Click Here to Read Part One – I’m going to say this again, I’ve never wanted to give a hug to somebody so bad in my life. I don’t know JMArlen, but he suffered for all of us. I don’t know if I’ll ever read JMArlen, but make sure you take a moment to be kind to this guy if you have the chance. He’s had a writer meltdown, and he needs some love and support.
As of this writing, he’s still out there arguing with people on Reddit and my hope is that he’ll eventually stop because he’s digging himself deeper with every post. Until that positive turning point, let’s focus on the lessons we can and should be taking about our personal professional journey. Lord knows, I might need to take this advice myself.
How to Avoid Creative Meltdowns (TL;DR at bottom)
At the bottom of every meltdown is disappointment, and as a friend once told me: “If you set your expectations correctly, you can never be disappointed.” Note the difference between this idea and Sylvia Plath’s mantra: “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” Expectations are normal, expectations create healthy emotional boundaries. Rivers need banks and seas need shores – otherwise, you just have puddles.
I’m firmly convinced that creative meltdowns come from bad creative expectations. When it comes to our creative work, what is a creative expectation? That’s a question only you can answer – what do you expect to accomplish with your work? What’s a realistic outcome?
This is the critical point. If you’re a creative professional, you have to know that success is NOT guaranteed. We all hope to achieve fortune and success with our creativity, but trouble comes when we expect it. Let me say it again: success is NOT guaranteed. Art is an act of personal expression, just like talking. We learn how to talk to others all through our lives. Why? So there’s a better chance of them understanding and accepting what we say. However, success is never guaranteed.
But we all know that, academically. Emotionally, we all want to be understood and accepted. That’s what we’re doing when we communicate. Writing and creativity take that to a whole new level.
Emotionally, storytelling is an act of emotional energy. Composing ideas and concepts out of words and phrases, that’s narrative sculpture. If you’re serious about your craft, you’re pounding away at that keyboard going ‘this is what I’m trying to say, this is what I’m trying to say.’ It requires heavy emotional lifting to bring the real story out of you.
Imagine composing a statement, something you believe intensely and are dead certain will be understood and accepted by everyone who hears it. Imagine crafting a sentence, a speech, a Tweet for years only to have recipients ignore, or worse-yet, mock what you’re trying to say, or you because you were trying to say it. You put so much time, energy, and love into saying something that was important to you, and someone reduced it to a punchline. Few other moments in life can approach that profound sense of rejection.
In comes the creative meltdown. When you see someone in a creative meltdown, two things are certain: 1. They had bad creative expectations. 2. Their emotional coping skills were not sufficient for the stress they faced in that moment. Look at the Will Smith / Chris Rock thing from three days ago. I don’t know what’s going on in Smith’s life, but his emotional coping skills weren’t sufficient for the stress he faced in that moment. Sure, the Chris Rock alopecia joke was tasteless, but it wasn’t the worst joke people have made toward Jada Pinkett Smith and he’s laughed off that kind of roast before. So to watch him go from screaming in rage to a tearful acceptance speech in minutes? That was a creative meltdown – something’s going on with him, as many others have suggested. Don’t agree with what he did, but I wish him well. I hope he gets some help for whatever stresses he’s got going on in his life.
A creative meltdown results from a simple equation:
((expectation * reception) * (emotional energy * emotional intelligence))
When the result of this equation turns from a positive to negative integer, a creative meltdown is almost guaranteed. Why is that? Face it, being an adult means you have a long history of developing emotional energy reserves and developing your coping skills. That’s why you can be disappointed when your credit card gets rejected at the gas station without melting down. You drew upon your hidden reserves of emotional energy to move on with your life.
Conversely, some people move through life without ever needing to develop coping skills or emotional intelligence. Think about the Michael Richards 2006 Laugh Factory incident for a second. Even he admits that he could have just taken a bow and gotten off stage after bombing. He didn’t have to meltdown, he didn’t have to use the N-word. What happened? He lost it. He’d successfully navigated a professional career without needing the coping skills that would have prevented his awful behavior. The creative meltdown equation never went into negative territory for him on stage, until 2006.
If you want to avoid creative meltdowns, watch that equation. Ask yourself: What are my expectations? What will I do if I get a poor reception? Do I have the emotional energy to cope with a negative response? Do I have the emotional intelligence to meet this negative moment? Checking in with yourself can save a tremendous amount of pain later on.
I have more to say about this, but let’s pause here and give you the TL;DR of How to Avoid Creative Meltdowns. Here it is.
TL;DR – A creative meltdown is a sign that something isn’t working. Stop digging yourself deeper, step back, and take a breath.
I’ll discuss what to do next, and how to handle asking Reddit for help, in another post. Please stay tuned.