GUYS! Guys. Guuuuuuys. It's happening again, guys. Someone exchanged the universe that I happily grew up in for a universe where everything is basically a dumpster fire. And dumpster fires make it really, really hard to stay creative, you know what I mean? Anyone else been there?
*Sits down to write*
BAM! Child soldiers in Africa!
*Tries to edit*
POW! Russian collusion!
*Pulls out a coloring book*
WHAP! Literally everything on Twitter!
*Hides in a closet*
ZING! THESE CLOTHES AREN'T FAIR TRADE!
*Slowly withers away, despondent, with no creative outlet*
First of all, PS: I KNOW ALL OF THESE ARE VERY SERIOUS THINGS, and not at all comparable to comic-book sound effects. But, here's the thing, I just can't write serious things all the serious time so seriously. My emotional capacity will just fritz. If I think about any one of the many, many dumpster fire flames in the world without either some detachment and/or humor, I'll just start crying, and there's a halfway decent chance I'll never stop.
And if I'm crying like a baby, no writing gets done. No art gets done -- in a time when we really, really need to keep making art.
Art is not for happy times, people. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe an artist needs to be WOUNDED or DESPAIRING to make great art. I don't believe your discipline should be subject to your emotional whims. But it is in the darkest of times that the light of art has the most power, and is in fact most desperately needed.
National Novel Writing Month, or "NaNoWriMo" to those in the know, is a grand scale writing project, a community-based motivational exercise to get writers writing. According to NaNoWriMo, "The world needs your novel." I love that. That statement is a deep, beautiful, wonderful, desperate truth -- the world needs your story. The world needs your art! The world needs you to keep going, if only to inspire a little bit more hope and joy in a time that is so wanting for hope and joy. Please don't give up.
If you're thinking, yes, but how? to this frantic plea, you're not alone. I've thought this myself more than once, especially now that NaNoWriMo has begun in earnest (sign up here if you haven't yet!). How on earth can I possibly write upwards of two thousand words per day, for a whole month, when every morning it seems like there's a new disaster, villain, or tragedy? How do I find discipline, let alone inspiration, to create anything, when I just feel so...crappy?
To be honest, I'm not totally sure. If you figure it out, please let me know. In the meantime, here are just a few strategies that have helped keep me going:
1. Remember: YOUR art matters! Even Lin-Manuel Miranda started somewhere, folks. One of the sneakiest, most pernicious lies that gets around in times like this is Why should I bother? You think your voice doesn't matter just because you don't have a platform (yet)?! FALSE! Your voice is as unique as your own DNA, and you have something to create that NO ONE ELSE CAN CREATE. If you don't make this thing, no one will. It simply won't get made. Don't let that happen! There are piles and piles of meaningful, beautiful, powerful pieces of art that will only exist if you make them. This is up to you, and you alone. Don't listen to the vampire that says who will care about this? because if YOU care about it, I guaranTEE there are other people in the world who will, too. And they need to hear from you. THEY NEED YOUR ART. Write this statement on your face or forearm, and read it every time you have that inkling of doubt: My art matters. Repeat out loud as often as necessary. Your art matters.
2. Use Art To #Resist. Art is a viable and powerful form of resistance. There's a reason artists are consistently attacked by dictators and oppressive regimes throughout history: their resistance makes a difference, and their leaders know it. Your resistance can make a difference, too. So if you're feeling overwhelmed by all the crap, use that frustration. Ball it up into a smokey cloud of artistic rage, and then mold and chew and shape it into something fabulous. Let your barbaric yawp cry out into the abyss; barbaric yawps can get a lot of stuff done.
