Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” How can we be creative every day? It’s an important question, right?
I know you feel story ideas beckoning you to give them voice. You’ve felt the wondrous, magical rushes of creativity. You know how being creative can change the way you wake up, how you approach your work, how you connect with other people. Approaching the world with a creative mindset is wildly transforming—because suddenly you’re not accepting the world as it’s delivered to you, but living through your vision of life.
That’s the gift I see each November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I witness thousands of people break down the barricades that prevent them from writing the novel of their dreams and take on the Herculean task of writing a novel of 50,000 words in just 30 days. Writing suddenly leaps up from the cluttered basement of their daily tasks to stand tall on the pedestal of life for an entire month. An audacious goal and deadline serve as creative midwives (and an occasional bullwhip), and writers are propelled by the scintillating rushes of their imagination and the galvanizing force of the huzzahs coming from what can seem like the entire world writing with them.
It seems like such a rollicking novel-writing party is never going to end, but then on December 1, the roars of rapacious novelists start to quiet. Suddenly, people are doing things like shopping for Christmas presents, studying for finals, or cleaning the mayhem their house has become. (Creativity gives the world many things, but it rarely provides a tidy house.)
The thing I hear most often after National Novel Writing Month is “I loved writing during NaNoWriMo, but I have trouble writing the rest of the year.”
It’s challenging to muster such energy each day. The galloping pace of NaNoWriMo is over, and it can be difficult to get up on the proverbial writing horse again. Urgent items on your to-do lists clamor for attention, and tackling those items is important, necessary work—buying groceries, washing dishes, fixing that squeaky door that has bugged you the last three years—so, really, how could you keep doing something so trivial as write? Suddenly, you start to feel creativity falling down on your to-do list. You know the joy it gives you, the life meaning, yet those slithering, pernicious beasts called “the demands of life” loudly yell what you should be doing (and I won’t even mention the siren calls of social media).
No one assigns us to be creative. And, what’s more, society usually doesn’t reward creativity, at least not unless your work makes it to the shelves of a bookstore, the walls of a gallery, or the stage of a theater. You might not think you’re a creative type, but to be human is to be a creative type, so one of the shoulds in your life should be to make sure creativity is not only at the top of your to-do list, but that you put your creativity into action every day. If you put off your dreams today, you create the momentum to put them off all the way to your deathbed.
We yearn to touch life’s mysteries, to step out into the world looking for new solutions to old problems, if not new worlds altogether. We need to tap into our vulnerabilities, seek to understand our fears, look at life through others’ eyes, ask questions, and open up our awareness of the wonders of the universe. Each story is a gift, a door that opens a new way to see and relate with others in this crazy, crazy world. Stories are the oxygen our souls breathe, a way to bring the unsayable, the unseeable, the unspeakable to life. Our creative lives shouldn’t be a hall pass from the stiff and forbidding demands of our lives. Writing our stories takes us beyond the grueling grind that life can unfortunately become, beyond the constraints of the roles we find ourselves in each day, to make the world a bigger place.
Stories remind us that we’re alive, and what being alive means. “Only art penetrates . . . the seeming realities of this world,” said Saul Bellow in his Nobel Prize speech. Leslie Marmon Silko says that stories are “all we have to fight off illness and death.” Jacqueline Woodson says writers are “the ones who are bearing witness to what’s going on in the world.”
For a writer, life hasn’t really been lived until one’s stories find their way onto the page. We exist in the flickers of a rift with the world, searching for words that will sew the fissure, heal it. A rupture, a wound, finds the salve of a story. If you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. If you don’t create, you hurt yourself. The signature of your self is formed by the work you put into your story. Making art tells you who you are. Making art in turn makes you.
So it’s your duty as a writer, as a person, to build a world through your words and believe in your story as a beautiful work of incarnation, to see it as a gift to yourself and others, as something that elevates life with new meaning—your meaning. Writing a story is many things: a quest, a prayer, a hunger, a tantrum, a flight of the imagination, a revolt, a daring escape that ironically leads you back to yourself. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning. Our stories are the candles that light up the darkness that life can become, so we must live in the warm hues of our imaginative life.
It’s not easy, though. The efforts of creativity carry angst and psychological obstacles that must be overcome. The important thing is to keep your creative life at the forefront of your thoughts and actions.
We become the things we do, and I can promise you, if you excavate your life to make room for your imagination, if you open up time to keep writing, you won’t just finish your novel, pen the poem in your head, or submit a short story you’ve worked so hard on, you’ll change, because once you realize yourself as a creator, you create worlds on and off the page.
If you hear the whispers of a novel coming from the other room, or ideas for other stories caterwauling for their day in the sun, dive in. “The days are long, but the years are short,” some wise person once said. Your story can’t wait. It needs you.