The Creative Process: the waiting.
Let's talk about the creative process. How do you rest in the waiting? How do you hold on to an exceptionally great idea when you don’t have a moment’s free time to flesh it out? What does it look like for you if you are not afforded the ability to create full-time? This happened to me because my family needed me to go back to retail and help support us; for you it could be a new child in the home, an elderly relative to whom you now devote care, a move in which your new commute eats into your hobby time... you get it. For some reason or another, life’s responsibilities are pulling at you and not giving you the enormous amount of time it takes to get lost in your thoughts. How do you handle having to sit on a good idea?
This is how it looks for me as of late: any time I reach illumination, it is almost certainly at a time when I’m in the middle of a five-day work stretch. I have no free time and cannot stay awake long enough after work to eek out what I’m thinking. I have all of this creative energy wound up inside me just dying to get out, and the result of not being able to express it feels like I will explode. Like I think I could burst. I do not rest; I wrestle.
I’m ready to punch everyone’s lights out when I’m wrestling with creativity. I do not want to talk to you about your petty problems, because you’re stealing one more second from me that I could use to make ART. And at this point, all of your problems are petty. Eviction? I don’t care. Death? Where’s my paintbrush? Get outta my face needy person, I’m trying to create beauty and my soul is aching and my emotions are telling me to just shirk everything, quit my job, abandon responsibility and just get down to the business of my life: making art. I don’t need you, family. I don’t need you, steady income. I don’t need you, friends who now think I’m flaky. I need to shoot these ideas out of my heart through my fingers and out into the world.
If you’re reading this and haven’t the faintest clue as to what I’m talking about, please just picture your small children bouncing out of a car after a long car ride. They have exponential energy stored up without an outlet and they will explode and scream and ruuuuun around in literal circles until they can spend it all. That’s sometimes how I feel, but I am not allowed to scream or burst into tears or kick your back seat over and over and over until you let me out. Kids don’t understand how easy they have it.
But here’s the deal: once the illumination is extinguished, I still need a paycheck to pay my bills. Once the art is made, I still need a family to support me emotionally and make my life fuller. I still need you, dearly insightful friends who bear with me while I’ve gone off the grid. My cousin once nicknamed me “no caller back girl” during one of these manic periods.
So how do we manage the wait with poise and grace, and not like a junkie who will mow you down to get ahold of something? I’ve been working through this for a while now, specifically because I’m guilty of being the junkie for far too long. I need to strike a balance between life and creativity if I expect to have anyone continue to love me.
First, we need a Sabbath. We need one day a week where there is nothing demanding our attention or our work ethic. I’m in retail, so I often have a random Tuesday or Thursday off. I have learned that these are my days to do whatever feels restful. Do I want to sleep in? Sure. Will I look at my work email today? Nope. Do I want my to-do list to consist of walking my dog and watching a movie? Absolutely. We need one day where our minds can unfold and expand and prepare for the life of a kitchen sponge: either soaking up or wringing out. These days cannot be found in the margins; they have to be worked into the schedule ahead of time.
For me, this also involves giving myself permission to have a day off. Never in my life has someone else had to motivate me, convince me to do the right thing, or nudge me into choosing the responsible path. I have such a major internal barometer for success - my own personal drill sergeant - that my inner voice is often berating my soul for not cleaning the house, or going to the gym, or being “productive”. Then one day I realized that if I died tomorrow no one would care if my bathroom were clean... and I cut myself a break.
Today — on my one day off before a six day stretch at work — I’ve slept in, gone to the salon, and now I’m at the cutest little restaurant on Canton Street sipping a glass of wine and looking out the window while I write this. I have no timeline. If I’m here until evening, I’m here until evening. There is no agenda; just an open invitation to think my thoughts. If you haven’t dedicated one day or afternoon or nap time a week to doing this, I suggest you honor yourself and make it a priority.
Secondly, we need deadlines. That pillow will not get made if you’re sitting around waiting for inspiration to hit. That painting will not paint itself if you’re waiting for the moment when the planets align and you feel well-rested, ache-free, stress-free, and happy. The planets almost never align. In fact, the next time the planets will seem almost aligned (except for Pluto) will be the year 2854. We’ll be dust by then, so I think it’s safe to say we need a backup plan.
Let me throw out a warning: if you’re already stressed, then a deadline for a craft fair or an online shop update will only send you over the edge. If you’re a hard three on the enneagram like moi, then you can set your own deadlines and live and die by them. If you’re a four, you’re going to need a sympathetic and compassionate two to hold you accountable, set the calendar update on your phone, and check in with you biweekly for progress reports. That’s just how it is people.
Holding yourself accountable - without the possibility of ruining a business relationship - helps us create discipline in our work. Discipline inevitably begets inspiration, and can tamp that irregular and hungry instant illumination we randomly get into a steady and dependable source of creativity. Some of my best work has happened when I’ve set an imaginary deadline for 10 items due to a fictional customer by the 30th of the month. When I meet that deadline, I now have multiple items to publish on the site, post steadily on social media, and feel proud of. And my creative anxiety is greatly reduced because I have tangible evidence of my creative process and know that I’m not wasting my life at my “real job” but am making a meaningful contribution to the world through art.
Lastly, I think we need to remember that “tortured artist syndrome” originated with people who had a need to create but not the means. They were distraught, addicted, and tormented with not being able to bring their art to life... hello birth of the Renaissance where rich people paid artists to live so that they could spend all their time making art. I see why patrons were a thing.
But until we become the recipients of a new Renaissance, we have to remember that we're only tortured artists if we let ourselves be. There is no glory there. We must keep in mind that there will inevitably be a tension between being good, responsible citizens and being good artists. There will be a disconnect between being dependable and being talented. Stress will be accumulate between making art and making a life. As you feel yourself getting to the point where you’re ready to burn it all to the ground, forsake all others, and pursue your wonderful (but singular) need to create something, I refer you to points one and two above.