Creative Counselling: Creative Wounds
In this month’s Creative Counselling, Marie Bruce looks and creativity and creative wounds
The modern world is full of creative opportunity and we are living in a time when creators have more control than ever before. The lockdowns we have endured in recent months have led to a vast increase in submissions being made to publishers, literary agents and record companies as people finally find the time to dust off their dreams and indulge their creative tendencies.
Add to this the fact that there are now so many ways to just do-it-yourself, and lockdown life has generated a society of creative people who are suddenly writing books, starting blogs, creating YouTube channels or setting up recording studios in spare bedrooms. For a time, the therapeutic concept of Free Play was in charge and people embraced it with gusto.
A creative life is something lots of people want. They sit in their office dreaming of writing a novel and working from home as a full time writer. They want to become a successful influencer and glean all the free products and perks that entails. They want to pen heart-wrenching songs based on their own life inspired by the likes of Taylor Swift and her tear-stained guitar. And for some people, myself included, the dream of a successful creative life comes true.
However, living a creative life means that you must learn to take the bitter with the sweet, because disappointment and rejection are an unavoidable aspect of the job. In any industry there is always a degree of competitiveness, professional envy, personal jealousy and negativity. The Arts are no exception to this rule and the more successful you become, the more negativity you will have to deal with. When your name becomes known, in any field, in any genre, you will inevitably become something of a target for those disgruntled individuals who think they deserve it more than you do. They may try to tear you down in order to feel that they are levelling up with you.
This can lead to what is known as creative wounding, and such wounds are slow to heal. There are a myriad of ways in which a creative wound can be inflicted. Rejection, sabotage, slander, people stealing your ideas and passing them off as their own, losing a creative contract that you’ve had for a number of years without any warning, plagiarism of your work, a scathing review and so on.
What is creative wounding and how does it affect us?
No-one is immune to the pain of creative wounding, no matter how successful or celebrated they might be. Charles Dickens suffered a creative wound when his novel Martin Chuzzlewit didn’t sell as many copies as he was used to. Kylie Minogue experienced a similar wound when her album Impossible Princess didn’t do as well as expected. More recently, musician Taylor Swift was so visibly creatively wounded by a spat with fellow contemporary icons Kim Kardashian and Kanye West that she felt the need to withdraw from public life for a whole year.
Creative wounds are very real. They inflict pain deep in the psyche and can be life-altering. This is because artists and creatives identify themselves so closely with their work that if the work is rejected, doesn’t sell, has bad reviews or if the work suddenly dries up completely, it can feel like a personal attack. Losing an agent, a publisher, a platform and the income that goes with it can be like losing a limb. It really can be that painful, and it takes time to heal from such an injury.
Another way you can suffer from a creative wound is when someone close steals your thunder. The wedding you’ve been planning for months is suddenly upstaged by your sister’s glittering engagement party. Your best friend has a baby before you do, giving it the name you told her you would give your own child. While you’re busy saving up the fees to study for a Masters or PhD, your boyfriend suddenly announces that he’s going to do one through his workplace, which won’t cost him a penny. These are all examples of how a creative wound can be inflicted by a thunder-thief, whether the other party is aware of it or not. Such wounds run deep and life can often pour salt in them when you least expect it, adding to the pain.
So how do you even begin to unpack this and start the healing process? Well, as with most hidden injuries, the first step is to recognise it. Feel the pain and name it for what it is: a creative wound. Acknowledge that you have been wounded and treat yourself gently. Know that you can come back from this, that you can heal and that your creative energy will come back to you when you begin to take steps towards closing the wound. This might mean that you take some time away from your creative outlet and disappear for a while, just like Taylor Swift did. Take time out for yourself. Keep a low profile – stay off social media if it helps. Don’t torture yourself by ruminating on the missed opportunity or the lost contract or the rejection. There will be other opportunities for you, and you can come back even stronger, just like Kylie did with Spinning Around.
Another step towards healing a creative wound is to put the spark of wonder back into your creativity again. When creativity is also your means of making a living it can sometimes lose its magic, as the pressure to generate enough income to pay the bills becomes a priority and takes the fun out of it. A creative life should be fun, joyful, vibrant and dynamic. Forget agents, publishers, galleries, editors, producers, music labels and the like for the time being. Create something just for fun. Go into it gently, with no pressure. See what you can come up with when you enjoy the process once again, without a deadline looming, without looking over your shoulder watching out for a rival to stab you in the back, or a pal to steal your thunder. Just create.
A little bit, every day. Art for Art’s own sake. Just like the Bohemians.
Finally, learn to play your cards much closer to your chest. If you don’t mention what project you’re working on, or what your plans are, no-one else can steal your thunder, steal your ideas, or sabotage your work. If you don’t share details of your professional contacts, no-one else can hang on your coat tails, piggyback on your success or pitch for the same contract.
A creative life is lived creatively. Creative wounds are slow to heal, but they do heal. In the meantime you can learn from the experience, deploy a new creative daily routine and enjoy your talents, with no expectation, no rejection, and absolutely no competition. Trust in your talent and in the Universe – when the time is right, a golden opportunity will come your way once more and you will be ready for it when it does. Most of all, enjoy the creative process because each thing that you create is helping to heal that old wound and prevent it from festering. Until next month,
Marie Bruce x
About the author:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist, Cruse Bereavement Counsellor and best-selling self-help author. She specialises in grief and loss counselling, PTSD and military counselling, and life coaching.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK.