The creative life can be one of continual striving and endless ‘to do’ lists. But travelling in Spain earlier this year I had time to think about the ways in which life can be both creative and positive. Being in an unfamiliar environment was good for insight that I might not have had in my usual comfort zone.
1. Look for the signs of abundance
Creative people are often ‘itchy’. By that I mean we are always looking for the new project, the new experience… This openness is great for creativity, as is the sense that there is always more to learn and to become.
However, it shouldn’t prevent us from stopping to realise how far we’ve come and how much abundance we already have in our lives. When we think of having an abundant life, it’s good to expect more of the future than of the past. But to get into a mindset of abundance we generally need a sense of gratitude.
- How far have you come in your life and creative endeavours in the last five years?
- What do you already have in your life now that makes it abundant?
Progress might be in relationships, in creative projects (those that worked and those that didn’t), in health or work … What you have in your life that makes it abundant in this moment does not have to be in material terms.
Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.
When I asked myself this question in Toledo in June, my answers included:
- the birthday I’d just celebrated in Paris with my husband after a fantastic launch at Berkeley Books with a supportive, talented group of Cinnamon Press authors
- the run-up to my birthday having time with close family members
- time to travel
- having the health and mobility to do a long trip
- the beauty of Toledo and its sun and welcome
- the opportunity to work on the third novel in a trilogy in an amazing place, staying in a quirky, homely apartment with extraordinary views
- time to blog and reflect and journal
- the support of amazing and encouraging friendships and loving family
- having wonderful people back at home to care for our cat, handle the latest plumbing emergency (they come regularly in our elderly house) and keep the book orders flowing
- having inspiring work that I would return to
Gratitude is a mindset that helps abundance to flow. If we begin by thinking of life as pinched and mean then we are more likely to live in fear than gratitude, with the result that energy blocks and we perpetuate the downward spiral.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breath, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Abundance is a way of being. It should be on all our ‘to be’ lists.
2. Value growth and move on
If we don’t feel abundant; if we don’t experience gratitude for the moment and if we don’t encourage ourselves by thinking about how far we have come, we’re likely to feel demotivated. But, equally, we also need to move forward.
When I let go what I am, I become what I might be
We are always becoming a different story, which is not to devalue the past. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld,
For all that has been, Thank you. For all that will be, Yes
When we grow, take on new creative projects, work on personal development… some parts of the lives we’ve had will no longer fit. New growth generally requires some pruning of old growth. Making progress, as people, as writers, in whatever passions inspire us, is both exhilerating and uncomfortable.
But some of our past ways of being may no longer work for the people we want to become. And sometimes it is not only behaviours and mindsets, but people that we will feel ourselves moving away from. This shouldn’t mean becoming unkind or judgemental, but it may mean wishing some people well while letting go.
If you have a passion in life or a drive to be the best person you can possibly become, it will inevitably involve decisions.
- What has to go to make room?
- What are you willing to give up in order to have the time to create?
- What do you need to uncommit from to grow and move on?
3. Take time to gather yourself
Working on a big creative project, whether it’s yourself or a novel, a poetry collection or a work of art… will require clarity, focus and a great deal of emotional and psychological energy.
Give yourself time to recover and reflect.
What are your energy drains?
What inessential things are taking your time and distracting you?
In Letters on Life, Rainer Maria Rilke notes:
We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything
Give yourself time! In the words of George Eliot
It’s never to late to be who you might have been.
4. Face (and quiet) your fears
Creativity and becoming a different story take courage. It’s easy to stay in our comfort zones and not change. It’s easy to make a million excuses as to why we never started that book, painted that picture, launched that new project…
Feeling afraid is human. And if we step out of the comfort zone we face the real possibility of failure. But staying stuck is a much worse form of failure, one that will increasingly fill us with regrets.
What do you fear?
It might be:
- not being in control
- being judged
- not being loved
- losing money or status
It might be all or none of the above… But we all have fears.
Learning what they are is the first step to being kind to ourselves. And a major step to becoming less reactive and less likely to take on others’ negative projections.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but simply moving on with dignity despite that fear.
5. Use Discernment
It isn’t only all those inessential distractions that can overwhelm your ability to create art, literature and the life you want. You can’t make huge progress on twenty fronts at one time. If you are anything like me, you may find yourself not so much distracted as simply overwhelmed by taking on too much. This is very much a note to self:
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
Some things go hand in hand. This year I’ve prioritised writing and travel. Time in unfamiliar places has enabled me not only to research real locations and layer in more authentic details to the novel I’ve been working on, but also to shift my perspective. This has been a huge creative bonus.
However, if I decided to do this AND learn to play an instrument AND speak Hungarian this year, something would have unravelled. Perhaps it would all have unravelled. Of course, you might have other things you do to unwind, rest and recover and feed your creativity.
But in terms of big goals, two or three supported by good habits of time use and nutrition and healthy living are likely to be more manageable. 7 major goals + family + work + nutrition + exercise + daily routines + journalling + saving the world by last Tuesday seems to me to be asking for burnout.
6. Don’t move with the herd
A creative life is unlikely to be a conventional one. There are conventions that hold societies together. There are norms about morality that we do well to follow. But so much of what we do is not about large moral agreements, it’s about staying half-asleep so that we don’t rock the boat or ask uncomfortable questions.
A creative life or a life in which you continually develop the story of who you want to become is likely to be not only demand that you are wide awake for much more of the time, but also that you take risks with how you live and who you are.
Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
I haven’t had a TV for well over a decade. A couple of times when I’ve told people this, usually because they’ve asked if I’ve been watching X, the other person hasn’t only shown suprise, but said something like, ‘I don’t understand. What do you mean?’
Not having a TV does not compute, and it’s not really a very radical life choice.
The detail of not moving the herd will vary with each creative person and hand-written life. Some of the things it means or has meant for me include:
- No TV
- Home educating my (now adult) children
- Moving away from institutional affiliations, whether of religion, politics or anything else
- Living rurally in a house that will always be a project, but it is nonetheless roomy and homey
- Running an independent press on a shoestring, supporting fantastic literature the mainstream won’t touch
- Prioritising writing, travel and family over things
- Being an optimist who doesn’t believe the dogma ‘There Is No Alternative’
- Many years as a vegetarian and currently working on implementing a ‘Blue Zones’ style diet. (It involves a lot of beans)
We are herded in so many ways. None of us escapes entirely but we can become increasingly conscious of our decisions.
It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.
7. Be the person you want to become
A creative life requires commitment. It’s vital not to let anyone else dictate who you are or who you want to become, even if that anyone else is one of those inner voices that needs shutting down before it derails you.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
For the last five years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. The protagonist in the first book, This is the End of the Story, begins from a position in which she is uncertain of her own identity. Belief is Cassie’s gift, so much so that she believes herself to be whoever those in her life tell her she is — Cassie, Kat, Kitty, even Casilda, as Miriam insists, an 11th century Muslim princess from Toledo who later became a Catholic saint.
In the second novel, A Remedy for All Things, Catherine (formerly Cassie) is beginning to have a better sense of herself when a series of extraordinary dreams shake her identity again.
It’s not until the final novel, For Hope is Always Born, that the questions of identity might resolve. But what is crucial throughout the narrative arc is that the identity must be that comes from within, that is intrinsically motivated.
We can’t create if we see ourselves as marionettes pulled around by circumstance. Instead of giving control of our lives to petty distractions, unreasonable demands, fear, conventional notions of the ‘average’ life or excuses we’ve got used to living with, we need to follow Rumi’s advice:
Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.
To be the person you want to become relies on congruence. Your desires, your beliefs and your self confidence have to be of a piece. Your values and your behaviour have to reflect one another. Of course there will be days when it all falls apart. We’re all fallible and human, but the direction is always towards matching our inner and outer life. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi:
Be congruent, be authentic, be true to yourself.
Becoming a Different Story
Thank you for reading becoming a different story — if you want to learn more about working on creativity and the writing life, sign up to my email list and I’ll send you a free PDF on writing and the writing life. You can also find out about my forthcoming writing courses at https://janfortune.com/ or email me @ email@example.com. Or just feel free to continue the conversation here on Medium.