March 30, 2014 by Julia
It’s hard for me to enjoy relaxing until I decide I’ve earned it. Is this the usual way people feel, or am I in the minority here? Do regular people have this drive, always telling them to keep going, keep working – or the glass of wine and movie that awaits will feel more like a failure than a reward?
I’ve been writing in circles for a few days now, trying to figure out what I really want to write about, and after a fun but long day with the kids, I am tired in this moment. Part of me wants to stop writing now, but I fear that I won’t be able to enjoy a thing unless I finish this post.
I feel compelled to describe what it’s like for me, being a creatively driven person. (“Duh” disclaimer: I am not the expert on creative drive, just my own experience of it.) I suppose the above paragraphs sum up part of the difficulty for me, so let me expand on that part first.
I often feel that my creative output is so closely tied to my identity that if I don’t manage to make something – in my case, a piece of writing, a watercolor painting, a craft, a playlist for a friend – I feel incomplete. Like the creativity muscle will atrophy if I rest it for more than a few days. Like I am lazy and making lazy choices with my free time, a luxury in short supply that must be spent well. The pressure! There is no time for channel-surfing, Facebook perusing, or half-measures. You may have also picked up on the fact that my self-esteem is quite dependent upon the status of my latest project, too, unless I manage to shake myself by the shoulders and consciously say, ‘Stop it. You can veg out tonight, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.’ As if morals have anything to do with it. I am not talking about charity work here – I am talking about writing a blog post or sketching in my notebook.
And it’s a compulsion. One way to know if you’re a writer? You can’t stay away.
I made the “mistake” of taking a creative writing course as an elective during my last semester of college. My major? Interior Design. I was in the middle of my thesis project, after three years of intense work at this fine arts college. But from the first writing assignment, I was a goner.
It kind of felt like I was cheating on my chosen career path with an irresistible, fascinating, frustrating lover. The attraction was intense; I was helpless against its power. I found myself spending more time on my weekly short stories and essays than I did on my design thesis.
I’d always loved to read and write since childhood, and had even written a “novel” or two before hitting age twelve. So I’m not sure why this old love of mine had fallen by the wayside. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to do a little bit of everything related to the arts, and interior design does require a sort of “jack of all trades” skill set. It seemed like the most practical application of the arts I could think of, straight out of high school. Also, I had some idea that being an English major guaranteed nothing in the way of jobs.
But writing again hooked me. It was like coming home to my true self when I hadn’t even realized I was gone. I lived for the class, during which everyone read their work. Our teacher inspired and encouraged us. She brought the old writing flame back to life, and I knew, I just knew, at age 23, that it was the art I loved to do more than anything else. In the twelve years since that class, I haven’t doubted it.
Which is the upside of creative drive: the love of a craft, so strong that you want to work and work and pull it apart and put it back together again and talk about it endlessly. This love is a gift, and I feel privileged to love writing as much as I do.
I could say that I love it because it explores human nature, and you have to intuit and observe the world around you and turn that raw material into something compelling, and I love the English language with it’s vast expanse of words and ability to describe just about anything. And that would be true. I also love the fact that it’s not a team effort, and requires no expensive contraptions or funding. I can sit by myself and work it out on my own, trusting my own judgment. The physical materials are simple. It’s quiet and clean on the outside, while the mess sprawls in my mind, waiting to be sorted out with just the right phrase. (Oh, I love it.)
That last semester, though, there was none of this reasoning about why I found myself wanting to ditch my thesis in order to write another short story. It was just that writing clicked into place for me, and I couldn’t help it. I could not stay away from the computer lab (remember those?), typing away. It made me happy, even as I agonized over it. It was something I was good at, that made me feel more like myself than any other creative endeavor.
When I graduated with my B.F.A. in Interior Design and Architecture with enough school loan debt to keep me paying until I was forty, I wasn’t too discouraged about the fact that I clearly wanted to write more than I wanted to do design. Would I be a better writer if I’d majored in English? No doubt. But writing, like singing or painting, doesn’t have to always play by the rules, and you can learn it on your own, for free.
What do you love to do? Can you follow it? I hope so.
But, you know, don’t beat yourself up about it if you need to just collapse on the couch for tonight. Cause that’s what I’m about to go do.