The idea may sound a bit tabu. But having an affair with your creativity is a great new way to approach things if you are struggling to do the creative work you’ve always wanted. It's another idea inspired by my creative mentor, Elizabeth Gilbert. I wrote about her most recent book on creative living, Big Magic, here. After reading the book I discovered her companion podcast, Magic Lesson’s, where she interviewed various creatives (writers, artists, musicians, etc.) about their creative road blocks. In episode seven, Gilbert interviews Betsy, a long time art teacher who was using her creativity to help others but not using it for herself. Betsy felt pent up in all aspects of her life and needed a change. But instead of making any drastic changes in her life, like quitting her job, Gilbert suggested to “have an affair with her creativity” by sneaking away to a private place to create art only for herself. This would hopefully cut the chords of pressure and external expectations by allowing Betsy to create work that did not need to be shared with anyone else, allowing herself the freedom to just be. It would also, hopefully, create a desire to spend all or as much time with her creativity as possible, like having a love affair.
When I heard this I thought, “Yes! I need that too!” For so long I’ve been wanting to dig my heels in and explore new work and mediums—to push myself in ways time had not allowed while running my business. My husband and I have a long standing joke about how I’m going to start doing “creative exercises” because I’ve known I needed this for so long, but never start. I bought several books to jumpstart these creative exercises: D30 by Jim Krause, Creative Workshop by David Sherwin, and What it Is by Lynda Barry. But to be honest the pressure to share work or make a public declaration about a new creative project was keeping me from starting. Especially because a couple of years ago I tried doing daily design exercises, publicly, but failed to keep up after less than a month. It quickly stopped being fun because I felt too much pressure to create something extraordinary each time I sat down to do work. And thus I didn’t want to do anything.
But what if my only goal was to create for myself without any outcome in mind? To lock myself away in my room and not share it with anyone, not even my husband? What would happen if I had an affair with my creativity? Would I go to great lengths to spend time alone in my room making art? It’s been years since I felt that kind of motivation.
What I found was that creating freely is more than taking away the external pressures of sharing or making good work. It also takes some level of discipline and structure no matter what. It was impossible to start making anything without any direction. I floundered and did nothing for quite a while because I didn’t know where to start. Finally, at the end of January I decided I’d dig into some online classes on Creativebug. I also decided to dedicate my time after dinner on weekdays to working through the projects and exercises in these classes. I’m hoping this creates a nice habit of locking myself in a room every night to create. To practice. To get better.
Although I’ve only been working on this now for a few weeks I’m already finding this spilling out into other times in my day, like my commutes to and from work and lunch hours. I’m excited to see where this goes. I’m feeling a desire and excitement to come home to create each night which is something that's been missing from my life for too long. I’m comfortable with sharing that I’m doing something but happy that I don’t actually have to show anyone what I’m up to. But I’m sure it will eventually lead to some work I’m happy to share.
So what happened to Betsy after talking to Elizabeth Gilbert? Did she end up facing similar struggles? In episode 11 of Magic Lessons Gilbert catches back up with her former guests to see if they made any progress. Like me, Betsy tried, but admitted she struggled to do much more than start a little flirtation instead of an all out affair. Which is kind of how I feel right now too, and that’s a good start. A flirtation could lead to something more, and once that desire is sparked I’m pretty confident it only grows stronger.
Like what you've read? For the next few months I'm changing my weekly posting day from Wednesday to Thursday to accommodate my teaching schedule. Hope to see you here again next Thursday for a new post on creative living!