The Creative Spirit

Sometimes the ideas just come to me. They come as specific, stand-alone scenes that I have to write down immediately or I will lose them. They come as I am leafing through a magazine or catalog and come across a photograph of a person and suddenly think “That’s what the character looks like!” They come as visions of entire cities and landscapes, so vivid that I have to pull out a piece of drawing paper and create a map of the story’s settings to bring them from imaginative thought to on-the-page reality. And then, “real life” gets in the way and pushes the plots, characters, and settings I have crafted as a creative writer into a sort of mental suspended animation where they “rest” for months or years—or sometimes die. I am a writer; in my soul, I know this to be an undeniable fact. I can’t not do it. I have a dream of writing novels full time and then traveling the country or world and talking about them, sharing my creations and ideas with others and learning from those who share that same creative passion. If this is truly where my passion lies, why then is this still just a dream?

I feel to a certain degree that I have betrayed the writer in me. I have always known that I am at my greatest level of spiritual contentment and joy when bringing the characters, settings, and events I imagine to life. So what happened? When someone asks me “So, what do you do?” why am I not able to reply, “I am a writer.” That is the correct answer, the only answer that expresses my soul’s convictions and I can express without doubt. At the same time, to say “I am a writer” is also a lie, as I have never published a book and don’t have any professional accomplishments in that world. I don’t write as a job. Why is that?

The excuses are all there: it won’t pay your bills, very few ever succeed, for every Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or George R.R. Martin out there there are millions of wannabes that will never see their words in print…on and on. I knew that writing was what I loved when I was a high schooler, but being a novelist isn’t a conventional “job” that you just go out and apply for. I wasn’t the most confident or self-assured person when I was young, so I listened to those voices that seek to pin the creative spirit down and suppressed my soul’s need. My self-talk included phrases such as “I’m just not good enough at that,” “I need to find a ‘real’ job,” “That’s a pipe dream,” and “You can still do that as a hobby on the side.” Oh, to go back in time, visit my young self, and scream “NO! You can do it! You have the drive to do it! You have the love for it! The skills will come! It will just take tenacious practice and the willingness to learn! It will take having a very thick skin and getting used to being rejected for a long time! Don’t betray what your spirit needs you to do!” That’s a story idea right there.

I have had a novel swimming around inside my head for close to 15 years. I have brainstormed, outlined, drawn maps, created lists of characters, and started writing this novel on multiple occasions. I would usually manage to get about 100 pages or so into it, stop, say to myself “You don’t really know where this is going,” get frustrated, and set it aside. Then, the realities of married life, children, shopping for groceries, going to the dentist, and countless other responsibilities would overshadow the dream, and it returned to its dormant state. My characters were probably thinking “He’s bailing on us again. I wonder, when and if he reboots us, how we’ll be different. We’ll probably have new names, have to get used to a whole new world—I’m getting whiplash over here.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Devotion to family is not a thing I in any way undervalue, shirk, or think is unimportant. They are my world. I also have no regrets whatsoever regarding the profession I did ultimately enter, and that is teaching. That has been an incredible and rewarding journey. It’s just that I feel I have suppressed an aspect of who I am that has not allowed the fully realized “me” to come into being. As a result, that “me,” the “me” I truly aspire to be, have always aspired to be, is someone my family and students haven’t been able to meet because I wasn’t willing to do what it would really take to bring him alive—to wake him up. I want them to meet him before it’s too late.

Fortunately, it is never too late for that awakening to come. A few months ago, when the stress of regular life was riding high, the thought came to me unbidden, just like the story ideas can: “Why don’t you start your novel up again?” There was an immediate and physical reaction to that; the stress went away, and a joy that had been too long a stranger surged through me again. There was something else too, a sort of desperate conviction that said, “This time, no matter what, you carry it through to the end.” On March 26, 2021, at 1:09 pm, the process began again. On July 5, 402 pages later, I wrote the words “The End,” and just sat there staring at them. Was it published? No. Was it perfect? Heavens no. Was one draft of it, the story I had been dreaming of for 15 years, at last complete—and after only a little over three months? YES. Had I at last followed through on that promise to myself? YES. That journey, the journey that should have started in high school had I possessed the conviction to listen to my spirit’s call, was at last in full flight. In truth, the idea has grown into a trilogy of novels, with volume two well underway and not slowing down, and a second draft of volume one in process as well.

