Reclaiming Your Spark: Elizabeth Gilbert On What to Do When You’ve Lost Your Passion

After traveling for over half of September, I have returned home to find I’ve lost my creative mojo.  It’s there but it’s not ready to come out of hiding.   Writing? Art?  I am just not motivated at the moment and despite my best efforts- it’s not happening by forcing it. After reading this piece by Elizabeth Gilbert today I’m taking a different tack.  I’m off to clean out the shop building so the right side of my brain can sort itself out.

Reprinted off Oprah.Com

201004-omag-liz-gilbert-949x534“I’ve always considered myself lucky that I do not have many passions. There’s only one pursuit that I have ever truly loved, and that pursuit is writing. This means, conveniently enough, that I never had to search for my destiny; I only had to obey it. What am I here for? No problem! I’m here to be a writer, and only a writer, from my first cigarette to my last dying day! No doubt about it! 

Except that two years ago, I completely lost my life’s one true passion, and all my certainties collapsed with it. 

Here’s what happened: After the unexpected success of Eat, Pray, Love, I diligently sat down to work on my next project—another memoir. I worked hard, as always, conducting years of research and interviews. And when I was finished, I had produced a first draft that was…awful. 

I’m not being falsely modest here. Truly, the book was crap. Worse, I couldn’t figure out why it was crap. Moreover, it was due at the publisher. 

Demoralized, I wrote a letter to my editor, admitting that I had utterly failed. He was nice about it, considering. He said, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” But I did worry, because for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no passion for writing. I was charred and dry. This was terrifyingly disorienting. I couldn’t begin to know who I was without that old, familiar fire. I felt like a cardboard cutout of myself. 

My old friend Sarah, seeing me so troubled, came to the rescue with this sage advice: “Take a break! Don’t worry about following your passion for a while. Just follow your curiosity instead.” 

She was not suggesting that I ditch my passion forever, of course, but rather that I temporarily ease off the pressure by exploring something new, some completely unrelated creative endeavor—something that I could find interesting, but with much lower emotional stakes. When passion feels so out of reach, Sarah explained, curiosity can be a calming diversion. If passion is a tower of flame, then curiosity is a modest spark—and we can almost always summon up a modest spark of interest about something. 

So what was my modest spark? Gardening, as it turned out. Following my friend’s advice, I stepped away from my writing desk and spent six months absentmindedly digging in the dirt. I had some successes (fabulous tomatoes!); I had some failures (collapsed bean poles!). None of it really mattered, though, because gardening, after all, was just my curiosity—something to keep me modestly engaged through a difficult period. (At such moments, believe me, even modest engagement can feel like a victory.) 

Then the miracle happened. Autumn came. I was pulling up the spent tomato vines when—quite suddenly, out of nowhere—I realized exactly how to fix my book. I washed my hands, returned to my desk, and within three months I’d completed the final version of Committed—a book that I now love. 

Gardening, in other words, had turned me back into a writer. 

So here’s my weird bit of advice: If you’ve lost your life’s true passion (or if you’re struggling desperately to find passion in the first place), don’t sweat it. Back off for a while. But don’t go idle, either. Just try something different, something you don’t care about so much. Why not try following mere curiosity, with its humble, roundabout magic? At the very least, it will keep you pleasantly distracted while life sorts itself out. At the very most, your curiosity may surprise you. Before you even realize what’s happening, it may have led you safely all the way home.”

 

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The Art of the Creative Blahs

thermometer-398735_1920It’s another hot smokey summer in Oregon.  It appears that temperatures of 90 and above and forest fires are the new normal.  Summer used to be my favorite season here but now that the jet stream has settled further south, spring and fall will get my vote.  Then air quality has been so poor you really don’t want to be outside doing much.

Motivation has been difficult.  My studio does not have air conditioning.  If I don’t get work done first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done.  I think I’m getting summer cabin fever.  Who knew there was such a thing?

Rather than just push through it, my usual MO, maybe I should learn to roll with it and make this season the one to read, watch movies, and write more?  Maybe this is a good time to relax my expectations and go with the flow….

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Continue reading “The Art of the Creative Blahs”

Between Endings and Beginnings

Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months.  They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.”  I was pleased with them and so was she.

Completion is a good thing.  You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done!  After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are.  What now?  It can all be a bit disorienting.  There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next?  Where was I with my own personal trajectory?

Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before.  Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”

  1. Don’t panic. Be still.
  2. Write in your journal
  3. img_0705-2.jpgDo some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
  4. Look for inspiration from the work of others.  Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
  5. Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.

Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait.  Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.

I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)

Continue reading “Between Endings and Beginnings”

Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing and the Creative Life

elizabeth-gilbert2I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert.  She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books.  She writes a lot about creativity.  If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject.  Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.

A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing.  I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share.  You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.

Thoughts on Writing

(https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/thoughts-on-writing/)

Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.

I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing and the Creative Life”

Persist

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“Face to face With the Second Step” by Richard Stein

I have these two well-worn images tacked up on the way to my studio to remind myself not to get discouraged. Walk away, regroup, keep going one step at a time. They are also applicable to life in general……

 

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Image courtesy Austin Kleon

Creativity by the Hour

stop-watch-396862_1920I’m a master of avoidance.  Once I’m in my studio I”m ready to roll but getting there past all the distractions and excuses can be tricky business.  Really, does laundry need to be folded and put away first? The “Thing” that needs to be manifested from your psyche in words, paint, ink, or whatever medium you work in is the priority.  Here is a system that works well for me…

  1. Make an appointment for an assigned studio time. The earlier in the day, the better. Your cell phone is not invited.
  2. Enter studio, close door set timer and say to yourself “for one hour I will focus on nothing else but THIS.”
  3. Do not answer the phone, check email, or do anything not essential to your project on your computer- NO EXCEPTIONS!
  4. Work, work, work for one hour and then STOP. Continuing for more than this often leads to overworked material.
  5. Take a break for at least a half an hour and do something mindless like weeding or doing the dishes.  Stretch and get outside for a breath of fresh air.  This acts as a reset for the creative part of the brain that’s been working hard.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 if needed

Most of the time I can get an amazing and satisfying amount of work done in a focused 60 minutes and I’m good for the day. If I have more to do, I find that by taking a break I come back to work reenergized with “fresh eyes”.  I also use the timer method for unpleasant tasks around the house in 15 minutes increments (ex. cleaning out the fridge- ugh).  You can accomplish great things in a small measured amount of time!

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Taming Your Inner Critic

Being a creative type can be a lonely affair as one toils away at their desk and/or in their studio.  To combat the negative, yappy little voices in my head that say “this sucks” I keep a good supply of reading material on hand to feed my “inner cheerleader” so that I may merrily stay the course.  I just finished listening to a very good book that I would recommend to any person that needs to keep their inner critic at bay which is…

Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative,   by Danielle Krysa and Martha Rich

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This 136-page gem is packed full of wise advice and anecdotes gleaned from the author’s interviews with other artists and from her own experiences.  She covers such topics such as facing the blank page, dealing with criticism, jealousy, excuses, and blocks with humor and sensitivity.  You’ll get advice on how to navigate through roadblocks with various exercises designed to make you stronger.  Though I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book and will listen again, I will be buying a hard copy so I may mark it up and enjoy the great illustrations by Martha Rich.  Put this one in your toolbox!