When was the last time you loved your creativity? When was the last time you nurtured your creative gifts?
When was the last time you celebrated your artistic self?
I’ve been a creative person for as long as I can remember and I’ve gone through many seasons of feeling both connected and disconnected with my creativity.
And when you’re going through a season of feeling disconnected from your artistic gifts, it’s so easy to feel discouraged - as if you may never again find that spark to reawaken your creative passion. You may feel like you’re searching through the ashes for the hope of a glowing ember.
My hope is that this essay will guide you out of those ashes and help you reignite your creative fire.
I went through a season of ashes several months back, after the release of my last poetry book, Mountain Medicine. I had poured my heart & soul into the writing of those poems and their release into the world. Once the book was out, however, I had the distinct feeling that my artistic well had gone dry. I felt like I had said everything I needed to say through poetry… and maybe I was done. Maybe that was my last poetry book. Maybe I just didn’t have any more poems in me.
(In the background of my mind, there’s a voice that judges what I just said as being a bit dramatic… but one of the lessons we artists must frequently accept & embrace is that we are very often highly sensitive people. And that’s okay. We feel things deeply… perhaps more than we wished at times… but this depth of feeling is also precisely part of our gift.)
Thankfully, the road back to creative recovery was not as difficult as my doubts would have me believe. In fact, the journey consisted primarily of very simple steps, taken one at a time. I would like to share those steps with you, in the hopes that they can help inspire you on your own creative journey.
For me, it really begins with an inner decision, a simple choice that I must make on a daily basis: I choose to value my creativity, I choose to honor the fact that I am a writer, and because of that fact, I deserve time in my day dedicated to writing.
I know this inner choice can feel daunting to some. Career, family, laundry, dishes, dinner, and a whole host of life responsibilities are likely demanding significant amounts of your time & energy. On top of that, cultural narratives about art & artists tend to instill the belief that devoting time to a creative pursuit is impractical, self-indulgent, a frivolous waste of time compared to the more respectable demands of work life & family life.
But it’s right here, in the midst of our crazy lives in an even crazier world, that we must stake our claim to creativity. We must make the bold choice to honor our identities as artists, for the simple reason that no one else will see us as artists until we first see ourselves that way.
From that place of valuing and honoring our creativity, we then can bring this commitment down to earth by setting aside specific time in our day to practice our craft, to be in the flow of our creative energy.
I’ve learned from personal experience that my best creative time tends to be in the morning. I love the feeling of waking up early, making a cup of coffee, and sitting down with a pen & a blank page. When my creative energy is in need of a reawakening, I decide to dedicate my mornings to writing.
I put it on my calendar. I commit to it. I lay out my notebook & a pen the night before, so they will be the first things I see when I wake up. Before I start my morning writing session, I turn my phone off. I don’t look at my email. I show up to the page, I show up for MYSELF, as if it were the same level of importance as a business meeting, a doctor’s appointment, or a promising romantic date.
We have to treat our commitments to our creativity as something important, not subject to rescheduling just because someone else wants our time & energy at the last minute. We have to decide our creativity is important and hold firm to that.
Now, I know there may be some artists out there who don’t resonate with the idea of scheduling time on a calendar for their creativity. You may be someone who finds that your creativity emerges best in a spirit of spontaneity, making it damn near impossible to plan for or put on a schedule. I believe there is always a place for spontaneity in the creative process. I too am often struck by a spontaneous line of poetry that comes to me at a random moment, maybe driving in my car or out walking in the woods. Creativity is, by nature, an unpredictable creature. But I do believe that if we are interested in building a sustainable creative life for ourselves, we are best served by being able to do both: to consciously create spaces for intentional creativity alongside appreciating those wonderfully spontaneous bursts of artistic insight.
Now that we’ve set aside time for our creativity and treated that commitment as something sacred, it’s time to show up and be present to our creative process. I use that phrase “be present to the creative process” deliberately. Because all artists eventually learn that creative energy is not always something that can be willed on demand. Sometimes it requires patience. We can often get frustrated when we sit down for a creativity session and it doesn’t immediately start to flow effortlessly. Our inner doubts can start to become loud once again, convincing us that we’ve lost our touch, lost our connection to the great creative muse.
That’s why we must learn to be present to our creative process, however that might unfold.
Sometimes it means staring out the window for a while, admiring the trees in the backyard. Or dropping into our bodies through some intentional movement. Or beginning to draw some random doodle. Or writing down a phrase that suddenly pops into our head. Sometimes the first few steps of creativity don’t feel like they have the makings for high art, but instead have their roots in the unlikely magic of a simple moment to which we’ve decided to give our full, joyous attention.
The important thing, in my eyes, is to stay in that creative space you’ve committed yourself to, resisting the urge to grab your phone or get distracted by a household chore that we convince ourselves is more pressing & important than staring out the window waiting for a poem or song or idea to arrive. But it is precisely by giving ourselves permission to stare out the window, to just be present to the mysterious, unfolding process of creativity, that we also give permission for the miraculous act of creation to begin.
When the creative floodgates finally open and the ideas begin to flow, our task is to follow the current, to trust that we are being carried downriver to the exact place we need to be. In my poetry writing, I rarely (if ever) have a plan for how my poems will turn out. They begin so often with a simple word or phrase, some completely unplanned idea that suddenly grabs hold of my spirit and asks to be brought to life. And I simply try to follow where the idea wants to take me. I’ve come to believe that the poems that come through me have a life of their own, a wisdom of their own. The poem knows what it wants to be. I simply have to be open to its message & intention and set it down on the page as clearly as I can, while trying to keep my ego out of the process as much as possible.
Our will power as artists is necessary to get us to sit down at our writing desks, or to pick up our guitars or paint brushes. But once the personal will has accomplished that fact, I believe the rest of the process is mostly about surrender. Artists must be great practitioners of trust, holding to the faith that our creativity will always guide us right. Because it always does.
There is so much more I could say about the creative journey, but one final thought I’ll add here is that it is so nourishing to have support & community as an artist. As much as writing, for instance, is a solo art form, I know I can’t be a writer all alone. Having artistic friends and mentors - people who can cheer us on, be a sounding board for our ideas, and walk along alongside us on the path - is a priceless gift.
In my 1-on-1 coaching work, probably the most common theme of all the clients I’ve worked with in my 4 years of coaching is this journey of reigniting their creative fire. I love supporting people through those earliest baby steps of creating a time & space for their creativity to blossom once again. I also have walked side-by-side clients towards that triumphant moment of releasing their first book or creative project into the world. This work of nurturing the creative spirit in us all is one of my greatest joys.
If you are feeling the call to reignite your creative fire, I would be honored to walk beside you on that path and support your journey through my personal experiences as a life-long artist, writer, poet, certified life coach, and former English & Creative Writing teacher.
I invite you to book a free introductory Pathfinding Session so we can chat 1-on-1 about how I can support your creative journey.
A final announcement... In October, I’ll be hosting my final group challenge of 2021, following May’s Soul Journal Challenge and August’s Move Your Body & Soul Challenge. For this last challenge of the year, I want to focus on.. you guessed it, creativity. So I’m excited to announce that I’ll be hosting the Creative Kickstart Challenge for the 31 days of October. I have many exciting details to share in the coming weeks, but I can already share that Creative Kickstart will feature virtual creativity sessions & Zoom opens mics to share our work, plus TWO in-person workshops here in Asheville, North Carolina. Head to the Events page of this website to learn more.
It’s an honor to share this creative path with you.
- Matthew Foley