When Creative Work Feels Impossible
Some days having a dream to pursue feels dreamy. But some days it’s like an elephant is standing on your chest; you feel a lot of pressure and you’re acutely aware that you’re dealing with something much bigger than yourself.
Can I be honest? Today was one of those days. I woke up and before I even opened my eyes I remembered that I’m carrying around a dream. A dream that suddenly feels as if it weighs a thousand pounds.
I’ve tried putting it down, I’ve tried ignoring it, and I’ve tried shouldering it alone only to realize two steps further that I’m exhausted and not cut out for this nonsense because I’d definitely rather be watching Netflix.
As you might imagine, none of these tactics actually worked, so here I am with my book dream. We’re no longer strangers, startled to find each other there every time we turn around, but we still haven't quite figured out how to co-exist, either.
We’re sort of just chillin’ here together, except nothing is chill and The Book Dream and I are either madly in love or completely at odds, depending on the day.
It’s all very dramatic, you see.
My friend Laura calls this “sitting in the tension”. I always message her to say that just when I think I have a clear, linear, outline for my book it suddenly disappears again, as if it were never even there at all. I tell her I feel I’m going crazy and she tells me to sit in that tension instead of struggle against it. Laura is very smart and sometimes she says things that accidentally “therapize” me in the best way. (Extra points if you caught that Kimmy Schmidt reference.)
Then I message Melissa to say that I’ve decided creative work is too hard and I suspect that I can’t actually do it. I say this book dream must be temporarily insane, because it definitely chose the wrong person and I’d probably have more luck moving to Hollywood and being an actress than successfully wrestling this thing into the world. Melissa is smart too, and she knows me well enough to know we will have this conversation more than once. She calmly reminds me to quit looking at the big picture, and to break it down into smaller bits that I CAN do.
She likes to call these “measurable goals”.
I like to call them annoying.
I tell Melissa my “measurable goal” for today is not to lose my mind and I tell my book dream to go home, because it’s definitely drunk.
The thing is, I’ve reached the part of the process that I always forget to remember is coming:
The hard part.
The seed has been planted, the idea has grown, and the groundwork has been laid, but all that momentum inexorably came to a halt. I’ve dismantled, questioned, and rearranged all my ideas at least ten times. I’m working hard to find that thread. You know the one. That silvery thread that weaves through all my writing, connecting all the most important pieces to each other and sifting out the parts that don’t belong.
It’s tedious work.
But that’s okay. It’s supposed to be.
Creativity is tricky like a chameleon. Some days you catch it by the tail and hold it up to the light, profoundly captivated by all it’s colors. Other days it scurries across your path, only to quickly disappear again. Always just beyond your reach, refusing to be captured.
But the very thing that makes creative work so hard- it’s uniqueness, is the very reason why we shouldn’t give up on it.
Your art is your art. My art is my art. No one but you can do your creative work and no one else can do mine for me.
And yet the world waits, desperately needing all of it.
This morning I drug my heavy heart and my book dream out on the back porch with me to spend a few minutes enjoying the quiet magic of sunrise.
Usually silence makes me nervous.
I’m a chatty gal. I like people and words and I like them in abundance. Maybe it’s because I’m a nervous-talker and I accept every lull in conversation as an invitation to awkwardly fill the space, or maybe it’s because life in general is so full of noise, but somewhere along the line, silence became intimidating to me.
I get restless.
I need to hurry up. I need to slow down. I need to be quiet but I also need to hear God.
I’ve spent a lifetime training my ear to listen to my own inner monologue, which runs an endlessly obnoxious loop of fear and doubt, of hustle and pressure, of hurry up and try.
It wasn’t until I started learning to breathe deeply the silence, that it became like a sacred space around me, pushing back the noise and the clamor, making room for my heart to open up.
I sat watching thick, lazy layers of fog rolling silently in and out between the trees. I watched the sun cast intricate shadows across the field as it rose, slowly illuminating the dark places without ever making a sound.
It’s funny how silence can often say things the loudest.
Today the silence reminded me to embrace my smallness in the world. It reminded me that some of the most beautiful things happen in the quiet, after the darkest time. It reminded me that creative work is hard and deeply personal, yes, but the good news is it’s not impossible.
So what’s yours?
Amber Salhus is a wife, mom, writer, house-flipper, comedy lover, and movie buff, which makes it sound like she has a lot more free time than she actually does. She lives in the Oregon countryside with her husband and their two tiny tenders. She writes over at www.ambersalhus.com (Did I Shave My Legs For This?) where she is all about keeping it real, telling the honest truth, and finding the humor in all of it.