I recently watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she described how people frequently approach creativity with either a martyr or trickster mindset. The martyr is someone who believes that they must suffer for their art and for the creative process. The strongest indicator of someone with this mindset is that the closest adjective to describe their creative process is frustration. Frustration at the words that hang just out of reach, at the blank page, at the deletion of hundreds of words that you spent an entire morning writing, the pen you write with (as it must be the pens fault for the lack of words) or even your computer screen.
The worst part of acting the martyr is that what actually helps fuel creativity can actually hinder the process. You experience the buzz that comes from creating ideas and content, but when the ideas dry up or become stuck in a no man’s land somewhere in your mind it becomes easier to get caught up in a negative spiral. You are quick to criticise and pass judgement on your own abilities. Martyrdom results in your ideas becoming stuck in the mud, so a lot of the fun is lost. So why do it at all?
But there is another way, Gilbert asserts and this is to view inspiration and creativity as though it were a trickster. Whilst the martyr wants you to self-flagellate for your creativity, the trickster, on the other hand, wants you to play and specifically dance. Dancing in this context is unless you prefer doing it alone, a two-way process and importantly it’s meant to be fun!
Gilbert believes that the trickster is a bit of a shady character too, dropping by for a matter of moments before exiting through the backstage door, or hiding just out of view before pouncing (probably when you are in the middle of doing something else). Viewing the creative process in this way opens your mind to the fact that the way you are thinking shouldn’t be a burden or at its worst painful.
That is partly why I created some metaphorical gremlins to describe a part of my creative thinking. Although at times it’s as though I am training a group of unruly puppies. At times they are the most frustrating things in the world; they pee and crap everywhere, they chew up important stuff and even at their most basic they can annoy the hell out of me. But on the other hand, like puppies my gremlins can sit patiently, coax me along, encourage even providing support and purpose.
My gremlins have to a large extent kept leading me down the martyr route for many years. But working through the careers course, discovering and meeting other people with a similar mindset has forced me to realise that that road sucks, and I need to head in a new direction. This isn’t about turning back or fighting against the gremlins, far from it, it’s about creating a new path where the gremlins and I work together.