Posted by Deborah Atherton
When we are completely absorbed in a creative project, we experience some of the deepest engagement, and through it, happiness, that human beings ever manage to find. And then, suddenly, it’s over. The show opens. We finish editing the film. We place the last delicate stroke on the mural. We end the song on the final, perfect note. Or, as in my case last week, we add the last chapter to a novel we’ve been working on for a few years. Most likely, we experience one glorious moment of accomplishment and completion. And then?
And then, very likely, we plunge into a very, very dark moment. We become convinced that we will never have another idea, that our old ideas are all rotten, anyway, and, quite possibly, that critics everywhere, as well as everyone we know, will despise our completed work, if, in fact anyone ever sees or hears it. I like to call this post-gig depression (and no, you will not find it in the DSM.) Virginia Woolf suffered terribly in these moments – completing her books sometimes drove her to the verge of suicide. Most of us experience it in a milder form. But oh, we do experience it.
Perhaps somewhere out there is the artist who completes his or her work with total confidence, and with the assurance that all who ultimately experience it will love it. I myself do not know such an artist, but surely, among the many on this planet, a few live their lives out this way. But most of us run into a period of questioning and anxiety after the initial excitement of completion. (And this is even before all the other people with an opinion weigh in.)
I can’t give you a magical elixir that will help you through this (although some swear by Jack Daniels) but I can assure you that this, too, shall pass. Some artists we interviewed have told us that they get through it by jumping right into the next project, and not giving themselves time or space to question (and some artists, of course, labor under constant deadlines, so don’t always have the luxury of time under a dark cloud.) Some require a mourning period. I myself turned to some very good friends and coaches, who spoke to me about the inner critic and the shadow self, and the necessity of acknowledging the doubting dark side of the creative impulse. (And I’ll try to talk more about this later on, as I learn more myself!)
I think what we face, at the moment we finish, is the resistance that has been dogging us all along, surging for one final push to retain the status quo. And as artists, we have a responsibility to work through it and keep on. And to remember that, not too far in the future, we’ll be having that lovely, “Is it 3 AM already? I didn’t notice” feeling again, which is, let me remind you and myself, one of the best feelings in the world.