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  • Writer's pictureHannah Choi

How to Embrace the Ebb and Flow of Creative Motivation

Updated: Apr 4

Today I’m exploring a topic close to many creators' hearts: creative motivation or lack thereof. Pressure to create, whether it’s simply perceived or real, can both motivate and stop us in our tracks. At BonnaH Co, we believe that it’s perfectly okay to not always feel inspired to create. Your creative practice is yours and you get to choose how you do it. Although, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of choice about whether we want to create or not. If we sell items we’ve made as income to support ourselves or our families or if we’ve committed to making something as a gift or as volunteer work, we need to muster up that motivation from somewhere. In today’s post, I’ll take a look at where the pressure to create comes from, shifting our mindset to a more helpful one, and how to make it through those times when you just don’t wanna do it. 

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The Myth of Constant Productivity

In the age of social media, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing our creative journeys to the seemingly endless stream of flawless projects showcased online. Platforms like Instagram often portray a polished narrative of constant productivity, where finished pieces magically materialize in mere seconds. I recently chose to unfollow a sewist that I admire because I had noticed that their two-outfits-a-week standard was one that I would never be able to attain. It’s also a standard I’d never want to achieve, and I somehow found myself being self-critical for not even being able to sew two outfits in a year sometimes. I'm aware that the truth behind their picture-perfect Instagram posts and outfits probably involves sacrificing something I'm not prepared to sacrifice in order to find the necessary time and energy. They may even regret setting that standard for themselves! Who knows the story behind it all? Regardless, I still found it hard to separate their situation from mine. We all know that crafting, sewing, embroidering are all labor-intensive processes that demand time, patience, and dedication and many Instagram posts make it all look too easy. It’s important to keep your own values in mind when making decisions about your productivity.

I believe there is an unspoken but very direct message that in the United States your value is determined by your productivity. I completely disagree with this and, yet, I often find myself falling for it. If there’s one thing we choose to protect from this potentially toxic message, let it be something that nourishes us. And if that thing is creating beautiful handmade items, work hard to separate your value from how many of those items you make in a week or a year. Okay, I’ll hop off my soapbox now, but I do hope you’re able to find a happy, judgment-free place where you feel good about how much you create (or don’t!).

9 images from instagram showing embroidery, mending, clothing
Our Top Nine Instagram Posts of 2023

Bonnie, who is naturally talented in photography (among many other things!), manages our social media posts and works hard to make it look nice and also maintain her sanity! Our Instagram pictures represent what we’re up to and we try to keep them lighthearted, fun, and realistic. We’ve learned so much about our own values through our experiments with social media. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve arrived at a place that works for us. 

Creativity as a Practice

One thing we can do to support ourselves in this journey to that happy, judgment-free place is having a crucial shift in mindset. Recognizing creativity as a practice rather than a pursuit of perfection. Like any skill - driving, listening, typing, cleaning - creativity requires nurturing and refinement over time. It's not about churning out flawless masterpieces, but rather about embracing the journey - exploring, experimenting, and growing as a creative person. Let's give ourselves the grace to evolve and improve gradually. 

We love the phrase “embrace the suck”, which we first heard from one of our favorite creatives, Lisa Congdon. I learned in my research that the phrase was coined by Retired U.S. Army Reserve Col. Austin Bay in his book of the same title. We recognize that any military training is likely more challenging than learning embroidery or any other craft, but the sentiment remains the same: you gotta get through the tough stuff to find the other side. The tough stuff can slow us down, especially when we’re surrounded by these messages that we have to make a lot of stuff and be perfect at it, too! We encourage you to work on your mindset and accept that things are hard when we first do them but everything gets easier with practice.

There are a few things we can do to help ourselves change our mindset. One of the best practices I know of, and I’ve seen this work with myself and my executive function coaching clients, is to view anything new that we’re doing as an experiment. Make predictions, do your research, observe, take notes, reflect, and look for change and progress. It can be hard to see that we’re actually getting better at stuff. Take pictures of your work and notice how it changes over time. Write down what you learned and use it for next time. 