3. Make a habit of disconnect. There's plenty of research out there showing that social media, by its very nature, can massively add to our levels of stress and anxiety. So there's that. But, let's be honest, it's getting worse. These days, going online all but guarantees an elevated heart rate thanks to a barrage of terrifying headlines, nasty comments, and fury-inducing tweets. These days, it's more important than ever to build disconnect into your schedule. Turn your internet off for a few hours every day. Don't be following the news like it's some kind of sadistic ticker tape; look away for a while. Yes, it's important that we stay present and engaged with culture; I believe we have a responsibility to know what's going on in our community and government. But no one, and I mean no one, is getting some kind of special benefit by you checking your apps every five minutes. In fact, if you render yourself useless by obsessively checking stressful news updates, no matter how pure your intentions are, you're doing the world a disservice. You're cutting your own effectiveness off at the knees. Your healthy, low-stress self will make better art and a bigger difference than the you who is a puddly mess of anxiety, so take care of yourself. The news will still be there after you hit your word count.
4. Don't Poop on Peoples' Happiness. If you see someone online, or you hear one of your friends in person, say how excited they are for this upcoming thing, and that thing is something you deem to be not cool, or not really great art, or just not as awesome as this other thing, maaaaaybe keep that to yourself. Don't be a fartface. Don't laugh at them, or cynically roll your eyes, or -- worst of all -- point out why you don't like this thing they love, why actually it's super lame and you are so much cooler and smarter for recognizing that. Let them have their happiness! Let them squeal with excitement! Maybe even cheer on their happiness, because guess what? Happiness is contagious. If you help someone else grow it, it might eventually find it's way back to you. We have enough terrible things in the world without you adding your pointless cynicism to the mix. Maybe cut back on the cynicism a little bit in general. What would you be happy about, if you knew that no one would make fun of you? Be happy about that!
5. Find Things to be Happy About! While we're here, let's focus on some happiness. Joy is a practice, my friends; optimism can be learned. Remember, optimism is not about sticking your head in the sand and ignoring everything bad in the world. Nope. Optimism is courageously choosing things to be happy about in the midst of all that bad stuff. Optimism is finding and enjoying things you love, because things you love are what feed you and feed your art. This goes back to the disconnect thing: You're not helping anyone by not being happy. Finding things to delight in and enjoy, even if it's just the cast of the new live-action Lion King, is essential for your overall health, and your contribution to the world is going to be better for it. So find ways to be happy. That being said: depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are very real, and if you find yourself dealing with one or more of those, of course this process is going to be a lot more difficult. That's not your fault! Remember, you don't have to do this alone. If you haven't already, please reach out and get yourself some support.
6. Don't Try To Do This Alone. Whether you're doing NaNoWriMo, writing a screenplay, sculpting the next David or scrapbooking your way through the holidays, no one should do art all alone, all the time. Sure, lot of art (and writing especially) lends itself to a lifestyle of isolation. We're a bunch of introverts trying to tell stories without making eye contact, and I get that. But even the most introverted among us needs a friend to help carry them through. You need support; you need people to tell you that you can do this and your work is awesome! Because if you're sitting all by yourself in a dark little corner, it's easy to forget that. If you're doing NaNoWrimo, take advantage of your area's events. Or go find like-minded artists and drink margaritas while you talk about your favorite movie (just remember #4). Or go to a gallery opening with your buddies, or have a cheesy slumber party and make dream boards, or go to a coffee shop and just write together. Really, whatever it is, find a way to connect with artist friends -- because they're the ones who will help you get through this. They will be the people who 'get it' when your non-artist friends and family don't. They will be the people who will motivate you to keep working, because we all have a little of that pack mentality -- so make sure you build a good pack. If you're not sure how to start, giving is always a good first step. Build up your fellow artists. Find friends by encouraging other writers the way you would want to be encouraged. Soon, you'll find the effects become reciprocal.
Art has the power to shift culture, to give hope, to shatter the status quo, to comfort the disturbed and disturb the too-comfortable. Art has the potential to move history, and your art is no exception. Don't let the current cloud of culture fog your vision; don't succumb to the whispers that you can't or shouldn't do this. You can and you should. Don't give up.
The world needs your story.