Some people get irritable when they get hungry, others can’t see straight if they haven’t had their morning coffee. There’s something essential we need to be functional humans, and that something is different for all. For the artist, creativity is a beast that requires time, attention, and a healthy dose of isolation.
There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to daily writing. These mostly have to do with productivity and muscle metaphors. As Susan Sontag phrased it: “A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?” Every writer has a philosophy that falls on the spectrum of self-discipline versus self-forgiveness, but that’s not what I’m talking about today.
Today, I’m talking about taming the irrational grouch that resides in all of us. I recently read the epistolary novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. In it, Bernadette is a talented architect who has spent too many years focusing on things that weren’t architecture. She becomes neurotic and secluded and fosters a very unhealthy environment for herself and her family. She is smart and witty, but things are starting to unravel. A friend of hers writes a letter in which he says: “People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”
The composer, Tchaikovsky, wrote: “It would be vain to try to put into words that immeasurable sense of bliss which comes over me directly a new idea awakens in me and begins to assume a different form.” The making of art (or math, if that’s your thing) lets your brain stretch its legs and work at its full, joyous potential.
I am not a scientist, and I am not going to go on a tangent in which I cite studies, but I can safely say that to the creative brain, the act of chiseling mental chaos into a well-crafted image releases the pressure valve like nothing else. Go too long without that release, and your head is at risk of exploding.
Author, Julia Cameron, said, “Just as a good rain clears the air, a good writing day clears the psyche.”
When I’ve put off writing for other forms of productive procrastination, spent too much time editing other people’s words and not enough crafting my own, I’m just plain cranky. But today, being a writer and producing a great story, poem, novel, etc. isn’t enough. Writers are expected to research SEO keywords and engage through social media, blogs, and other digital forms of outreach to form relationships with their audiences and self-promote. This is a great new, interactive dimension in the arts, but it’s also very time consuming. It takes the focused obsession necessary to create art and points it in the wrong direction, away from the work.
The moral of the story? It’s okay to have a “day job” and like it, but prioritize to give your creative efforts the time they deserve.
Before you exercise, check your email and social media, or perform any of those tasks that are technically practical, set an alarm and do your dream job until it goes off. Hopefully, you’ll hit snooze a few times. As Noel Coward said, “Work is more fun than fun.” Don’t let your brain get bored; let it play for a while, then you’ll be set for the rest of the day.
Stop reading this article, turn off your wifi, and go make something.