Being an artist can be extremely demoralising. Each day you have to battle snarky comments from other people, problems linked to a lack of money, or your own destructive insecurities. Some days, it gets very tiring. Some days you might think like quitting it all.
I have thought about quitting writing many times. Once, as a teenager, I got an awful critique from a teacher that made me quit writing for months. These days, I have moments where I wonder if my life would be easier if I just quit art and find happiness elsewhere.
If you feel at the point where you are going to throw everything away, where you just can’t do it anymore, don’t make any big decision immediately! Instead, go through the following process, and decide afterwards.
First Step: Take a Break!
It’s easier said than done, but if you feel so overwhelmed that you are fantasying about quitting, that means that you desperately need a break. And I’m not just talking about a break from art. I mean a break from everything! From your job if you have one. From anything that makes you think about your art (and that includes social media). And from any frustration that might have cropped up at home.
You basically need to take a break from your life and disappear from the surface of the earth for a little while. Call it your retreat, call it your holiday, whatever you want. Just go.
Of course I am aware that you might not be able to afford a “real” holiday. You don’t need to! You don’t have to go somewhere luxurious if you can’t afford it, budget options are possible too! When I felt close to quitting a couple of years ago, I went to a new city and booked a hostel, because I was a broke theatre usher and couldn’t afford a real hotel. It cost me very little and was totally worth it!
If you have issues getting off work, or if your family is being difficult, remind yourself that you NEED this. It’s not a luxury, it’s not selfish, it’s for the benefit of your career. Plenty of people (not just artists) go on a retreat. You deserve one too.
During that break, get as much rest as you can. If you can only afford to be away for a weekend, focus on sleeping, eating right and chilling. If you can do a week, it’s even better!
Second Step: Three Sheets
Now you are on your retreat, away from everyone and everything. It’s the perfect time to start the “Three Sheets” process. To do this, you need three sheets of paper (A4 format is best) and a pen. That’s it!
Word of advice: it’s very important that you take some time to do this, and it’s VERY important that you do this in writing. If you try to do it in your mind, it’s not going to have a lasting impact, and you might find yourself in the same overwhelming situation two weeks later.
Take your time to do this work, you certainly don’t need to do it on your first day away. Prioritise sleeping, and then go for it!
First Sheet: WHY
Take the first piece of paper and write “Why am I a ____?” at the top. Replace the blank with your artist title.
Then, start listing all the reasons why you do your art. You might need some time to find your reasons, but there are usually more than one. I’ve never met an artist who just had one reason to do what they were doing. Try to think about why you started your art. What made you pick it up in the first place? What were you thinking at the time?
Imagine yourself succeeding. What exactly are you going to feel? What are you going to get? You might want to have more money than your family has ever had, or you might want to make your parents proud, or on the contrary to piss them off! Nothing is too small to go on the list.
Be honest with yourself. Don’t worry if you think your reasons are silly. Most of us think our reasons to do our art are silly or narcissistic, or impossible. They are not! These reasons are your DRIVE. They are your engine, your fuel, your best motivation.
I want you to fill this whole page. Completely! No half doing here. Think, write, and think again. FILL IT UP!
Second Sheet: UGH
Now take the second piece of paper and write “Ugh, this is so frustrating!”
Then, start a list of everything that frustrates you in your current life. Everything! It could be that you have no money. Or that people think you’re a loser. It could be that troll on Twitter, or your flatmate habit of never washing the dishes. Think about deeper frustrations too: you might think that you should be further in your career by now, or you might think that your skills are not that great.
Allow yourself to be petty! Like hating the colour of the uniform at your job, or that your best friend got a gig even though you are more talented. Write down every one of these thoughts, no matter how horrible or small they might seem.
Treat this sheet as a “word vomit” canvas. Dump everything! Fill the whole page, use the other side if you need to. These are your BLOCAGES.
I often find that when I feel overwhelmed, it’s because there are so many of these frustrations that I don’t know where to start. They pile up and become indistinguishable, and I just want to quit everything. If you make a list of them, you see them for what they are, and you can start to take action.
Third Sheet: YASSS
Once you are ready, take the last page and write at the top: “Yasss! I’m going to do this!”
You guessed it, you are going to make a list again, a list of SOLUTIONS. Think about concrete solutions that you can find to your frustrations that align with your reasons to be an artist. These solutions needs to be things that you can do now, as soon as you return!
For example, let’s say that one of your frustrations is that you feel insignificant. And in your whys, you listed that you want to help people. Your solution could be to start a blog where you give advice to people! That will make you significant to someone, and you’ll help them.
Focus on solutions that you can do with your current means. There’s no point in writing “when I’ll be rich, I’ll do this”. Instead, you can write that you’ll start looking for a better paid day job from the moment you return. Many of our frustrations come from a situation that seems impossible to resolve, but if you write down small things that you can do to at least alleviate the frustration, that will completely change your outlook on the problem.
Make sure that you take each frustration separately. Don’t fall into the vicious circle of bouncing from one frustration to another: “I hate my flat, but I’m too poor to move, but I hate my job too, but I can’t book a gig, but I think I’m talentless,…” Instead, take each of them, and list several potential solutions for each of them. If you hate your flat, what could you do to change your feeling about it? Decorate it better? Clean it? Suggest a swap of flatmates if there’s a bad atmosphere? And so on for each frustration.
The idea is to change your mindset from “problems” to “solutions”. To make you feel like you are taking control back on your life.
Then, when you go back home, choose one of these solutions and apply it immediately. TAKE ACTION. There’s no better time than the present.
Quitting Is Not the Only Solution
This work here is meant to make you understand that quitting is not necessarily the only solution, nor will it solve everything. Quitting is like using a flamethrower against an ant invasion. Yes, it’s probably going to be effective, but you’ll put the whole house on fire! And some ants might survive!
Try this process instead, and solve your frustrations one by one. See how it changes your outlook on your life and on your art.
And if after all that you still feel like quitting, then it might be that it’s the right thing to do. But at least you didn’t make a snap decision and thought about it calmly!
Do you feel like quitting sometimes? Has it become really difficult to create? Do you think you should change something? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to be able to help!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.