Recently, an old friend wrote to say that he feared his days as a writer were nearly done. It wasn’t only that for the first time in many years he was not participating in NaNoWriMo. Reflecting over the year that was ending, he realized that “Other than a few short stories, this has been a year without writing.” He’d done some blogging, plus editing and compiling of past work, but compared with previous years, this one was unproductive. He wrote, “I know for most writers there’s a point when you shut down and you stop writing. I have so much more I want to accomplish. I wonder if the shutdown is in progress, and how much time I have.”
I realized that others might want–or need–to read my response to his fears. So here it is, revised and expanded to speak to all of us who are blessed with the gift of creativity.
You will always be a writer. Or an illustrator. Or a poet, singer, actor, painter, dancer, musician, inventor, sculptor, comedian or performance artist. However your creativity expresses itself, it will always be with you, because it is part of you. It may lie dormant for months, years, or even a couple of decades. Your creativity may be channeled into your work, into earning degrees and credentials, raising children, into volunteering for any number of causes. You may choose to ignore it until it recedes into the background. But it will never die until you do. Very few of us will be fortunate enough to have our creative works enjoy a wide audience or outlive our physical death—but that doesn’t change who we are.
I’ve been struck, reading the stories of creative people, at how early we express our gifts. Ask a question like, “When did you start writing (or drawing / acting / singing)?” and most of the time the answer includes a childhood memory of telling stories even before we could write, of scrawling stories on paper or tapping them into a computer as soon as we learned how. Artists remember sketching on every available surface using any available medium. Young singers raised their voices without even realizing it, sometimes at the wrong time. Performers gathered family, friends, or even stuffed animals for an audience.
Demands pile up as we grow. Creative writing assignments in school give way to critical reviews of classic literature from the syllabus. There are high school activities, teams to play on, applications for colleges and for jobs. We may choose a path that will nurture our creative gifts—or one that has a greater chance of supporting us, or even one that we are equally passionate about but is not creative in a traditional sense. We establish careers, businesses, homes, communities, famlies. Then there may be children to raise, aging relatives to care for, bills to pay, decisions to make, cars to fix, taxes to file—and, as my writer friend also experienced this year, funerals to attend, loved ones to grieve, and estates to settle. For these reasons and hundreds more you may set aside your gift, by choice or by chance, for long stretches of your life.
But at some point when you have the mental space, when you have the time in your schedule, when the tide of urgent demands recedes and your emotional, spiritual, and creative energies recharge, you’ll write again. An idea will arrive, in whatever way it does for you. Give it room. Nurture it. Let yourself go with it. Feel the joy. The next thing you know two hours will slip by and a couple of thousand words will be there, or a sketch, or some music. You might wonder, “Wow, where did that come from?” It’s always been there, hidden inside you—you just had to let it shine.
Here’s what I do NOT believe: “I know for most writers there’s a point when you shut down and you stop writing.” Barring illness or incapacity, I don’t know of any examples of this, certainly not enough to use the word most. If you know of any examples, please don’t share them. I don’t want to know.
But if you have examples of personal creativity rising again, and ideas of how to nurture the creative drive when it re-asserts itself, please share them here. And if you know others who might appreciate some reassurance that creativity is an essential part of who they are, please share this post with them.
Related Post on The Artist’s Road: Creativity and the Aging Brain