In Mark Runco and Ruth Richards' book, Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, and Health, the authors discuss these two kinds of creative impulse in humans ( a topic also beautifully addressed in The Creativity Cure, written by one of my former students, Carrie Barron, M.D., and her husband, Alton.) Eminent creativity is what we do as writers when we work on our manuscripts; everyday creativity is our daily efforts to bring the original creative impulse into our lives at home, at work, and in relationships.
I'm simplifying a profound psychological idea here, but it gave me pause. Does one type of creativity preclude the other? Is there room for both?
When I had trouble generating energy for my manuscript one particular week, I wondered even more. Was there a certain limited bank account of creativity inside me, and was I using it up with everyday tasks rather than my writing?
Don't get me wrong: Life was full, good. But it seemed like my creativity was being channeled into things not about writing, not about eminent creativity--like making a new rock garden, working on a backroom that needed clutter clearing, even cooking.
When I did these tasks, I was very fulfilled by them. I felt creative and blissed out--but it left me with little creative energy when I sat down to write.
My assumption: one area of creativity in my life, even domestic, would automatically make me more creative in other areas. I also assumed that the creative demands of writing a book and making a garden were similar.
I was slightly off base on both counts.
I decided to test an idea: When I "spent out," using lots of creative energy in domestic creativity or solving a friend's problem or working with a challenging piece of feedback for a student, did it draw from my total? These kinds of expression satisfied me, but did they keep me from having enough to give my book?
Writing teachers, I think, or people who write for others in any capacity (business writers, pr writers, editors) talk about this a lot! Maybe we suffer from this more than the person who has a job that has nothing to do with words. I've heard many complaints from teaching colleagues over the years--"When will I find time (read: energy) for my own writing? I'm too immersed in other people's!"
It's actually not that, it's the priority we give them.
For me, if I give my all to my other projects first, I feel "permission" to take time (read: use my creative energy) for my own work. We're taught to serve others, and that is great, but not at the expense of our own creativity, right?
It comes down to being a responder or a creator, I learned.
I wanted to see how much being a responder shaped my day. My test included ideas learned from Sarah Susanka's The Not-So-Big Life. Susanka learned that if she does not answer phone or check emails in the early hours of each day, but instead focuses on her own work, she gains creative energy for the rest of the day. Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, offers a similar perspective: Rubin checks her email for a limited time each morning then disciplines herself not to respond until she has put in time (eminent creativity) on what matters most to her.
I decided to try the new plan for a few weeks--could I really refrain from turning on my cell phone, checking messages, returning calls, and checking email right away each morning? Usually, I've allowed incoming demands to shape my day, so I end up becoming a responder, not a creator.
Responding requires a LOT of creative energy, and I suspected my challenge with my writing came because I used up mine way too soon each day.
I tested the idea for one month. Some days it was almost impossible to keep from responding. But I noticed quite a change in how much attention (read: energy) was available for my writing. I didn't need to go on retreat (read: set aside sacred time) for my writing; I just needed to go offline from demands on my creative energy for a certain period each day.
For some, this won't work. But for me, it was a beautiful change. My creative bank account got filled up, surprisingly, by my own writing each morning. I had plenty to get through the rest of the day and fill my responsibilities to others.
Best of all, I woke up every morning with excitement. The writing ideas were flowing fast! No more dread--how would I ever fit in my writing time? But certainty that I could, and would, as long as I chose to respond to myself first.