For the creative person, inspiration is everything. Any activity where you aren’t primarily just following instructions, depends on inspiration, and if that’s where you live, the flows and currents of ideas and creative energy become critically important. Like all flows and tides, creativity tends not to be a constant stream, because nothing natural is without degrees of fluctuation or change.
What happens when there is no inspiration? For an author, this is a place of fear. Writer’s block, is crippling. Not just in terms of not being able to produce in the moment, but also the fear of having lost it. There are no guarantees that your vision will ever return. On top of this, many creative people carry anxiety about being frauds. If you fear that you aren’t really a proper (insert appropriate title here) then the loss of inspiration can seem like proof that you can’t really cut it as a professional creative person. There’s nothing like fear, self doubt and despair to further shut down your creativity and reduce your scope to trust whatever does turn up.
I know a lot of professionally creative folk working across many different disciplines. What I see reliably, is people working long hours for not much money, and needing very high output to be able to make ends meet. The romantic view of the creative life, with the long literary lunches, the glamorous parties, and some occasional, pleasant, effort free not-proper-work is miles from the truth. I don’t know anyone living that way. I know a lot of people who work ten hour days and more, seven day weeks, producing gorgeous, inspired things and just about getting by. They create because they have to, because it is not possible to exist without doing it.
It would be nice to feel relaxed and at ease with the process, not worrying about deadlines, or where the money for next month will be coming from. It is easier to court the muse if you’re not conscious of needing money for shoes, or a thwacking great electric bill you can’t afford. When you need the flow of inspiration on full blast all day every day to have any hope of not sinking, block is terrifying and a disaster, and it tears people apart. We are not machines, and to need to run your inspiration as a commercial product can be to put your creativity in jeopardy. Burn-out can destroy you.
I think the last time I had a whole day off was in October 2013, and before that, there were a couple days in July. I’ve got a day in about ten days time, and I’ve been holding that thought for weeks now. The last few days I’ve been so tired, that the ideas are barely flowing at all. Yesterday, everything was making me cry, and that’s not a good sign. I gave up this morning and had a couple of extra hours in the duvet, just sitting there, not really thinking or doing anything because I was too shattered for even that.
Professional creativity means study and practice. It means polishing your craft, learning about it, developing it. It is a whole other thing from having a hobby, where you do only what is pleasurable and comfortable. These are the things people do not have in their minds when they say that we creative people should give our work away for free, for love. You only get creative excellence by working at it. Be that hours training your body for dance and gymnastics, hours developing your vocal stamina so that you can sing two 45 minute sets in an evening, or honing your skills so that you can capture a face in a few lines, be those of words or paint… If you don’t do these things professionally, you don’t tend to know what it takes. A good performer, a good artist will make it look breathlessly easy, but if you see that and assume there was no effort involved in getting to that place of simple brilliance, you might want to give it a try some time. It is so demoralising having all that dedicated work rubbished by people who want to justify getting a freebie.
In the meantime, I may not be doing much today.