Balancing Creativity and Real Life

(Photo by Aneta Szpyrka)

We’ve all been there: buried under obligation, so overwhelmed we just kinda want to hide, peeking out at the world.

Family life, work life, and creative life form a crazy-nasty juggling act. The good news is, it’s possible. What’s required is self-control – and not the way you might think.

Mental Nutrition: Fill Your Well

Human beings are strange things. We require a variety of nutritional details to stay healthy, and our minds are no different. Just like physical exercise depletes us of nutrients, creativity can do the same thing.

When we create, we use up what’s inside us. After we do that, we need to fill it back up.

Hobby Time

Julia Cameron (of The Artist’s Way) speaks of this as “filling the well.” We need to read/watch/listen to things that inspire us, that heal us, that make us yearn to create more. Things that refill our empty places with beauty.

Because of this, it’s really, REALLY wise to have a hobby. Something outside of work. Something unrelated to what you already create. For example, I’m a writer, but I also really enjoy photography (probably why I love Pinterest and Tumblr so much). Case in point, here are a bunch of my photos from Flickr and Instagram.

By taking these pictures, I’m filling my well. I get inspiration. I get a real FEEL for the world around me. The brilliant director Hayao Miyazaki makes this point well when he talked about taking creative imagery from nature. In Spirited Away, the dragon Haku is injured. Miyazaki knew how a dragon would fall when injured because he’d seen a snake fall from a tree – and that understanding made the dragon’s plight so much more powerful.

I cannot expect my stories to move people and evoke the feeling of real life if I don’t know what real life feels like.

Fill your well. Do something unrelated to your main creative thrust. MAKE TIME to do it – it is that important. You’ll find you create faster and better if you do.

Keep Your Priorities Straight

You know what’s way more important than the next big masterpiece? People.

Your marriage (if you have one) is more important than your book. Your kids (if you’ve got any) matter more than that portrait.

Your new opera/rock ballad/dubstep might be wicked awesome cool, but loving the people around you is a thousand times more valuable.

Guess who’s going to be there to cheer you on when you struggle? Guess who will really believe in you no matter what, or lift you up when a bad review knocks you down? Guess who’s got your back when you’re struggling to meet that deadline?

The people around you, whom you love, and who love you. That’s who.

This doesn’t have to be traditional. Parents aren’t necessarily where you get your best support from. Spouses should be, but we don’t all have those, nor do we all have good ones. The principle needs to be applied to whomever it is you have in your life – and if that’s no one, then finding someone must be your number one goal.

We need support. The image of a miserable, lonely artist, slaving away in a tomb, may be romantic, but it’s miserable in real life. Spend time on people who are willing to spend it on you – this must not be a one-way street.

Take care of others. Take care of yourself. What you create will be all the more beautiful if you do.

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