Creative activities often are as frustrating as hell when you are in the middle of them. It becomes obvious that nothing in the story or painting is going right. The words are clunky and amateurish, not at all representative of what you mean to say. The story keeps veering off in odd directions, and you have to delete hours' worth of sentences because they have nothing to do with anything. Or the painting looks sloppy and ugly, not in any way like the scene you are trying to represent, or the image you hold in your mind. The more marks you put on it, the worse it looks, and you can't think of how to fix it.
Tonight, for me, it was my painting that was going all wrong. I wrote here recently about starting a new painting, and not blocking it in the way I usually do. Well, now I am really struggling with trying to cover up the white canvas. I can't get the colours right, and have digressed into details before even getting the underlying shades in. Instead of enjoying painting, I feel frustrated and discouraged.
I think many people, when they get to this point, also start to feel negative about themselves and their ability. This is when the critical little voice in the head kicks in with its sarcastic and disparaging cracks. This is the point at which people will throw aside the canvas, or stomp away from the computer, and then do not want to come back to the frustrating experience of that mess of a painting or that botched up story. This is when writers cease to write and painters cease to paint.
Our creative activities, for large stretches of time, fail to live up to the rosy and romantic notions we hold about them. For example, I love to think about painting. I enjoy reading art magazines, and am very interested in other artists' descriptions of their painting process. I enjoy thinking about a scene that I want to paint, and every day I peer at the landscapes surrounding me and think about the colours, interesting contrasting shapes, or the type of composition I would create from a particular vantage point.
Being creative in the mind is easy. It's actually making the thing that's hard. An art teacher I know has a favourite saying. She tells her students, "Go get in trouble."
I think that instruction is particularly apt. As soon as you begin a creative act, you begin to create a problem. The more you work at it, the bigger the problem becomes. So you swallow down the frustration and improvise. You work through the problem bit by bit, improvising and creating and taking chances. Often while doing this, a joyful kind of flow starts to happen. And if you're like me, you eventually end up with something that you never would have imagined to begin with, and that even is halfways decent.
If the process just went along placidly and predictably, well then maybe it wouldn't be all that creative.