This one’s for the artists, the magic-makers, the wannabes. It’s for the closet creatives, the outsiders, the daydream believers. This one is for you, the one with the pocket full of treasures stored up with nowhere to empty them. And it’s for you with the questions and the hollowed out well that houses a dry creative soul.
As creators, we often feel the constant buzz of frustration between three opposing tensions: a soul searching for rivers of inspiration, a desire to create, and a schedule that won’t allow for it. Our well of words runs dry, and we see no clouds gathering on the horizon to fill it again.
I keep a few tricks tucked away for the days when my creativity needs replenishing, performing a sort of rain dance by inviting poetry, novels, or music that call the rains of inspiration. But, sometimes my usual methods wear thin, as does the time it takes to indulge in them.
In the middle of a recent creative funk, my family took a short getaway to Disney World during a school break. I looked forward to the visit, and hoped that by surrounding myself with a cornucopia of sights and sounds created by the most imaginative minds, they would inject life and color into my own artistic endeavors.
Instead, I felt lifeless and drained. When I’m in a creative dry spell, I can find it difficult to enjoy the good work of others–it stirs up envy instead of inspiration. Rather than wallow in self-pity at my inability to produce stories with the fairytale quality of Peter Pan or the enduring sweetness of Winnie the Pooh, I turned my attention away from the carefully engineered and curated magic of Walt Disney.
I turned my gaze to what is most epic and boring and funny and tragic and artful and true–the people rubbing elbows and shoulders with me.
I slipped on my favorite pair of $12.99 sunglasses, and from behind my reflective lenses, I watched as a thousand stories unfolded in the maze of people wandering the parks. The crowds swelled, and when I became attentive, I saw countless small acts of courage, silly antics, and relationships unfolding. I saw individuals with their stories captured in wrinkles, freckles, or tattoos written across their bodies and faces.
I’d been looking for art in the flash and glitter, but the art was written across the lives of the lovers, the families, and the friendships. A cloud arrived on the horizon, and by calling it out of blue skies, it brought rain and refreshment.
If you find yourself in need of inspiration, I offer you a few steps I follow to live a more creative life.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” ~Mary Oliver in Upstream
If you remember nothing else, remember this. Paying attention is what separates the artist from those of us who merely dream of making art but never follow through. You must become someone who notices the details hidden in plain sight.
Take note of the withering look she gave him, the soft words he whispered, the hand the child grasped. The way he moves to music, the tattoo on her left calf, the slant of light through tree limbs. These details fill the well, and will give you something to draw from when your soul feels dry.
Develop a habit of remembering:
It’s not enough to pay attention, we must also capture the things we’ve heard and seen. Develop a habit of remembering in a manner that works best for you.
I write little notes to myself in my phone or longer entries in my journal, or I snap a quick photo. Sometimes, I tell someone what I’ve seen because through the act of telling, I bury the memory deeper for recollection.
It’s important to not only remember the details of the experience, but also how that experience made you feel. Be as vivid and specific as possible in your descriptions. You will thank yourself later.
We stood at attention, we wrote notes to remember, and now we must let all of that inspiration sink deep into the parts of us where quiet and stillness keep company. We unearth meaning through stillness.
In this space, we allow everything we’ve gathered begin a conversation inside of us without our input. We let the voices chatter and the images converge, until a form begins to rise out of what once was shapeless.
I have rejected ideas or new forms of creativity because I didn’t like their shape on arrival. Worse, I have declared some experiences useless, a waste of time, or boring. Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything, but we have to welcome it on its arrival.
Paying attention is the first drop in the well of inspiration. What would it take for you to receive a drenching rainfall?
Create from a place of trust:
If we pay attention, develop a habit of remembering, invite stillness, and welcome inspiration, we find ourselves in a posture of receiving. Once we receive, we can create from all that’s taken place under the surface, as the waters of inspiration rise.
At this point, I often feel afraid that I don’t have enough to draw from, that I’ll release a bucket to gather the words, and it will come up empty. Creating out of a place of fear is different than creating out of a place of vulnerability. Vulnerability invites trust, leading to a full-bodied work of art. Fear invites doubt, leading to a thin, pale version of what our work could be.
Trust that you’ve done the work. Trust that your artist soul knows what to do with it. Trust that you are the one to shepherd this work of art into the world and offer it to the rest of us.
We are waiting.