I’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.
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.
During a little informal open studio I had last weekend at my home I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the accolades some wonderful friends were heaping upon me. “You’re so creative!” “I could never do that”. or “I’m not creative at all.” There was no large boulder I could crawl under so I found myself getting increasingly self-deprecating to deflect the praise. Granted, it’s lovely to be recognized, but this is just what I do. Everyone is creative. You just need to pay attention to your muse. Here is my advice to the self-described “non-artist”…
I have no trouble coming up with creative ideas. It’s fear that is the creative’s nemesis. Really, that’s what a creative block is, just plain old fear. Sometimes you have to look under your creative bed and make friends with the monster.
The opposite of courage
The backside of love & creativity
Its tendrils approach from behind
Silently wrapping themselves around your neck
Until you are paralyzed
Suffocating in its sticky web
Ultimately it is your breath that will save you
From these paper thin bonds
Grab a breath deep into your soul
Allowing another, and yet another
Until your life force finally finds a foothold
To break free from the spinning chaos
Choose earth, choose nature, choose good
Choose whatever infinite force is truth to you
Grab its hand and pull yourself up
Keep your gaze forward, never down
And walk quickly across the precarious bridge to the other side
The studio is cleaned and I am occupying myself with small tasks
that have gone by the wayside in favor of loftier goals. That would include painting my hallway, mending, making greeting cards, and doing a bit of experimentation with using my slab roller (for clay) as a printing press.
Taking stock of my situation, I am in a creative “eddy.” As a kayaker, I find that the sport and rivers offer so many metaphors for life. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, eddy, it is “ a circular movement of water, counter to the main current, causing a small whirlpool”. You find these on the back side of rocks or behind a point that extends out into a river. Sometimes you get sucked into them inadvertently, and other times you purposely “eddy-out” to get out of the flow of the river to rest and regroup Continue reading “Perspective From a Creative Eddy”→
It happens sometimes to creatives- your head is filled with a party of ideas & inspirations and then all of a sudden the party is over. You’re left with a bunch of rubble, an empty room, and a creative hangover. That’s where I am at. I’ve been here before and it’s not fun. You feel lost, lonely & a sense of despair. The one thing I do know “This too shall pass” (but not without some effort).
Parties can’t go on indefinitely. At some point, you need to rest & recharge. The first step is to clean up after the party- literally. I am doing a total cleanup of my studio. On Saturday I swept down my cement floor, got rid of unnecessary items that lined the walls and occupied the floor and then hosed down the entire thing. Afterward, it smelled fresh and sweet. Today I am cleaning and organizing my table surfaces. For some reason cleaning my physical space also cleans my mental space. It’s not a cure-all but sure is a positive start to make room for new ideas. Best of all- It’s something I can do now and feel good about.
I wrote the following poem at my low point (also posted on “Poet’s Corner”). I look forward to hearing the songs of birds again.
There is a magic in the creative process. When I am totally in the “zone,“ it seems as though some divine force plants a seed of inspiration into my psyche & leads me on a journey to bring from the ethos something new & different into the world. Generally I need to be in a space where I am fully present- at least with my own thoughts. I don’t necessarily have to be in my studio. Often inspiration comes on a walk or doing something as innocuous as washing dishes or weeding the garden. At this point it is important for me to get the idea either in process immediately or at least written down, for inspiration can be as ephemeral as fairy dust in a breeze.
Sometimes I must plant a seed myself if nothing has been offered from above. I keep a list of concepts that fascinate me. For example, a few of my favorites are migration, germination, metamorphosis & salmon. I will make a list of every sub-concept I can think of that has to do with that topic, pick a few & then tie them together into a piece. The Illustrations that are shown in this post are from a triptych titled “The Spirit of Ghost Ranch.” In these mixed media pieces, my goal was to embody different aspects of Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I visit to take art classes & spiritually recharge most summers.
Then there are times I must “prime the pump” for ideas. One of my favorite hunting grounds is “Pinterest.” I can get inspiration from other artists & pin them to my own “board” for reference https://www.pinterest.com/wildntotions/. One of the beauties of the Pinterest algorithm is that it will suggests similar pins that may be of interest to you, leading you down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities. I can also prowl about blogs, and storefront galleries as well. My go to guide when I am in a rut is the book, “Steal Like an Artist,” By Austin Kleon. It’s maybe an hour read and so very encouraging
and inspirational. If you need a tow truck, this is your go to guide. I refer to it over and over again.
For the most part I work intuitively. I just start putting down a scrap of paper, a stencil, a swish of paint, sentence , or start to work a lump of clay as bait for my muse. Once I start down the creative path, I follow the breadcrumbs that she has left to tell me where to go next. I know that if I am tired or stressed it not the right time for creative work- just like you don’t plant tender seedlings in bad weather. Now it’s time to do something mindless & let my subconscious work in the background.
It’s all a mesmerizing journey of faith but it works- if you give yourself permission to let go & play.