Dec 8, 2009

The Moody Crafter Gets Out Her Problem-Solving Brain

Artists and other creative types are notorious for being moody. (Okay, so humans in general can be moody, but creative people seem to get the stereotype, for some reason … Probably because they honestly express their feelings in their art or craft. Don’t you love it when honesty kinda backfires? ;)) A couple of people on a mailing list mentioned how crafting can be both their source of positivity — when they do it — and their source of frustration and a reason to get depressed, when they don’t create.

One person said the only way she can escape the cycle is to just work on something, after which her enthusiasm returns and she wants to work on everything!

Me, I tend to get down on myself when I stop creating for a few days, but it doesn’t really start nagging at me until I see other business owners creating and selling their awesome stuff successfully. Then I start to question the value of my own contribution. Why am I even trying to sell my crafts when I can’t even make myself do them consistently? There are plenty of other people out there to fill the public appetite for fun, creative and beautiful things. (Good thing I don’t think this all the time — I would never have bothered even trying to sell my stuff.)

Like my fellow mailing list member, I can only get out of this unproductive cycle by getting off my butt and forcing myself to work on things — although sometimes I don’t start to feel better until I’ve worked my way through several projects. That to-do list doesn’t get any smaller while I’m whinging to myself, after all. ;)

And breaking the cycle is more complicated now that business is involved. Crafting isn’t purely for personal satisfaction any more; it’s also part of my livelihood. (I think this way even though crafting isn’t currently supporting me financially, because I need to take it seriously enough to have it support me someday.)

When I was just crafting for myself, the moodiness could be cured like this:

Negative feelings: Why aren’t you crafting, you slacker?
Me: Look — I am crafting! ::waves knitting needles with partial sweater attached:: I vanquish you, so shut up already!
NF: Noooooooo! ::poof::

But now that I have a business to run, it goes more like this:

Negative feelings: Why aren’t you crafting, you slacker?
Me: Look, I am! Shut up already!
NF: That’s not for selling. That’s someone else’s pattern!
Me: Yeah, but it’s practice!
NF: Why don’t you practice knitting your own patterns?
Me: I will! Once I finish writing one.
NF: See? You can’t even finish that!
Me: DUDE, that takes time. I only have a certain amount of time, and right now I’m trying to be productive by practicing. Okay? Leave me alone!
NF: Excuses, excuses. Excuses won’t get you through THAT! ::points to long to-do list::
Me: Ugh. Now I feel like I should be doing something else. I don’t even want to finish this sweater, now. It’ll take so long, and I have SO MUCH TO DO!!!

Which probably makes me sound like a neurotic freak, but, uh … ::points to artist stereotype:: I’m supposed to be! ;P

Anyway, theoretically, owning my own craft business is supposed to free me from being weighed down by other people’s negativity, not give me an excuse to feel negative about myself. ;) Since the endless to-do list is a reality that can’t be instantly vanquished, though, I have to add another weapon to my arsenal to make the negative vibes shut up.

Solution: Write down the crap I can’t deal with right away, along with suggested ways to handle said crap once I get to it on the list.


Whiny problem: I’m not producing enough every day to stay visible on Etsy/with customers.
Quickly brainstormed ideas that might help:
  • Reward myself for making items and listing them
  • Set up a regular schedule of brainstorming and production
  • Use a theme or themes for regular inspiration
  • Spend more time making crazy items that I love, but that I don’t necessarily know if anyone else will love (this will at least make me produce! And people will probably like it more than I feel they will)

Then I might take the brainstorms and expand them into a series of steps to follow, to keep myself in line — or really, to keep myself from starting to work on something and then going, “Wait, I lost my train of thought/inspiration. What do I do next?” and wandering off. ;)

Potential solution #1 (The Disciplined Solution):
  1. Get a notebook and designate it the production notebook.
  2. In the notebook, list items that can be made in under an hour; put stars beside the ones that sound like the most fun to make.
  3. Gather the materials for these items where I can easily find them, but where they won’t be in the way; place production notebook in the same place.
  4. Every day, make one item off the list, in addition to anything else I might be working on for the business. This can happen at any point if I’m inspired, or if I’m not inspired by a designated time in the day, then at that time, I will sit down and make something off the list.
  5. Write down the materials, colors, and at least two other descriptive words (.e.g, “bright,” “elegant”) that describe each item in my production notebook right away.
  6. Reward myself by letting myself read for 15 minutes for each small item I’ve created that day.
  7. Every two days, gather what I’ve made so far, and photograph it — if I can’t get outside to photograph, I can still photograph against my mini-white-backdrop.
  8. List anything made so far. Use the notes in the production notebook to write item descriptions; spend no more than 15 minutes writing each description (to keep from getting stuck writing and rewriting so much I get tired of it).

If I start to feel twitchy about the first solution I come up with, well, I can come up with another!

Potential solution #2 (The Crazy Artist Solution):
  • Designate a production notebook, as above.
  • Every day, as soon as I wake up, write down the most fun thing I can think of that I can make in under an hour with the materials immediately on hand. (If there are a lot of things immediately on hand and confusion starts to set in, grab four random items and use those.)
  • Write down the items being used in the production notebook.
  • Set a timer for one hour and make something before the timer goes off.
  • Immediately write down three descriptive words inspired by the item.
  • Immediately after this, photograph the item and write a blog post about it, even if the post is one paragraph long with one photo.
  • If one is available, look at the item I produced this way yesterday. Decide if I want to put it into the Etsy shop. If so, list it. If not, no worries; the blog post about it will help keep me visible at least in my customers’ eyes (and will also prove to me that I’m producing and brainstorming).

Then I can use either one of those strategies, or another one I think of later, to try to keep myself producing and visible — and even before I start using the solutions, that problem can stop bothering me and making me feel negative, because now I feel equipped to defeat the evil problem.

I can also use the brainstorm-and-expand technique to set up a plan for dealing with anything: a disorganized craft room, not knowing what products to focus on making, etc. Every problem will need a different solution, but that’s good, in a way — doing the planning forces me to think and be creative.

Which is usually a reinforcing cycle of its own, but in a positive way. ;D

Sooooo … For you intrepid souls who are still with me, what do YOU do to beat down the negative feelings? Not everybody is like me, and I’m sure there are tons of other ways to deal with feeling depressed and uncreative. Go on, share already!
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