Inspiration | Living purposefully | writing | Writing Insights

Dealing with creative guilt


Creative guilt;
1. a feeling of remorse from spending time on creative pursuits with no defined outcome

I used to think of creativity as kind of like a bubble. A defined circle where real artists lived, honing their craft, and wallowed in an abundance of ideas and creativity. Where beautiful words, paintings, and art were conceived in a perfect mess of wonder and inspiration.

That was before I tapped into my own creativity.

Before I allowed myself to dare to dream that someone as ordinary as I, could be creative. Before I attempted to believe I could create something out of a seed of an idea. Something new, rich, raw, imperfect, but maybe even beautiful or interesting.

Liz Gilbert wrote about creativity in her book Big Magic, where she inspired and encouraged us to give ourselves permission to follow to our creativity. To nurture it, listen to it, and pursue it – no matter what. Whether or not you are pursuing it as a dream, a passion, a hobby, a living, a way of life, doesn’t matter; if you want to spend your time creating you can. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece worthy of accolades and critical praise. You can create! Even if for no one but yourself.

This is something that has stuck with me since reading Liz’s book, but also something that is called into question for me every day. Why? Because being creative, or spending time on a creative pursuit is often dismissed as being fruitless. Worthless. Unproductive. A waste of time. Or my least favourite – a guilty pleasure.

And then yesterday, as I listened to Meryl Streep’s Cecil B. Demille award acceptance speech at the 2017 Golden Globe awards, I honed in on something in particular that she said.  Of course there were many important and timely issues Meryl addressed in her speech which were the primary focus, and which deserved to be (you rock Meryl), however, it was her finishing sentiments that spoke to me and my current ‘creative guilt’. Her words were as follows:

“…Tommy Lee Jones said to me, ‘Isn’t it such a privilege Meryl, just to be an actor?’ Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privelige and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honours here tonight.”

And while I’m not an actor, and certainly not in the same prestigious company, I found her words empowering. They spoke to me, reminding me of the importance of creativity.

Being creative is a privilege. It is a responsibility. Not only to continue the work of those creatives before us, but a responsibility to ourselves – those afforded the privilege and opportunity – to create. No matter what the outcome. No matter if there are accolades. No matter if no one understands your creativity pursuit but you. For if creativity is lost, so is the heart and soul of the human race.

Creatives before us – writers, actors, artists, inventors – have impacted the world in so many ways. Sharing the times, the emotions and the stories of life. Questioning the world. Looking for answers, for new ways, for alternatives. Sharing their impressions, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Opening our eyes, ears and minds. Igniting our senses. Teaching us. Helping us understand. Even allowing us to escape from everyday life.

A creative life can be anything. It doesn’t have to be a new invention that will change the world. It doesn’t have to be a symphonic masterpiece. It doesn’t need to be of profound literary intellect. Or a work of meticulous, painstaking art. It doesn’t need to be a powerful, empathetic performance reflecting society. It can simply make us happy. Allow us to escape. To enjoy. Reflect. Laugh. Cry. Feel.

My writing my never change the world, it may not even end up being out in the world. But that doesn’t make it any less important – to me. And to my experience of a creative life which lights my soul. And maybe that’s all that matters.

For now, I’ll leave you with a long, but worthwhile extract from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”.

Chapter ‘Permission’, page 113.

“No way was I going to give up on my work simply because it wasn’t “working.” That wasn’t the point of it. The rewards could not come from the external results – I knew that. The rewards had to come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself, and from the private awareness I held that I had chosen a devotional path and I was being true to it. If someday I got lucky enough to be paid for my work, that would be great, but in the meantime, money could always come from other places. There are so many ways in this world to make a good enough living, and I tried lots of them, and I always got by well enough.
I was happy. I was a total nobody, and I was happy.”

Oh and this one too – one of my favourite passages from the book ;

Chapter ‘Permission’, page 121

“…But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. and always remember that other people’s judgments about you are none of your business.”