One of the things I often wonder is whether writers and artists burn out faster than, say, an engineer or an accountant or other types of less arty jobs?
I don’t know because I’m definitely not engineering or accountant material. But still I wonder. When I’m working on deadlines or projects, they are all consuming. It’s difficult to turn off the writerly ticker tape in my head and just make dinner for my children without having thoughts that relate to a personal essay in progress, or something about belonging or how I can make my website better or how my writing can be more inclusive or other people I can interview.
Is it harder to shut off a writer’s brain, or a painter’s, or a musician’s?
If that’s the case — and I suspect it is, I suspect we push and push and push until there is nothing left — than what can we do to look after our creative soul?
I’m learning this first hand. After filing my last essays and reviews, I crashed. I tried to stand at my computer and write, to get up at 5am to think, to create but everything was empty. My creative soul was empty and my physical body was exhausted so I got sick too. I’m sitting here in my pyjamas with packets of tissues and detox tea. Is it helping? Probably not.
We can’t create when we’re stressed or in flight or fight mode. There is no room for creativity if we’re concerned with basic survival.
Julia Cameron talks about filling the well in The Artist’s Way: ”Think magic, Think delight, Think fun. Do no think duty.” Yes that is very important — to go out and fill our creative resources by doing things we love or that intrigue us like attending exhibits, walks, reading, music. Anything that fills our creative wells, that gives us substance to draw on.
I’d like to add that we need to take time to do nothing. And we need to this before we fill the well. In Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog this week, there was a short piece on about social media cleanses and many in the northern Hemisphere are doing Analogue August. Cutting off from digital distractions, chatter and noise. For a whole month. It’s part of good idea. I think we also need to plan daily nothingness, or regular nothingness, even a week of nothingness. If you don’t have children, you may call this a holiday. If you look after children or aged parents, taking time off is a bit more difficult. As my sister, a mother of three says: ”It’s not a vacation. It’s a change of location.”
Then there is the guilt. The I shoulds. The I should be doing this. I should be writing more, or researching more or at least cleaning out my study and why haven’t I written up that growing pile of interviews? What about all those marketing plans? What about those ideas I haven’t put into place yet? The people I haven’t thanked or contacted yet? Creative guilt is just as bad a mother guilt. Maybe worse.
So I want to plan some nothingness. I don’t care if I’m lying on the floor looking at the ceiling. Or maybe I should go outside and flatten myself on the soft green grass, like when I was a kid, and spend an hour looking up at the tree branches and the passing clouds and imagining other worlds. I want to try to accept that this is the way forward. I want to break out of the shackles of productivity. Some higher thinkers may call this meditation or mindfulness. I’m afraid my evolutionary genetics are far too basic for that.
I’m going to write about nothingness and what it looks like for me.
Writing with Miss Kiki: Draw a large empty bubble on a big sheet of paper. Outside the bubble, write all the jobs you have to do and all the pressures and constraints and guilts and stresses you feel. Inside the bubble write words that symbolize your nothingness (`relief’ is the first word I think of, then ‘floating’ or ‘light’, or ‘free’). Write all your nothingness words inside the bubble then cut out your bubble, put it on the floor or on the grass or on your balcony and lie down on your nothingness. How do you feel?
If you don’t have Julia Cameron’s classic The Artist’s Way, I won’t tell anyone but you can get it here.
US flash creative nonfiction journal Brevity has the article on media cleanses and lots of other writerly stuff too.