Creative guilt is a surprisingly common phenomenon. You’ve probably experienced it, and if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably experienced it more than once. Perhaps we can call it part of the human condition for people engaged in creative works.
It happens like this: At some point, you hit a lull in your projects. It could be the result of any number of reasons. Maybe the creativity just stopped flowing, perhaps life tragedies left you feeling uninspired, or maybe it’s just life itself getting in the way with too much work, too many responsibilities, and not enough time to tend to those projects that hold your heart.
Whatever the case may be, there was probably a time when you were fully immersed in those creative projects. Perhaps they were so all consuming that you thought about them constantly, even when you were stuck at work and unable to do the project that was calling out to you. And then, that suddenly stopped. With it, your productivity on your creative projects ground to a halt.
And then those projects sat, shelved. Maybe for a few days, maybe a few weeks, maybe for months on end.
And then? Eventually the circle turns around back to the beginning. The time comes when you do have the opportunity and the desire to take up those creative projects that have been shelved.
That’s when the guilt kicks in. It’s a sense of guilt that here this project has sat for however long, gathering dust, when we probably could have been making some strides on it, no matter how small. For some of us, the guilt of not working on a project becomes so large that you actively start avoiding the project to avoid the guilt associated with it.
That’s when it turns into a nightmare of a vicious cycle. The longer your creative pursuits sit abandoned, the more the guilt for not working on them builds, and that leaves you less and less motivated to pick up where you left off.
What’s the fix here? What advice can we give to a photographer who is stuck in this situation? The best advice I have is to let go of that guilt. And if you’re wondering how, exactly, to let go of that guilt, the first step is in recognizing that the guilt has absolutely no purpose. It is not a motivator—only a demotivator. There is, in fact, no reason to feel guilty for taking a break from our creative pursuits, no matter how extended that break may be. Sometimes we just need to step away, recharge, and take whatever time it takes to get our heads back in the game.
It may also help you to move beyond the guilt of not creating by also recognizing the reasons why these projects have sat abandoned. As I said, maybe life got in the way, or maybe things happened that took you out of the right frame of mind. There can be any number of reasons. Some people might call this “making excuses,” but to be quite frank, whatever the reasons are, they’re all valid. Lulls in creative projects happen to the best of us.
So if guilt for not working on your projects has you avoiding those projects, then maybe it’s time to set that guilt aside and get back to work. Focus on the future because you and I both know that once the creativity starts flowing again, it’ll be like you never stopped.