The Creative Impulse: Easy to Contain, Easier to Kill
It is much easier to ignore our creative impulses than to indulge in the craft of trying to bring them to life. That’s a real problem for a writer, painter, or musician. The little spark of an idea must be captured and fanned until it catches fire and becomes a story, painting, or song. It is the turning away from our creative impulses that can become an issue.
There are a lot of demands on our time. There is the demand to make money if we want to eat and have a place to live. There is the demand to be a parent and a partner if we have families.There is a demand for sleep, and food, and exercise. And if you can attend to all that, and carve out some time that you are not exhausted, well… usually it is in this "after time" that we can indulge our craft.
When I was married with children I used to work on my music and writing between 10pm and 2am. It was the only window of time, after we had put the kids down for bed, that allowed me the long stretch of quiet time to engage with my creative muse. It wasn’t easy. My then-wife would complain if I didn’t help enough around the house. My job demanded I be sharp and not burned out. And some nights I would play video games rather than "create" because I was just too exhausted.
But the commitment to the craft was important to me. And the commitment today is even stronger. That is because I am nurturing the creative voice in my life. I am listening for the creative impulses and trying to go with the flow. I’m not always successful, but I’m always trying.
The other morning, before work, I was struck by a song idea that wouldn’t be tamed. And I thought I had my music capture method down. I recorded some guitar parts into garageband. Or did I put them on video on my phone? Hmmm. Anyway, during the course of the morning I was uber-inspired, so I also wrote down the lyrics about an hour later. Everything was flowing. But… I was running out of time. I had a meeting I had to attend in person.
Here is where the problem is.
I tried to capture all the parts of the song, but just as I should’ve recorded a single, guitar-voice version, I didn’t. I imagined that my multiple capture points had gotten enough of the creative impulse for me to recreate the feeling several days later when I came back to the idea. I was wrong.
The "several days later" became more than a week. And when I finally carved out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, there was no amount of coffee or enthusiasm that could breathe life into my "parts." I was sad but not broken. Even in the recovery of ideas, it can still be a "moment" thing. I need to come back to that song idea when I’m fresh.
So even under the best circumstances, when you’ve harnessed the creative impulse and are well on your way to your next masterpiece, it is easy to get derailed. Even when you think you have all the pieces and parts and processes down. It really is "the moment" some times that requires the full attention. Delay and deflection of that creative drive will usually result in a less vibrant expression.
Keep your impulses high. When you have the gift of an idea run with it until you capture as much of it as time will allow. And, in my experience, come back to the idea as soon as possible to reignite the threads of energy that began to weave into the creative work.
Write. Sing. Paint. Draw.
And to it as often as time will allow.
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision-and Beyond – Atchity
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition – Goldberg
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
- The Artist’s Way – Cameron
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace – MacKenzie
- Sonic Highways (show) – Dave Grohl and HBO explore music
- The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting – Jimmy Webb
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