Barriers are part of life’s terrain – private struggles, physical impediments or busy schedules hamper people’s creativity. But artists can still identify artists, and writers as writers, whether on A4 page or in the boundless landscapes of the mind. At times we find it hard to make things, but creativity is also a way of being and thinking, not just a measure of productivity.
When I used to buy creative-writing guides I would sometimes stumble across a particular kind of quote that filled me with dread. Invariably, the message was: ‘You’re not a writer if you’re not writing.’ It was hard to argue their technically valid point – I had a passion for creative writing and thought of it incessantly, but I was struggling to keep pen to paper. My fiction started and never ended. My ideas and characters, at first urgent and exciting, soon wandered off, faceless, through the deserted tracks of my mind. I had been an internationally published journalist for years but as far as my creative writing was concerned I was, according to these authors in their book-lined shepherd huts, condemned. But…
(Quick dinnertime sketch using both colour pencil and iPad Procreate.)
… then I stopped feeling wounded and started feeling defiant. Though my productivity was scant I knew I was, in my own way, a creative writer: I absorbed the world from a creative writer’s perspective. I collected observations in mental or scribbled notes. These scattered words weren’t in any sellable order, but my senses were open just like those of any creative writer. In short, I was writing remotely, through thoughts and through the way I experienced the world, until my ideas were ready for the page. (I now have clear narratives in my head which at last are flowing onto the page. But even if they weren’t, I would still feel like a writer!)
This made me reflect on a world full of artists who feel unable to make art. Perhaps because disability or injury hinders it, as might personal blocks, or a lack of confidence, inspiration or time. (For my piece on overcoming creative blocks click here.)
But even when the creativity stops, you can still identify as a creative, experiencing life with the observant and reflective nature of an artist, writer or photographer. The arts – a realm that can feel stiflingly judgemental – is a confidence minefield for many. But one’s sense of self is innate and needn’t be determined by others. Creative identity, like creative output, is best enjoyed not measured.
It’s a process and we work these things out. Perhaps there are passing moments when one no longer wants to be ‘a creative’ at all. Perhaps these moments are decisive, and new vocational interests will arise. Maybe a creative path is not currently a helpful one. (Austin Kleon – author of Keep Going and Steal Like an Artist – has constructive thoughts on this.) Or maybe it’s a needed break before a surge of creativity. Everyone’s productivity goes through winters.
It’s all OK.
Either way, I am not missing the key point that physically creating things can be a transformative, cathartic process. Losing that outlet for any number of reasons can feel frustrating or even devastating. But if making stuff halts because it is personally or physically challenging, this need not hurt one’s creative identity. Creative thoughts and perceptions, and the impressions that things make on us, are at the very essence of art and writing. When output dries up you can share this creativity in conversations, or treasure your private reflections with pride. The reflections of an artist, writer, photographer. Equally, when ideas and inspiration are absent, the sense of being an artist or writer can remain.
People put art and writing on creativity pedestals but we can be creative in many ways – in cooking, in how we approach a business problem or raise a family or tackle environmental issues.
Sometimes we fill a page, other times we step back and experience life as if the mind itself is the page. This is extremely valuable too. One wishes to physically produce art or written words again, ASAP, but despairing over blocks is draining and counter-productive. Creatives need not feel deflated while they wait. They can feel accepting, or defiant: ‘I am a creative!’
In the meantime, there is plenty to do. 🙂