The Guilt of Not Creating

Every time I acquire a new creative tool I soon find myself feeling guilty for not taking advantage of it to its fullest potential or for not using it frequently enough in my art. It’s a strange thing when you think about it. Tools are meant to be there when you need them, not to need you to use them all the time.

I recently was able to pick up a new iPad, iPhone, an old Hi-8 video camera, and an OP-Z. With each purchase I initially felt a rush of exhilaration but soon after the honeymoon phase ended and the item would sit on a shelf unused for a while. Sometimes it was because I was taking a break or I was tired or I was just not in need of those tools when I was creating new music or video or whatever it was.

This guilt has been getting to me and affecting my ability to write music. This note is my attempt to understand this issue and work through it while also hoping this is something that I’m not alone in experiencing. Maybe there’s someone out there that’s going through something similar. I wouldn’t call this the product of a simple case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). It’s similar to FOMO in the way it feels though.

Each tool creates this guilt in a different way. When I bought my iPad my plans for it were to use it as a more portable and convenient way to do things that I’d normally do on my laptop but also as a supplemental tool to my laptop and other recording gear. The idea was that I could do a lot of non-recording tasks on it like editing photos and videos as well as managing my website and other marketing channels like Bandcamp and Twitter. I use it with my OP-Z more often than my phone and it’s a life saver for when I’m recording. I put it on a stand and can control my Logic session from across the room. No more having to walk across the room to switch tracks and hit record. I can sit on my couch or be closer to my pedalboard while I arm my tracks for recording and let my desk be there when I need to sit down to mix. Speaking of mixing, it’s also a great tool for that as well. The touchscreen gives me tactile control over track volume, panning, and more during the mix process. My iPad has been worth the price and it justifies its existence. I only feel guilty when I’m taking a break and not working on any specific project like right now. I’m supposed to be recording a new LP and mixing another but I’m in the middle of another short hiatus. During this break, just seeing the iPad makes me feel guilty for not working on my music.

The Sony camcorder I got a hold of was one that my parents bought over 20 years ago to film family videos and vacations. I didn’t buy it but now that I have it I have big plans for it. I’ve played around with it, figured out how to convert the tape to digital files, and recorded a few videos but I haven’t been able to follow through with some of the bigger ideas I’ve had for that camera and it makes me feel bad. There’s just not enough time in the day to do it all. Video is not my thing. I make music. But visuals are important and I do want to add to my art with it. Video is hard though. It seems to require more time and planning than music.

My OP-Z is a device that makes me question how much value it’s bringing to my music and whether I already had the tools to do what it does. I already have an OP-1 and the OP-Z so far seems like it’s there to be a better sequencer and MIDI host. I love the music I create on it but I don’t have the time to dive into the features that would really take my music to the next level. I’m not an electronic artist and it’s been hard to integrate the OP-Z into my music the way I was able to with the OP-1. So where’s the guilt coming from? Maybe it’s knowing I can do more with it, had plans to create a certain kind of music with it, and haven’t been able to fully execute on that vision. Maybe with time I’ll get there and this feeling will fade.

I did not truly need a new iPhone but I got a deal on it and so money isn’t really a factor in this one because I ended up saving money on my monthly cell phone bill by getting it. But because it’s an iPhone 12 Pro I feel like I need to make use of those Pro features. So maybe this isn’t guilt. It’s just some negative emotion that comes from not making an effort to do more with the additional features of the phone. That said, I use my phone the way I always have and it’s been a positive experience and it’s clearly an upgrade from my old phone. But now I have this voice in my head telling me that I need to take photos of the night sky and take advantage of the pro camera system and on and on. Then that same voice is telling me that I have no use for the phone because I can do everything it does on an iPad. That’s kind of true but it all depends on the situation. Every situation is different and sometimes a small screen is all that’s needed for a moment.

I guess, after writing all of this, I learned that some of these feelings come from an irrational place. You don’t have to use a tool all the time because it exists. I don’t feel bad that I’m not always hammering nails into my wall whenever I walk past my hammer. So why are these tools different? I think part of the problem is that I’m in a stage of the creative process where my ideas are still flowing and I’m not sure what I’m trying to make. Because of that, I don’t know what tools I’ll need or how I’ll need to use them. I’m just experimenting. So this voice in my head is looking around at all of the choices I have and wants me to find a use for all of them at the same time. That’s just not going to happen. I have a ton of guitar pedals but I don’t go crazy if I only use half of them on a record. This shouldn’t be any different.

I am confident that all of my new tools fill a need I have in my work but they also offer features that I haven’t had a use for yet. I have to remember that I don’t need to use every app available every day or use every track on the OP-Z or be able to record a music video on VHS in one take. Art is a process. Each work calls for its own tools. During the experimentation process it’s easy to get overwhelmed by choices. I will continue to try out all the new tools at my disposal but once it’s time to execute on a vision for my work I will have to leave that voice in the back of my head behind and use only the tools or parts of the tools I need to execute on that vision.

Am I just crazy or has anyone else experienced something like this? Let me know. Tweet at me or send a DM to @the_darph on Twitter or email info at thedarph dot com.