Pride and Productivity: Finding Your Drive to Create

I’ve never identified as a creative person. In my mind, a creative person is one who creates simply for the purpose of creating, and I have never been that type of person. I need an external reason to stir the creativity within.

I spent high school shooting for the Yearbook, college shooting for classes, and my first job right after shooting for newspapers. My work was published. People saw my work. Whether it was for a school of 2,400, classes of 20, or a community circulation of 100,000, I had an audience.

Silverado Middle School students work together during the Where Everybody Belongs, or WEB, orientation meant to help incoming sixth-graders transition into middle school with the help of knowledgeable eighth-graders.
Eighth-grader Paige Thompson chases after a balloon during the 2009 “Where Everybody Belongs,” or WEB, orientation at Silverado Middle School in Roseville. She and other eighth-graders served as buddies for younger students and were available to help them throughout the year. (This photo was from my freelancing days after getting laid off from my full-time newspaper job; it wasn’t long after this that I stopped shooting regularly)

It wasn’t until a few years after being laid off from my job at the newspaper (thanks, Great Recession) that I could explain to myself why my camera had largely gone untouched since then. I need my work to be seen to feel compelled to create any. Blogging never filled that need because, let’s face it, blogging is like screaming into the depths of the internet until you gain a real following.

As a full-time teacher, I found a limited outlet — for a judgmental and youthful crowd. Where I could, I integrated my photography, video editing, and writing into units and lessons to make them more personalized and engaging for my students. Sometimes they went over well. Other times, I got openly, but playfully, mocked. 

Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter because I had a reason for creating — an audience with little choice but to look at my work. Did I have to do any of this? No, but I felt my creativity come alive since I knew my work would be seen by more than just me.

About four years ago, after I had been on Instagram for a few years, I thought I’d push myself to do a 365-Day Photography Challenge: one photo every day for a year. I thought that would be a good challenge, give me a reason to work with my camera again, and have it “published” on a regular schedule. I did pretty well with it and made it to September until illness sidelined me, but even then, I didn’t return to the project after I recovered.

Black and white portrait photography of a tattooed woman
From my 365-Challenge. My photographer friend Kayleigh was generous enough to be my subject as I practiced using my flash and tried out different aesthetics. While this was one of my more successful photos throughout the challenge, many more were less successful (or downright boring).

I thought about why I didn’t return to the project and why I wasn’t satisfied with it the way I hoped I would have been. I mean, I was “publishing” it, right? Shouldn’t that have been enough?

Turns out, it wasn’t.

I don’t just need my work to be seen; I need to create it for someone. For me, productivity and creativity are intertwined with wanting to feel pride for a job well done and hearing that from someone else.

While I can do a lot of things just for me, when it comes to producing creative work, Just For Me is not enough. Perhaps I can blame it on Imposter Syndrome and needing people to confirm what I want to believe. Or maybe I got used to gold stars throughout grade school for my work and am now still seeking out those ‘Atta Girls in adulthood.

Or, maybe, that’s just how I am.

It’s not a message that we get in society. We get the message that creative types should want to create for the sake of their art and should be willing to be Starving Artists if they’re that passionate about their work.

But there’s nothing wrong with creating for a reason other than for yourself: for others; for a job; for a paycheck.

What really matters is finding your reason for creating. Creation of any type is beautiful, regardless of the reason behind it. Whether you create for the simple purpose of creating, or, like me, create for someone other than yourself, understanding the why can help you nurture and expand your creativity for your future endeavors.

And that’s something you can always be proud of.

What drives your creativity? How do you get over a creative slump? Comment below!

2 thoughts on “Pride and Productivity: Finding Your Drive to Create

  1. As a periodically creative person, I think this post is extremely wise. It’s really difficult to scream into the void, and I think what kills off the potential careers of the vast, vast majority of creative people is the simple inability to outlast that awful intermediate stage where you’re not a total beginner, you’re finding your voice and producing worthwhile work, and absolutely no one in the world cares. For me, not even my family and friends cared enough to read what I wrote even after it was published, and eventually that burden was too much. I capitulated, as most eventually do, to the sheer weight of not being acknowledged.

    Art is designed for an audience. It can be cathartic and joyous in the creative prospect too, for sure, but art with no one to view it is not a sustainable model. It breaks down almost every artist in every medium eventually. The ones who get past it to success of whatever form are either the ones who keep creating despite that obstacle, or who find at least enough of a small and consistent audience to keep up their drive to create.


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