Late one night, while drinking wine with friends by candlelight, I mused that I hadn’t written shit in months. One friend lucidly responded, “Well, don’t let it be years.”
Presently, I’m digesting a little “arrival fallacy” of sorts. A documentary film I’d spent 15 years making was just sold, had its first public screening. Not that long ago Also, I recently released my first book, a long 10-year project.
Creative projects like these feel so deep inside me that I can end up living every detail. Glazing over in conversations about anything other than my project, daydreaming at traffic lights, having jolts of inspiration while jogging or in the middle of the night, are all symptoms of this deepness. My mind and body live every misstep and reason — why or why not — while I’m creating (and yes, even after I’ve shared my creativity with the world). Someone watches the film, reads the book and either immediately likes it or doesn’t… worse than either, is their silence — my mind desperately tries to fill in the gaps.
And then when something so all-encompassing is distilled down to a simple “launch,” and then it’s over, I have to figure out for myself how to keep on creating.
Certainly, the voice in my head always says, “keep writing” and “keep filming,” even when I’m numbed by creature comforts or distracted by… well, just about everything these days. Sometimes it’s only a faint whisper, but I still know it’s there. I have to contend with the weighty guilt of not listening to her (the Muse — the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts).
I don’t like existing in the land of “should have” — I should have written that chapter today. I find it particularly prickly and uncomfortable to self-censor creativity (and our true thoughts for that matter), as it makes my feelings manifest in a cagey sort of way. Just like when the muse’s voice says, “keep writing,” she also says, “speak the truth.” Mostly, she just says, “stay creative.” When you get past the blinking cursor on the blank page and actually type a word or two, you realize it is not such a big ask. It’s not profound, but profoundly simple. Just create.
Hers, however, is not the only voice. The imposter, the voice of my shadow, is also there, standing at the entrance to the dark cave of my deepest fears and posing in disguise as a guardian of my well-being. Don’t go in, it’ll say. You are not good enough. You will get hurt. You will experience suffering. You don’t want to feel hurt and you don’t want to suffer.
The cultural and media landscape plays to this shadow. It echos, mirrors and amplifies the shadow voice in your head. Sure on hand, like some pithy little platitude, it tells you chasing your dreams. On the other hand, it’s coerces you to buy insurance, take this drug, have a steady income, save for a rainy day, there are killers out there, there are unacceptable views out there, trigger warnings, censorship, it is the Truman Show, trying to keep you on Seahaven Island. Of course, there is some genuine good intent in all this, but there is a moral panic that creates an endless crisis of, well, safety is the highest good.
But, I know my curiosity craves adventure, not safety. It craves the adventure of being creative even in the fear of struggle, mediocre results, and rejection. My curiosity knows it is a lie to say safety comes in policy, a pill, a bottle, a good secure job, or by staying behind closed doors. It knows that the struggle is the rough earth the seeds of my soul grow in. That struggle is a gift.
The truth is that when we learn to live with, find peace and clarity, love and creativity in the suffering, we free ourselves. It is as Joseph Campbell says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”,
So, lean in. Keep on creating. Keep on being curious. I say this as much to myself as I do to you. As new creative projects beckon, the printed copy of my book is on the shelf behind collects dust and the documentary film is at the mercy of someone else’s efforts now. As Steven Pressfield says, “The only items you get to keep are love for the work, will to finish, and passion to serve the ethical, creative Muse.” And, “Remember one rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Releasing your creativity by doing is your freedom.
Thanks for reading