Not every urge to create is a good one

The three kinds of creative impulse I know

The first is the one where you feel like you should be making something, and are bummed that you’ve done nothing with it – with your time, your effort, your knowledge that there is something creative in you. You’re mostly feeling shame at not having made anything, and your main motivation in forcing yourself to make something, anything is just to finally quiet that voice of shame.

You might be feeling this a lot in self-isolation.

Let’s say I herald its call, and even succeed in making something. I usually just end up feeling as hollow as I felt before, and the thing I made feels as hollow too. How?

Well, if I’m just building something because I feel I have to, how authentic could the end result possibly be? That’s how I spent three years trying and trying to be a startup founder.

The only real lesson from this is to just stop trying so damn hard. Let yourself be quiet and still. Let yourself ask what you can do with your time to feel okay, to actually feel the thing that all that shame and frustration and effort is trying to cover up. Let yourself feel that thing, first, before you try to create something new.

The second impulse is the impulse you feel when you’ve actually give yourself that space, and you feel calm, and you feel something bubble up in you. Neat!

It’s a little out of my hands how and how often this happens. I might not be able to control the spring, but it will flow more frequently if I learn to give yourself more control over the above things – the quiet, the calm, the okayness, the self-love and care.

You may just have a multi-year period of your life where you’re also unable to really give yourself what you need. That happens, too. Sometimes, there are bigger fish to fry, so go fry them. It’ll be worth it. It has been for me.

You may also be living in the middle of a pandemic, having lost all the access you had to all the ways you could give yourself the love and care that you needed, and which the spring gushed from.

Shit happens, but part of the lesson is that you have to let shit happen, and feel responsible not to immediately resume your creative output, but to resume your work on knowing yourself, and knowing how to give yourself what you need.

I think the things I make when this kinda impulse shows up are new, beautiful, vulnerable and weird things that make me real happy. It’s a shame I can’t control that more directly, because lord knows I’d like to make myself really happy right now, but maybe being able to turn on a spout of creativity at-will would lead to something else. Maybe, it would make it impossible to make those real vulnerable and important things. Maybe that’s the tradeoff.

Maybe, the vulnerability and weirdness of knowing yourself and caring for yourself and loving yourself is exactly what makes it possible to make things that really do feel meaningful to you.

The third impulse is usually marked by the absence of an impulse, where you’ve already had a good idea but haven’t finished it, and finishing it feels pretty daunting.

The third impulse is the one you have to build for yourself. The one where you use what minutes you have available to you, almost every day, to keep returning to something you know came from some deep spring in you.

Weirdly, despite the fact that you kinda just have to force yourself to do this a lot of the time, this new fledgling muscle seems to get stronger, not weaker, each time you use it. It is unlike the first impulse in that way, because that first impulse just makes you more fucking tired all the time.

Starting to do the thing is harder than the doing of the thing, here, because doing it often gives you the same thing that felt redeeming when you first had the idea: it helps you connect even more deeply to something important in yourself.

If you keep showing up and doing the third thing and it does not bring you a piece of creative work that slowly gets closer to something authentically of yourself, in turn bringing you closer to yourself too, then you may have to just give it up.

Go find the space for you to be in touch with yourself again, and the spring will flow someday.