Unless you are impervious to the facts of existence—and no one is—you must learn how to create in the middle of things. You must learn how to create when wars are raging and when your own hormones are raging. You must learn how to create even if you hate your country’s policies or your own painting style. You must learn how to create even if you are embroiled in a bad marriage or living alone and lonely. You must learn how to create even if you work eight hours a day at a silly job or, sometimes worse, find yourself at home all day with time on your hands.
If you wait for a better time to create, better than this very moment, if you wait until you feel settled, divinely inspired, perfectly centered, unburdened of your usual worries, or free of your everyday skin, forget about it. You will still be waiting tomorrow and the next day. You will be waiting for a very long time, wondering why you never managed to begin, wondering how you did such an excellent job of disappointing yourself. Nothing is less useful to a creator than the romantic idea that inspiration is necessary, that a visit from the muse is required. Such visitations are splendid but the muse only comes if you are already making an effort to create in the middle of things.
How do most people meet this profound challenge, that life never presents them with the ideal time to create? They don’t. They don’t create. A thousand things defeat them. One day it’s that they’re very busy. The next day it’s that they aren’t in the mood. The day after it’s that they have to recover from a spat or from a piece of criticism. Always it is something. Most people aren’t as creative as they wish they were because they haven’t mastered strategies for creating in the middle of things. That is one sort of bad answer: not knowing what to do and not making the effort to find out.
A second bad answer is to violently withdraw from life. In order to reduce the number of things in which they are in the middle—like relationships—some creators and would-be creators slam the door shut on life. They manage to create in their hiding place but at the very high cost of alienation, loneliness and unhappiness. Whereas solitude is both necessary and beautiful in a creator’s life, a violent withdrawal from life is a terrible response to this real predicament. Nor, of course, have they escaped, for they are still squarely in the middle of their personality, their thoughts, and a psychological place—because they are hiding and at war with life—that they experience as dark and difficult.
A third bad answer is to sporadically and accidentally create, that is, to only create when some fortuitous alignment of the spheres causes a creative impulse to course through you. You paint, then paint again two years or a decade later. You write eleven poems in your lifetime. You are always wanting to create but you actually create only a tiny percentage of the time. This is as unacceptable an answer as the first two. You do not actualize your potential this way and you disappoint yourself during those long stretches of time while you wait for your next flash of inspiration.
Not bothering to create, violently withdrawing from life so as to create, and sporadically and accidentally creating are not good approaches. What are some good approaches? You get a grip on your mind. You name and then honor your life purposes. You convince yourself that meaning must be made, not sought after or waited for. You learn how to generate (and modulate) your creative fires. And you become an excellent creativity self-coach, someone who understands the rigors and contours of the creative journey.
I enjoyed reading your blog on the procrastinating methods of avoiding being creative..
Know thyself, we are advised, and how deeply profound are these two words .
I am lucky enough to have come to a healthy rhythm of producing artworks; it has only taken 67 years. In accepting and not criticising my output, the rest of the energy is directed into being simultaneously authentic and mystified in the process.
Merci from France and namaste
Boy, this is a kick in the pants! and something I’ll save to reread. However, with all my angst about starting and finishing I often think: who do I think I am anyway. Maybe I am not a painter and only wish I was. I wonder if pitching all the supplies would make me feel better and just move on. Yet I can’t seem to bring myself to do that either.
This is just what I needed to hear right about now, thank you!
I take back what I said.. I was being whiny..so will move forward with a renewed mindset and focused approach to being creative… thank you.
This is excellent advice. Sometimes I find that “hooking” my artmaking to another pleasant activity is a catalyst for doing art. Not my idea. Twyla Tharp.
Very interesting and motivating article.
Thank you for sharing.