On Times of Creative Discouragement

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

-Salvador Dali

The reason I am so adamant about measuring success only by your own standards, is that it can be so so easy to give up in this intense creative world. Sure, everyone’s standards of success differ – some may consider success simply having fun, others affluently selling their work, and really everything in between. But no matter your measure, if you let fear and the opinions of others seep into your photographic work, you’ll no longer be creating genuine and fulfilling work.

So I say simply, create for you first, and then allow the rest of the world access. Criticism will always hurt, but if you have a strong, positive opinion of what you’ve created, any harshness that comes your way will sting just a bit less.

Even when creating for yourself, the pressure can be monumental. We are our own worth critics and sometimes hold ourselves to impossible standards. But, at least these standards are our own – set for us with, most likely, with good intentions. And with enough of a push, it can be easier to overcome self-doubt than to overcome a drive to please everyone else.

The other day, I made a photo I really really liked. Then I made more photos to go with that photo and in comparison hated them. I showed my boyfriend, he liked the subsequent photos more than the first. I told him they sucked and that the first one is the best photo I’ve ever made…and then I stressed out about photography for the next week.

I kept thinking that I would never replicate the perfection of the image I had come to adore; that I’d never create something I was proud of ever again.

Are these dumb, irrational thoughts? Yes. But I have a feeling I’m not alone in having them from time to time. The problem is that I let them grab ahold of me and keep me down. They came to me at a time where I was stressed about a lot of other things. And so I just didn’t make more photos for a while.

Soon after, I agreed to shoot some photos with a specific deadline, and that pushed me to shoot again. Being with my camera, in my studio space convinced me not only to create this new work, but to reexamine the photos I was so disappointed in.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

– Scott Adams

Having a deadline is only one very specific way to push through discouragement in your work. Each person will have something different that works for them, and that something may continuously change.

The point is, if this is truly what you’re passionate about, the feelings of doubt will pass. If you keep shooting, no matter what you’re shooting, once a day, once a week, or maybe only once a month, you will inevitably make a photo you’re proud of again. As you grow as a photographer, your work will only continue to improve. And as you keep shooting, your ideas around it will develop.

So maybe I’m only preaching to myself, but stop worrying about being better and instead actively work to get there. Just shoot.

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Do you ever experience self-doubt in your photography? What do you do to combat it?

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Tourmaline .

Literally all I care about is photographing toys...and writing about photographing toys.

8 thoughts on “On Times of Creative Discouragement”

  1. YES! Thank you for this post, Jennifer. It really speaks to me, and is something I’ve struggled with a few times over the years, for various reasons. Doubting my talents in comparison to other photographers I admire. Doubting my abilities. Lacking inspiration and thinking that means I’ll never think of a great idea again… The list goes on. It’s encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this, and I 100% agree with your conclusion. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks or will think, and just shoot for yourself! And if you lose that spark, don’t give up, just reevaluate and keep on shooting!

    I also totally empathize with the story about your boyfriend. It always really bums me out to be proud of a photo and have my wife not like it, or have her love a photo I don’t. It’s important to remember that everyone has different tastes and opinions, and while he/she may not love a photo the way you do, that doesn’t mean you SHOULDN’T love it or that either one of you is wrong.

    Excellent post!

    1. I’m so glad you are able to relate. The struggle of creating is hard and never ending. And it’s so important for us not to beat ourselves down – knowing that I still do it all the time!

      Thank you for your kind words and I wish us both the best of luck.

  2. Have you been inside my head again?
    This plays out in there at least once a week, or it used to.
    I’ve learned to walk away from good and bad shots. Treat each new shot as that, new. Yeah, it’s cool to revisit old stuff, and it’s cool to have a list of “good ones” to inspire and strive after, but treating every one as a completely new experience let’s the creativity flow. I’ve agonized over trying to replicate what I thought made a past photo good, only to end up with a disappointing, cheap knock off!
    “Just shoot!” What a wonderful mantra.

    1. It’s comforting to know that we’re all in this together. ‘Just shoot’ has become a mantra for me when I remember to make it one. Trying to recreate that exact perfect moment, as you’ve said can be so futile. Take what you’ve learned, but apply it to whole new ideas and experiments.

      Thank you.

  3. This is a wonderful post Jennifer! You perfectly stated everything that I’ve been feeling lately! I have to constantly remind myself to take the photos I want to take and not compare my style to others. I find it easy to get discouraged, especially if I’m on social media too much.

    Your advice to “Just shoot” is perfect! Sometimes I can talk myself out of taking photos that day because the conditions (or my ideas) aren’t “perfect” but other times I’m able to remind myself to “Just do it” and then I can get started 🙂

    Great post!

    Lynn

    1. Thank you. I am so very good at talking myself out of taking photos. I’ve actually been doing that a lot lately. So just remembering to push forward through those insanely discouraging thoughts can be so very beneficial.

      And I’m right there with you, that when comparing myself to others, while I’d like to get inspired, I tend to get discouraged instead. Each of us have different ways we approach shooting and different ideas we bring to the table – we cannot make a photo in the same way as someone else. I think it’s more important to find our styles than to worry about being as good as someone else. Easier said than done of course.

      Best of luck in your creative process and thank you for your kind words.

  4. This is the ugly see of social media. The constant flow of images, some good, some awful and some so amazing it takes your breath away. Were do we fit in? How to compete? Because competing is what we have to do to find a place in the onslaught of images. Its hard and so very discouraging!

    Keep doing what you’re doing, don’t stop. Especially if it feels good. Listen to other people and more importantly be skeptical of the voices in your own head. I’ve been known to get too attached to some images. I love them not for what they are but more about the moment I took them. I hold them up as an ideal, but in reality they are not the images that speak to the viewer as well.

    So yes, you have to listen to your BF and develop a thicker skin, learn to be objective about your work and look beyond the individual image to something larger. Its hard but experience and time will help.

    Keep up the amazing work Jennifer!

    1. Thank you so much. And you’re so very right. The images I’ve held near and dear the longest are only on their pedestals because of the personal emotions I attach to them, not because of their artistic merit. And what I see in my images can be very different than what the public sees. All I aim is to continue to learn and grow artistically, without allowing myself to get too discouraged along the way.

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