Obviously, this process is only beginning, and I am fully aware of the daunting challenges ahead. All the voices from the past are circling like wolves, saying “So you finally finished something. So what? This is a highly competitive business. What else have you ever done before this? You’ll never find a publisher for this. You aren’t good at it. Look at those flat characters, repetitive sentence structures, vague descriptions, and all the cheesy dialogue. I mean, come on. Who would ever read this?” The high school “me” would have listened, torn it all up, and said, “You’re right.” The 52 year old me says, “Who cares? I did it. I loved it. I still am loving it. I will get better as I go, learn all I can, and devote myself to this like never before because it’s just what I have to do. Writer’s write.

Now, listen carefully.  You too have something in you that you love, something that you just can’t give up doing, something that feeds your spirit unlike anything else does. There are people telling you that you aren’t any good at it, and that you should make better use of your time. I say that devotion to this thing that feeds your spirit is the best possible use of your time. The naysayers around you or in your own head want you to fail at it and give it up, because then they have something to use as validation for their own inaction. “See, what’s the use? He failed. I would just fail too.” But think of all the people who failed at first, tried again, failed again, kept getting up, kept trying again, and one day after absorbing all the lessons along the way, finally achieved the goals they had set for themselves. Nothing came easy to them. They worked and sacrificed and struggled and failed and were told they would never succeed. Then they did.

Confront those voices: It takes too much time. I’ll make the time. You’re no good at it. I’ll get better. Everyone will hate it. Not everyone. Too few succeed at this. I’ll be one of them. You’re lying to yourself. No, I am finally being true to myself.

Please, from one who betrayed that dream when he was young, but has now finally watched it begin to realize itself—take full advantage of the time that is given to you and run that dream down. Do it now. Today. Don’t wait. No excuses. You know in your soul that it is what you are destined to do, what you have been called to do. You can feel that. You don’t want to be the person, lying on your deathbed, staring up at the ceiling and wishing that you had taken advantage of the opportunities before you when they presented themselves and when you were still capable of pursuing them. Ghosts will visit you, then; ghosts of all the “yous” that you never allowed to come into being because you listened to voices that weren’t your own. These ghosts will look at you with the sad, perhaps even angry eyes of the betrayed and say, “You prevented us from reaching our potentials. Now it’s too late for us.”

You’ll respond with something like, “But…but I just wasn’t good at any of it, and everyone said I should just give it up.”

They’ll come back with, “You never even tried! You will always fail at anything you never attempt! Nothing worth doing is easy! You gave up on us. You never even gave us the chance!” And then you’ll cry. They’ll cry too. And the world will weep for all the beauty you could have brought into it had you just listened to your spirit when it called. Don’t be this person. Be who you were born to be—and do it now.

I would like to close with an image for you to carry forward in pursuit of this dream. Sisyphus was an ancient Greek king who, for general trickery in his life and for twice cheating death, was punished by Zeus in the underworld by being sentenced to pushing a boulder up a hill for all eternity. His goal was to push the boulder up the hill to the top. However, just before reaching the top of the hill, he would always lose his grip on it, and it would roll back down to the bottom. Things today that are seen as laborious or futile are sometimes referred to as “Sisyphean.” Do not misinterpret me here; I am not saying that all of the work you are putting into your spirit’s calling is ultimately futile and will result in wasted effort. That is what the naysayer voices want you to think. I look at Sisyphus as a symbol of the very dream itself. Even if the goal is never achieved, whatever it may be, you just have to do it. Like Sisyphus. The act of struggling against the rock itself will strengthen you. In the end, so long as you never betray the dream, you are likely to defy the naysayer gods, shove that rock right off the top of the hill, and then go looking for the next one to start pushing toward the summit. The journey never ends, and it is the struggle that matters. Then, when you are too old and staring up at that ceiling, you will know in your heart, no matter what happened, that you took full advantage of the time at your disposal, developed your skills, fulfilled your calling, produced wonders, and honored your dream. There won’t be any ghosts, but rather the tangible results of your efforts for you and others to enjoy and take pride in. Most of all, you will have no regrets.

Now, for your spirit’s sake–go get started!

 

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