Hey guys, things have been pretty quiet here lately. Why? Well, I’ll just say it straight.
I’ve been in the midst of a creative crisis. Maybe that sounds trivial, but if you’ve ever been there, then you appreciate the special level of hell associated with it.
I call this a crisis, not because it has ended badly, but because exploring the dark, untouched corners of your psyche in order to understand what’s driving you—or holding you back—is like being smack dab in the center of a brain hurricane while trees, synapses, and memories uproot themselves and whirl wildly around until gravity pulls them down. You want to duck for cover, but you also can’t help but stare straight at it.
And just like a hurricane, there’s more than the storm itself. There are mini-storms as it approaches. There’s cleanup and restoration afterward.
My personal hurricane is the kind that grows when you find yourself unable to properly express creative urges. When you merely stutter while clear-as-day ideas whiz through your brain. Finding your voice in this world can be maddening.
About a month ago, the storm struck. I blame (thank) this blog and the women in it. Through all my hangouts with these incredibly talented and inspiring people, something began stirring inside. Like big time. I began to notice, really digest the fact, that painters were painting, travelers were traveling, makers were making, actors were acting. But I—a writer—was not writing anymore. I write all day every day for work, sure. And I’m proud of what I do there, but it doesn’t fully scratch my itch. I used to write so much, so freely, just for myself and no one else. Where did that drive, that ability go?
Several weeks back, after these realizations hit, I gave creative writing another go. Whatever was in my head, I just wanted to put it into words. I stared at a blank computer screen, then a blank piece of paper, for long periods of time. For reasons yet to be defined, I was completely horrified by the notion of writing something that might suck—even though it didn’t matter at all because who else was watching? No one.
So I pushed the screen and blank page aside and turned back to my safe world—reading. I looked for books that might help jumpstart my creative juices or at least explain to me why I was freaked out by my own shadow. I found two dam breakers:
- Steal Like an Artist : An awesome read for anyone wanting tremendous creative advice and best-practices in bite-sized portions. You don’t even need to be a self-proclaimed creative or artist to get something out of this. Just pretend he wrote it for you and you’ll see what I mean.
- The Crossroads of Should and Must : While all the pretty water colored quotes throughout this post are pulled from here, please note that the book offers a lot more substance—real-world advice, exercises, and tools that can be done and used by anyone. The premise of the book is to examine all the ‘shoulds’ in your life (expectations we may or may not truly agree with but live up to anyway because we think we’re supposed to) versus the ‘musts’ (the things we hold most dear to our hearts but often neglect because too many shoulds have taken over).
These books literally changed how I think about myself as a creative. I reflected more and more on my writing, why I was avoiding it, why I was downright terrified of it. And then I remembered what artist Helen Feild said during her interview.
“The fear of starting is much worse than the feeling of disliking your work.”
Zing. There it was. For a long time, I’ve been paralyzed by this fear of not producing what I deem good enough. And I’ve been incredibly prescriptive of how or what I thought I should be writing.
Writers write books, Heather. If you can’t write a book, why bother.
Sincerely, The Monster in Your Head.
Half of this comes from my own misguided, romanticized notions of what makes a true writer. And the other half comes from the misguided, romanticized notions of those who know me—”Oh, so you write for a living? Well that must mean you’re working on the next great American novel in your free time then, right? Or your memoir?” Uh …
The truth is, novels, short stories, essays—those methods of writing have never appealed to me. Ever. I love reading them, but I’ve never been driven to write any of that stuff myself.
The other afternoon, I thought back to a day in 10th grade when, after a dress rehearsal for Guys and Dolls, one of my fellow classmates who was on the lighting crew approached me. “Heather, I’ve never seen you as happy as you are when you’re on stage. You’re seriously the happiest person up there.” And he was right, I was.
For as long as I can remember (and still to this day), I’ve bopped around the house creating over-the-top lyrics on the fly while dancing equally as over the top. I embrace twisted, crazy words strung together in twisted, crazy ways. I don’t just love language, I love playing with it. Having fun with it. That’s why I’ve been known to memorize entire soundtracks to my favorite musicals. That’s why I always keep an eye out for great kids books. My years spent in middle and high school theater, and even a little in college, were some of the best of my youth because I got to exercise this passion regularly. When I think back to when my love for writing really took off, it was during my teenage years. When I would sit in math class writing new lyrics to my favorite songs. I couldn’t play an instrument, but I could come up with words easily. So I did. That evolved into writing more poetry. Then prose. And on and on.
Then I went to college and studied English. Then I started freelancing. And then I got a job as a marketing writer. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I was, yes, becoming a stronger writer, but I was also losing my sense of playfullness with words. It was fun, but only if you were getting good grades. Only if your stakeholders were giving the thumbs up. Writing became a serious matter.
Last week, I sat before the blank screen again. I broke myself down enough to simply get one line, then two lines, then three lines onto the screen—before I even realized what was happening I was writing the intro to a play, a musical actually. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way, it just started flowing. The style, the form, and the feeling I got—it was familiarity long forgotten. I could hear in my head syllables and their sounds dancing together once more.
I don’t even care if what comes out at this very moment is good. That’s what editing is for. But the simple act of getting this story out of my head and onto a surface—it’s like breathing. I just ask, why did it take me this long to realize that we don’t all need to be writing novels? It’s so simple, but yes, it took me this long to realize I could be a different kind of writer than what I and everyone else expected.
Maybe you’re a different kind of painter. A different kind of business person. A different kind of composer. A different kind of chef. A different kind of person. Putting yourself through the hurricane of self discovery is worth it, so long as you’re willing to fight your way through till the end. Because once your self-inflicted notions and societal prescriptions you’ve been feeding on have been ravaged, your task becomes to rebuild—not what once was, but rather, what you imagine could be. And then you build, slowly and steadily as you need.
I’ll leave you with these:
What am I in the eyes of most people—a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person—somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then—even if that were absolutely true, then I should like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. – Vincent Van Gogh