Ritualizing Creativity

28 Feb

Have I ever told you my biggest passion in life is my writing? I haven’t?! Oooh, yeah. It’s because I’m so shy to say it.

Seriously, I have a very hard time telling people that even though I’m unemployed, I’m a full-time writer and would consider myself so even if I were otherwise employed. And here’s a funny truth: There are people who work completely unassociated jobs from 9-5, Monday-Friday and consider their real career to be writing. Then there are still others who write all day as part of their jobs but are not truly writers–not really because it’s not their passion. It’s a hard way to define yourself–this thing that most people claim as a hobby– but for me, it’s consuming and wholly encompassing. I couldn’t be myself if I wasn’t a writer. I only know my true mind when I feel my heart throbbing through my pen or when my eyes drift over some graceful line in a book. So why is it hard?

Because I don’t make any money doing it. I don’t. I very probably never will. To be completely comfortable, I’ll always need some other form of employment. People don’t usually understand defining what you do in life by an activity that doesn’t make money. I know this because I have my bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and when I mention people immediately say, “what do you plan to do with that?” If someone asked what I do and I said, “I write,” it would be as strange to them as saying, “I hike.” Of course if I said that I write, they would then ask if I was a journalist. (Or if they were really swanky types they’d ask if I blogged.) Which would lead me to the next thing.

I don’t have a routine work schedule or a very visible outcome. I don’t go to a workplace for a certain amount of hours or sit in an area of my house with a notebook from noon to three everyday. I have loose expectations for what I want done in a week and even that varies from day to day. Sometimes I will write, sometimes I edit, and other days I only research places to have my work published. This isn’t something most people can wrap their heads around and to some degree, I’m not totally comfortable with or understanding of it myself. On top of that, even when I am most successful–even when I have written something devastatingly beautiful and I’ve found the perfect place for it, and it’s been published–my work is not something the overwhelming majority of the world will ever see.  In fact, maybe, maybe, 1,000 people will see my masterpiece. If I get really good, that number might go up to 2,500. If I’m excellent, maybe 5,000. If I do something really big and wonderful…well, that’s not even something I can imagine right now so let’s not go there. So, I can’t just say, “Yeah, I’m a writer and you can check out what I’ve done over there.”

Anyway, this is all an aside to, hopefully, help you understand that being dedicated to art (any art!) is hard and it’s even harder to really own it. I started this blog so I could force myself out of the creative closet. I love what I do and I’m proud of it and people should know that. I’m slowly getting better about letting this little light of mine shine but what I’m really writing about today is the way that I’m making myself feel that writing is my job, nevermind justifying that to anyone else. So this post is for myself, and all the other artists in the room.

Before I graduated from my undergrad studies, an instructor put a book in my hands called The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (who is an amazing and world-renowned choreographer). The book teaches basically one thing: to truly be the thing you profess, you have to show up and do it, regularly, on-time, and bravely whether what your working on that day is divine genius or gutter trash. I struggle with this. Hard.

See, when I write, I’ll let myself finish a piece before I go back and look at it, cry my eyes out because it’s terrible, and then stress that I have no real worth as a writer at all. (And even that has been a process for me. I used to write a page, delete it, write another first page, and take out half of it.) The feelings couldn’t be less true and I have a feeling that everyone goes through this. Absolutely no one is a genius 100% of the time. For some of us, that’s a hard thing to deal with and can really damage our creative habit. Sometimes, on my floppy, uninspired days, I won’t even let myself sit down to write because the process is so frustrating but that’s not healthy. I have to get over the fear of being terrible and work through it every day–the good, bad, and wtf? days– to get to the good stuff on the other side of the ugly wall. As Bilbo sadly reflects, “adventures are not all pony-rides through May-sunshine.” When you’re on a journey, you can’t stop and hide when the path gets muddy and the sky is opening up to pour rain on your head. You can’t just wait for the sun to shine or you’ll miss the good things that are passing through just beyond the storm.

Inspiration, unfortunately, is not a fixed destination; it’s a fickle and elusive creature that you only find by continuing to look in any weather.

And I need this post. To kick me in the butt also to be a great comfort to me when I absolutely suck.

This is not the end. It will pass and you and I will go on to be geniuses some other time. So write or draw or paint or play. Dance too, even if you can’t. Even when it hurts, when you’re sick, when you’re cranky and full of excuses or distractions.

I can do it and you can too. We can own it together.


2 Responses to “Ritualizing Creativity”

  1. vwsweetie2003 February 28, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    I am having this very same struggle right now with calling myself an artist. Thank you for casting some confidence on this subject of passions and unemployment!!


  1. A Writer’s Attempts « The Intrepid Nerd - March 15, 2011

    […] not even sure how interesting this will be to most casual readers, but a couple weeks ago I wrote about how it feels to call yourself a writer and making writing a habit. Today I wanted to take that a small step further and share what my process looks […]

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