and round, up and down.
But to me, this concept of a creative cycle isn’t sad, it’s comforting. Because a cycle is continuous—it never fully stops in one place. We will never be completely and permanently stuck in the misery of self-doubt—we will move through it. Sometimes slower than we would prefer, but we are always moving in this cycle.
Remembering that this is the cycle of creativity, and these feelings are normal can save us from spending more time at the bottom of the cycle than we have to. The moments of creative block and self-doubt will come yes, but because we know the low times will come, we can expect and accept them when they do.
We can say to ourselves, “Oh yes, this is when I get stuck”, and continue on. We can stop being so surprised and stressed and ashamed when we get blocked or knocked down. We accept where we are now, knowing the next part of the cycle is just around the bend.
This mindset can also help us be more aware and present in the times when we’re at the top of the creative cycle. We can more easily recognize and experience those amazing moments when everything clicks together and the art just flows out of us. We know that this too, is part of the cycle and it won’t last forever. We can be present in it, enjoy it, and feel it as it is now, knowing that although this feeling will fade, it will always come back around again.
A artist’s life is full of high moments and low moments. That’s just the way the creative cycle works. Sometimes we’ll cycle through over the course of days, weeks, or years, and sometimes the whole cycle happens in one day.
It’s all normal, and it’s proof that you’re pushing yourself, being creative, and making art.
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