Going loopy – the ups and downs of creativity

Rollercoasters. Why on earth do we subject ourselves to them?

No, seriously, what’s the fascination with jumping into a tiny wheeled box and getting hurled around so fast that we make ourselves (in some cases literally) sick?

There are whole schools of thought that attempt to explain the attraction, from the effects of hormones on our neural pathways to simply being able to conquer our fear in a relatively safe way. Generally speaking, however, it’s not something we do more than just now and again. No one wants to experience those kinds of sensations day in, day out, right?

Pity the creatively minded, then, who have to do exactly that. Granted, it’s not the same physical experience you’d get at the Royal Show, but the mental process follows a similar pattern. See for yourself.

1. Start the cart!

Every creative project kicks off with excitement, the same as you feel when the brakes come off and the rollercoaster first gets moving. The thrill ride is about to start. Whether you’re fleshing out the concept for a piece of writing, picking up your pencil to sketch out a new design, or just brainstorming ideas, the whole of the project is ahead of you and it’s going to be brilliant!

But while it’s good to be enthusiastic and swept up by early inspiration, seasoned creatives know what’s coming next…

2. Hang on, it’s getting a bit steep…

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a rollercoaster or a creative deadline, the next thought you have is exactly the same: what the hell have I got myself into? In both cases the track ahead is rising sharply, and while the fairground attraction may have you worried for your physical safety, the artistic imagination conjures up all kinds of career and reputation disasters. Have you bitten off more than you can chew? Do you really have what it takes to get through this? Is it too late to get off?

The slow ascent of a rollercoaster cart to the top of the first peak gives you waaaay too much time to think about what’s coming next – and as a creative, you’re equally liable to spend time at this point in the process overthinking what’s to come. You just can’t help it.

3. Check out this view!

Who said this was a bad idea? Right up at the peak of the track, everything is laid out in front of you. On the rollercoaster, you can see for miles. At the keyboard or easel or desk, the way ahead is crystal clear. So many possibilities! You have totally got this under control.

Yeah. It’s all downhill from here.

4. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

It sure is. And the descent is fast and brutal and terrifying, and you just want to be sick over everyone and everything. If you’re a creative, it’s now that you’re slammed with doubt. Maybe you’ve got writer’s block, maybe everything you commit to paper or design on screen looks like it was put together by a hyperactive toddler. No matter what you try, nothing is working. You can’t do this. How did you even think you could? You’ll be lucky to walk away from this one, at least without everyone realising you’re a fraud, that you have no business doing what you’re doing, or even claiming that you could do it in the first place…

But just as the rollercoaster doesn’t head downwards forever, nor will your creative mood. There’s momentum here, even if you think it’s negative, and you need to use it to carry you forward. Because soon…

5. I survived!

…the slope levels off and you’re picking up speed again. There’s a rush of exhilaration as you come out the other side of the descent unscathed. If you’re creating, the feeling is tied to overcoming whatever obstacle was hindering your progress. You’re looking at things from a new perspective and a solution has presented itself. Your writer’s block is resolved, you’ve approached your design from a different angle and it’s opened right up. You survived the plunge and it’s left you more confident and better prepared to deal with further descents.

6. End of the line…and it’s awesome!

Chances are that there will be further peaks and troughs before the ride is over, but each time you come through the other side brings a greater rush. By the end, the ups and downs have become enjoyable – you’re able to look back on the work you’ve done and the project you’ve completed and think that, on the whole, that was fun.

And even though the project is over, the parallels with rollercoasters continue. Energised, excited and buzzing, you’ll probably find yourself thinking the same thing as if you were walking away from a Disneyland ride.

Let’s do that again.

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