Sometimes the well runs dry.
Sometimes clouds block the sun.
Sometimes the air hangs heavy, like wet laundry on a line.
Whoa, that was close. I thought the scene might not come together.
Sometimes it’s hard to get down to work, make meaningful use of limited time, do anything productive. One of the great, terrifying, vicious circles threatening creative lives is the risk of grinding away at something that doesn’t yield much worth saving. The effort to create anything useful expends precious energy and focus no matter what you’re doing. If the experience yields limited value, it becomes harder to spend similar resources a second time, a third, a fourth.
It’s hard enough to put out the effort when things are going well. Work…takes work.
Today I’m writing about a different kind of struggle. Doing good work is one thing, and comes with costs just as much as it comes with rewards. But as everyone know who makes things for a living, work does not always come in the door when it’s convenient. It comes when it comes, sometimes borne on the backs of winged horses, sometimes borne by tired mail carriers holding wrinkled manila envelopes. When they both show up at your door at the same time, you’ll discover the merits of your mettle. Especially if your phone is ringing at the same time.
By all means, a huge crush of work suggests that something must be going right. Business accelerates only when business likes what it’s getting. Business always flows where the action is. As we like to say, it’s a good problem to have.
Then it happens. It feels as if the thread suspending the Rock of Eternity above your head has snapped. Super powers or not, you’ve got nothing left. Whatever the world wants isn’t happening. The good ideas have vanished; the will to find them fled. What’s more, you suddenly can’t seem to recall what it was that exhausted you so much in the first place. You’re crushed, burned out like a match, bleached and rough like an old cattle bone drying in the high desert.
It’s too easy to expect that a big whack of work must also come with promises of plum payment. Money is the great manipulator, and so often creative people find themselves chasing it to the detriment of doing good work. Sure, sure, if it weren’t for getting paid in the first place, creative people would have an even tougher time pursuing what they do, but it’s easy for the pursuit alone to consume the potential of doing work substantial enough to sell. Too much work can force a reduction in value in each little bit produced. But to abandon the endless call of “just one more thing” is often to harm your own future for the sake of a little rest, a little solace in the here and now.
What’s to be done? Is there anything, anything at all? Does this slow-motion lethargy, this stiff, dulled, insensate mass you’ve become ever find new fuel again? The world, once banging at your door seems to have run off to the next shiny thing like paparazzi at a rope line looking for celebrities.
Solutions elude. It’s true that this is far from the worst of all problems to have in the great big world, but in the microcosm of your own life, it’s a problem that doesn’t offer easy outs.
At nighttime, air settles down as the planet cools. Springtime prompts the flight of fireflies. You watch, hardly appreciating their soft lemon glows fading in and out.
Then one alights on a branch, one on your hand, one on the fencepost in your backyard. Exhausted, you simply watch. The bugs blink, on and off, looking for love.
In the quiet space of observation, it occurs to you that money is not the reason why you’re a creative person in the first place. You’re creative because you have to create. It’s part of being alive. It’s your glowing light in the night, looking for love, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You feel the first drops of rain and think to yourself, It’s good just to stand here feeling water from the sky. The colors of deepening blue night expand into infinite, peaceful shadow. Here and there golden flares of hopeful fireflies signal to each other, “Hey, I’m full of life.”
Then you get an idea.
PS — Yes, yes, here’s where the good people of 1AU ask our dear readers to share what you’ve read with friends and colleagues. And here’s the place where you think, “Oh, sure, one more imposition of my precious time.” Well, we’re asking. It’s something we value above rubies, above gold: if you like an idea enough to give it a moment’s thought, then consider giving it a measure of freedom. When you share an idea with another person, you release an idea to grow freely in the world.
Like what you see? Set it free.