Adam Morton-Delaney on battling creative paranoia and the “I’m-not-good-enough” trope
Adam Morton-Delaney has struggled with creative anxiety ever since he first stepped foot in art school. Despite having won a D&AD New Blood Award shortly after graduation, worked his way into several studios and most recently landed his dream role as an art director at KesselsKramer – his creative anxiety persists to this day. Here, Adam come to terms with his anxious existence to share his experience, reflect on its day-to-day causes and offer some advice on making it less of a struggle.
From my first day at art college, to starting my first job, through to me writing this very article; my whole creative life (so far) has been one continuous, desperately anxious hell. I know this sounds dramatic, but I mean it.
My creative anxiety shows up in countless ways: I don’t feel good enough at my job, I panic that my opinion is wrong, I worry that I’m not on my A-game 100% of the time, I kick myself for losing concentration, I worry about whether my craft is right for me, I often feel unmotivated to finish making work, I feel bad if I’m not working in a spare hour, I talk myself out of making projects before they’ve even begun because I think they’re not good enough ideas, and – the cherry on top – when walking home after an anxious day at work, I even worry about whether I’m going to have beans or cheese on my jacket potato for tea.
“Good for you, Adam. Lots of creative people have anxiety, but worse!” I hear you say. I know they do – and I’m taking nothing away from the crippling reality of anxiety for so many. This is just my experience, and I hope it’s helpful to others who might struggle much more than I do.
Where it all began
The day is Monday, 19th August 2013. Episode 8194 of Coronation Street just aired, with Eileen making Paul a breakfast to settle the nerves before his court case later in the day. And with a comparable level of anxiety, this was also the day I started my Foundation Diploma at Leeds College of Art.
The first task for me and my new art school mates was to “Draw a bike from memory in two minutes”. This was when I experienced the first feeling of anxiety in my creative career. I had left sixth form, an institutional system where there had always been one way of doing things – a conventional wisdom – and then this! Shit. This new approach filled me with sheer panic. The anxiety I feel from creativity has continued from that day on.
The usual suspects
Today, this often manifests in the form of a few repeat offenders. Ever see someone’s amazing new project and feel a pang of dread? (It sounds terrible, I know.) Yes, thinking “I wish I’d thought of that” is a mark of a brilliant project – and I take nothing away from that – but my admiration is so often tainted with immediate self-comparison. Why haven’t I made anything new? Should I start a personal project soon? Instagram gets a special shout-out here for peppering my feed with so much amazing new work, day-in, day-out.
Added to this is the imposter syndrome that joins me on my walk to work every morning. I’ve been fortunate enough to work my way into some brilliant studios in my career so far, but the feeling that I’m not good enough has stuck around. Even more so after my recent move to KesselsKramer – a place I've always wanted to work and whose books I’ve pored over since my foundation diploma days.
These anxieties, more often than not, result in me not completing (or even starting) projects. Here are a few un-begun projects I’m sad to have never started *tears streaming down my face*.
Some creative anxiety can be beneficial
I make it sound dreadful. But over time, I’ve found that this over-worrying has actually become an intrinsic part of my creative process. I’ve learnt to accept it, rather than bottle or battle it, and with this has come more good than I ever thought possible. I’ve come to take many, many positives from it:
It makes me swallow my pride.
It makes me honest.
It makes me self-aware.
It makes me fail, which helps me learn.
It makes me realise what really matters.
It makes me realise it’s good to be no good.
It makes me remember that creativity should be fun, so I should do what I love.
Acknowledging and accepting worries
I now know not to keep my creative anxiety at bay. Once I hold my hands up, stop pretending and accept that I’m struggling, a weight is instantly lifted. And after that, my anxiety gets easier.
Those of us who are blessed with this curse should be acknowledging it, if we can. It was the best thing I ever did (discounting that time I discovered I could loop the end of my duvet underneath my feet).
My nerve-calming checklist
In my creative process, one of my biggest anxiety-inducers is a to-do list. I’m invariably overambitious with these daily scribbles, and when – by the end of the day – I’ve achieved very little on these lists, I’m left feeling vacuous and low-achieving (I’m working on shortening them, I promise).
So naturally, in an act of self-destructive hypocrisy (and in an effort to embrace anxiety) I’ve compiled a to-do list: my tips on how to tackle the big A.
Written by Adam Morton-Delaney
Introduction by N'Tanya Clarke