Writing has felt complicated for me this summer. As the school year ended, so ended a schedule that housed defined times and built-in spaces dedicated to creating. Though I’ve been a closet writer my entire adult life, with no particular pattern or schedule, I quickly became accustomed to having a designated day. And, honestly? That one day a week made me feel legitimate; like a “real” writer.
All year long, I could jot down thoughts that were percolating, confident that I’d have time to give them voice when my writing day came. It’s been difficult to find time this summer, because, though I’m off, so are my children. Because the schedule is less structured, so am I. (I swear I get more done when I’m working full-time!). Ideas flood my brain as I make meals, clean up, drive here, there and everywhere. But I can’t seem to get to them.
Defined writing times are no more, the summer routine is unpredictable and I’ll be back to work full-time before I know it. This altered rhythm has thrown me off and I’ve been struggling to regain my footing. Though I know it’s not the truth, it has felt like losing ground; like skidding backwards down the mountain I worked so earnestly to summit.
In times of creative frustration, we could point our fingers to a lack of routine. We could indict our busy lives and work schedules. We could hang it on a lack of inspiration. For me, I could easily blame my inner paralysis on a lack of alone time (which I really need) in which to formulate and work out my ideas. But I actually think there is more to it. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
When it comes to making space for creativity, underneath all of our valid reasons and excuses lie the deeper questions: Is what I’m doing good enough? Does it even matter? Am I making a difference?
The answer is YES.
As humans, we need to feel like our part matters, that what we’re doing is meaningful; that we’re actually contributing in a way that makes a difference. Whenever I question whether my offering has value or I doubt my ability or I compare myself to others, my creativity becomes paralyzed.
We need to know in our knower that our value isn’t dependent on what we do or create or produce. Our value is not dependent on fame or recognition. Our value is innate as humans. We will never be more loved or accepted by God than we already are, at our worst or at our best. And what we create has value in and of itself; without being recognized or celebrated or rewarded. Art for art’s sake is a good enough reason.
On a road trip a few weeks ago, my husband listened to me wrestle through all of the angsty thoughts I’d been entertaining. You should actually feel VERY sorry for him, because I was in one heck of a self-analyzing, ruminating, melancholy kind of space. It sounded a bit like this:
What.Am.I.Doing? Why am I even writing? Is anyone even reading it? Do I even want them to read it? Maybe it’s total crap! *GASP* Maybe I’m humiliating myself and don’t even realize it?! I feel deeply that I have to keep writing…I HAVE to do this, I WANT to do this…but ALL of the people in the whole entire world are already writing. There are one billion writers and bloggers sending their stuff into the world. There are so many ideas and words and stories. The world is SATURATED. What could I possibly add?”
Not my finest moment, as you can see. And Marc (as someone who has worked in the music industry alongside musicians and creative people forever) said: “Umm, Elle? You sound like every artist, musician, writer and creative person since the beginning of time. You’re normal. What you’re feeling is not unique. What you’re doing does matter.”
When I snapped out of my funk and paid attention to my stream of consciousness, I was annoyed that I’d been duped into giving air space to this destructive line of thinking. Welcome to being human.
What excuses are keeping you from doing that thing you long to do? What thought processes are undermining your confidence? What’s making you believe that what you have to offer isn’t worthy?
Since I began writing intentionally, my bottom-line purpose has been obedience. Jesus invited me into this and I said yes. I trust him, and if he’s the only one appreciating what I create, that’s enough. If my musings help a reader in some small way to feel inspired or understood or not alone, that’s even more than enough. I need to return my gaze to what I’m called to and resist measuring myself against what others are doing. I need to stay in my own lane.
We can become stifled, feeling small and insignificant, when we believe that our gift doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t measure up. It’s a lie! There is room for all of us…and for all of our creations. Scarcity mentality says there’s only one pie and we have to fight to get our piece. Abundance says, there’s enough. Eat as much pie as you want! Look at how many songs are written using the same seven notes and how many books are written using the same thirty thousand-ish words.
The Bible describes us as being parts of the body. Though we might be tempted to esteem certain body parts higher than others, especially those that are highly visible, like eyes and hair and hands, the reality is that the unseen parts are as or more important. Though hair adds beauty, without internal organs, we die. All of the parts belong, different, but functioning together. All of the parts are necessary and valuable and beautiful.
If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.” (MSG 1 Cor. 12.15-18)
If you don’t show up, the world misses out on something original. If you don’t play your part, the song won’t be the same. We need all of the colours and thoughts and sounds and words and movements to make the world bright and rich and beautiful.
Creativity has many expressions. What’s your thing? Is it an act of service for one person, building a website, fostering a positive classroom environment, writing a song, loving the people right in front of you, photography, being vocal on an issue, learning to bake, speaking to thousands of listeners, sculpting something new, living with integrity even when no one is looking, knitting, athleticism, learning another language, painting, preparing food for your family, letting your thoughts flow onto a page? Don’t hold back. Your part matters.
So often as humans, we’d rather run before we crawl. We want to begin as experts. We want to be the best. We don’t want to risk failure or embarrassment or mediocrity. We don’t want to start at the beginning, so we don’t start.
But what if success doesn’t mean being the best? What if the truest sign of success is that we determine to humbly play our part; that we risk putting ourselves out there and we keep going? What if being remarkable means that we keep our candle lit and that we vehemently refuse to be snuffed out?
The metric for success doesn’t need to be how many likes we get on Facebook, or how many followers we have on Twitter, or whether or not we have a gallery showing, or a publishing deal or a record label. Sure, we might want these concrete assurances of success, but at a more foundational level, the win is that you are doing that thing you were made to do. We have to trust that in our saying YES—in our being willing, in our perseverance, in our determination to carve out the time—things will unfold as they were intended.
I’m not a fatalist. I believe in a God who has good plans for us, but I also believe that he has given us free will to choose. Though he certainly can deliver dreams on silver platters, more often, we need to engage our God-given wills and get off our butts. In the same breath, however, I’d argue that neither do we need to hustle and strive to realize our dreams. It’s always both: the difficult tension of trusting totally AND working hard, holding things loosely AND contending for the fulfillment of the promise.
Sarah Ban Breathnach said “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers, but most of all the world needs dreamers who do.”
One of the biggest impediments to creativity is waiting until we have time. In my essay, “Telephone-Pole-to-Telephone-Pole, I mused on waiting for things to fall into place before we begin. But the “right” time won’t come; it’s an elusive, dangling carrot. To be more than dreamers, we need to start painting, start singing, start cooking, start writing, start reaching out, starting connecting. Just start. Sometimes starting is the hardest part.
Risk doing that thing you were made for. Pursue your dream, attain that goal, create something for no other reason than it’s beautiful and you can’t not. Make the time, even when there isn’t time. Push through your insecurities, because we need that burning thing inside of you. Whether it’s a flickering pilot light or a roaring fire, it is enough to diminish darkness in our world.
And now, back to my summer funk and the end of this story. While talking with my sister about the struggle it’s been to write this summer and how it’s felt like I’m skidding backwards down the mountain, my 11-year-old daughter piped up from the couch beside me:
“So, run back up the mountain, mom!”
Mic drop. Out of the mouths of babes. Her simple, God-given exhortation to keep going punched me right in the gut. So, I’m applying Ingrid’s sage advice. I will keep creating. I will continue to give voice to the ideas that swirl and build and all but explode in my brain.
I am running back up the mountain. Wanna come?