Navigating Periods of Low Creative Motivation

Even with a healthy mindset about our own productivity, there are bound to be moments when the spark of inspiration still feels elusive. Whether it's due to external pressures, personal circumstances, or simply a need for mental rest, experiencing dips in motivation is entirely natural. The key lies in honoring these ebbs and flows rather than succumbing to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. It's okay to step away from the sewing machine or embroidery hoop when the creative well runs dry. Taking breaks and allowing oneself the freedom to recharge can often reignite the creative fire in unexpected ways.

a field of lavender, an woman sleeping with a linen eye pillow on her face, lavender themed embroidery

If your lack of motivation is due to being afraid or unsure of how to get started, there are a few actions you can take to ease your way into a project. It can be easy to get tripped up over wanting things to be perfect. I love James Clear’s thoughts on this from this article, The Power of Imperfect Starts. If we wait for things to be perfect, we will never start. Yeah, what we create at first might suck, you know, embrace it, and see where you can go with it. I struggle with this a lot and two things that really help is starting small and asking for help. I am working on an embroidery project that is not my usual style and way out of my wheelhouse as far as ability. At first, I was paralyzed and couldn’t even start because I believed that I wouldn’t be able to make it perfect. Bonnie convinced me to dive in and just stitch part of it with just one strand of embroidery floss so that I wouldn’t even be making that much of a commitment. I was able to do this and finally got going. But, then I got to a part where I wasn’t sure what to do, so I put it down again. I realized that I needed to get help. Luckily, Bonnie knew exactly what to do and guided me right through. As of publishing this post, I’m stuck again at a tricky part, so I need to get her help again!

Sometimes we lose motivation simply due to boredom or a desire for novelty. Maybe you've only ever sewn quilts and you're curious about making garments. Or perhaps your friend's wild embroidery style is calling your name after years of counted cross-stitch projects. There are tons of podcasts out there that may spark an interest in something new. Check out your local library for classes, books, and inspiration. Our library provides access to Creativebug, so check to see if yours does, too! You can learn pretty much any craft from well-made video tutorials. In fact, Creativebug is where we discovered Rebecca Ringquist and her work inspired us to expand our own embroidery practices.

Creative Obligations vs. Personal Choice

Commissioned projects, gifts, or work or volunteer-related tasks may require us to create even when motivation wanes. In these situations, it's essential to strike a balance between honoring these commitments we’ve made and preserving our mental health. Motivation challenges are common in my executive function coaching clients. They’re challenges that are natural for everyone at times. Taking some time to reorient ourselves to why can help us find an internal drive to create. Whatever the reason you create, remind yourself why you’re doing it. If you can’t come up with a good answer, it may be time to reconsider if it’s worth doing anymore. 

Setting realistic expectations and boundaries with the people you’ve committed to (and to yourself!) is really important. Give yourself some extra time by starting sooner than you think you’ll need to, when possible. In fact, strengthening your time management skills can really help when battling motivation. They're useful for planning out big projects and helping us figure out how much time we'll need for projects.

HALT strategy, hungry, angry, lonely, tired

Another helpful strategy is to notice when you’re most likely to want to create. Are you a morning person or do afternoons work better for you? Take breaks and check in with yourself while you’re working or before you start. Try a strategy called HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, Tired. If you’re any of those things, address them first before attempting to get going on your crafting session.

The Importance of Self-Care

Checking in with yourself and paying attention to your self-care is something you’ll want to do, regardless of your motivation levels. It is central to embracing and riding that creative ebb and flow. Even when we’re fulfilling obligations, creativity can serve as a source of joy, fulfillment, and rejuvenation. It’s worth the effort to make sure it’s not just another item on our endless to-do list. Sometimes that effort might be as simple as making the crafting experience easier and other times that effort will mean reflecting on what’s going on and trying to figure out the right answer. Prioritizing mental well-being means listening to our inner rhythms and honoring our needs.

embroidery supplies, embroidery project Love Letters, cup of coffee

If you’ve done what you can to make things easier for yourself but are still noticing that your creative practice, regardless of the reason why you do it, is having a detrimental impact on your mental or physical health, it may be time to change your situation or seek professional help from a therapist. No craft is worth sacrificing your mind or body, so find help if you are concerned.

The Takeaway

Creativity is a practice, not a performance. It's about embracing those wonky stitches (so many wonky stitches in my work!), wonky lines, and wonky ideas with open arms. After all, some of the best projects start with a little mess and a lot of heart. When you’re feeling stuck or just unmotivated, try not to take it too hard. A deep breath, a well-thought out plan of attack, or maybe just some good chocolate can make a huge difference. And don’t forget to reach out for help—whether it's from a friend, a fellow crafter, or a BonnaH Co YouTube video (haha, I just had to throw that plug in there!). Remember that your worth as a creator isn't measured by the number of projects you complete. It’s measured by what you get out of it and how you feel about yourself when you’re finally done with that project (or when you decide to move on and choose another project!). 

What About You?

Have you struggled with motivation before? What gets you through those tough times? Do you have any tools or strategies that work for you? We'd love to hear from you! Drop us a comment below with your thoughts or join the conversation on our Instagram feed. And don't forget to subscribe to our blog for more inspiration and helpful tips. We love building community and want you to be a part of ours!

Happy crafting!

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