The word ‘Doldrums’ has become synonymous with depression. But originally it referred to parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where the winds died. Without the wind currents, ships could languish, all momentum lost. I use the word doldrums to describe a specific manifestation of depression, where a creative person loses their motivation.
The most extreme form of the Doldrums is writer’s block—when creativity stops completely. But I think it’s useful to have a word for a lesser form of this state. The Doldrums, in my view, are a period of decreased productivity, marked by negative evaluations of both the creative’s work and their skill in their craft, as well as negative predictions of how their work will be perceived by others. The following are the three main types of thoughts that occur with more frequency during the Doldrums (Note that this is Beck’s cognitive triad of depression applied to creativity).
Devaluation of the Work
Devaluation of the Self
As a person progresses into the doldrums they move beyond evaluating their work, and begin to evaluate their creative skill negatively. In doing so they are prone to multiple cognitive errors. They judge their entire creative ability by the single work they consider to be their worst, ignoring that any creative person produces works that vary in quality. They ignore that being creative is not one single skill, but rather is a collection of skills. Any creative will naturally be better at some of the skills that underly their craft than others. Also they ignore the fact that these skills can be developed. They begin to think of skill as inborn and fixed from birth (“You either got it, or you don’t—and I don’t.”).
Anticipating negative evaluations
All work is done for some anticipated gain. Creatives create because they see a void and wish to fill it. But part of that involves providing an experience to an other person or audience. Most creatives create in the hope that someone will experience their work and absolutely go nuts for it. In the doldrums however, a creative can begin to assume that others (every person, everywhere who will ever live) will dislike (abhor, hate, despise, or worse ignore) their work. If this thought were true, a creative would be hard pressed to go forward. Why create works only for them to be loathed? These thoughts tend to be exaggerated as well. The truth is that no work will be universally admired. Even an monumentally successful artist will have detractors. Most of us create for small pockets of like-minded people. Evidence that one person or group dislike a work misses the point. They may simply be part of the wrong group. More often however, these thoughts are not usually based on feedback (did you really do any research?). Rather, they are based on anticipated feedback—which is a fancy way of saying that these thoughts are pulled out of thin air.
The effect of these negative exaggerated thoughts is that production goes down, but what makes that even worse is that the satisfaction and the joy that should aczompany creativity are lost. And without the anticipation that doing the work will be rewarding, it becomes harder to start, and harder to keep your fingertips on the keys.