about similarities between creativity and parenthood, the conception and birth of a creative project, and its development until it leaves home
“I’ve seen so many creative projects stillborn, because the creator doubts themselves.”Moby
On her recent book tour, promoting the publication of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert told writers: “Your book is not your baby!” And to prove it she took her book and dropped it on the floor.
Having watched the scene a couple of times, I wanted to go up to her and say, ‘but Liz, for creative people it often FEELS as if their work is their baby!’
When we had a weaving studio, I used to take photos of the pieces people had made, and most weavers were very happy to let me do that.
One day a woman came to the studio. She had a lifelong dream of being a weaver. Jenny (not her real name) was gushing over the loom, the beautiful yarns, the inspiring range of colours… her dream had come true.
After finishing her first piece, I asked Jenny if it was ok to take a photo. She handed the piece of woven fabric to me, and then suddenly burst into tears.
“It feels like you’ve taken away my baby!” she cried.
I quickly gave the piece back to her. To my surprise Jenny was very happy to pose for a photo, proudly holding her ‘woven baby’.
There is an intimate bond between us and our creative work. It is strangely similar to having children. The concept itself is woven into our language:
I remember Marianne Williamson speaking about ‘not being pregnant with a book.’
Creative ideas come to us through an act of conception.
If a seed-idea falls into the womb of a fertile Imagination, it might meet a dormant egg of creative potential. A fertilised egg of potential could develop into an embryonic creative idea, and this may lead – after a period of emotional nurturing and gestation – to the birth of a creative project.
In their early stages creative projects are in their infancy, as we all know. Many creative people keep their creative projects in a special room, partly because these ‘infants’ can be highly sensitive to the presence of strangers, and partly because they can make a lot of mess – a bit like small children really.
This explains why ‘parents of a creative project’ have to disappear in their playroom every now and again to feed one of those babies.
Without the loving attention of their ‘parent’, creative-projects cannot thrive. They may be stillborn, or lose their vital spark. In a talk on ‘Creativity and the Freedom to Fail‘ the American musician Moby points out that the most common cause of death of creative projects is self-doubt, embarrassment, and contempt towards one’s own creative work.
(… imagine being that critical of a real baby…)
We readily dismiss a creative project when we intuitively know its potential but don’t understand how much time, love and attention it needs to mature. That’s most likely the reason we feel disappointed and reject it.
We need our creative projects just as much as they need us. They bring bundles of joy into our life. They light us up with love and passion. They free our spirit and keep us young at heart.
Creative reproductiveness is not limited to writing books, or producing art work. It applies to any form of self-expression born from a healthy source, anything you do that makes you feel alive and keeps you sane.
As creative projects develop, they naturally go through various phases. In the early stages they may not be very cooperative. They can behave like stubborn toddlers. This is a good sign. It shows they have a strong will. They know where they want to go with their boundless creative energy – even if their manner of communication isn’t yet coherent.
The same youthful creative energy makes your creative project behave in rebellious ways as it goes through adolescence. If you have sleepless nights, worrying whether anything will ever become of it… that’s normal.
Some creative projects never leave home and clutter up our attics… (again, self-doubt and contempt towards our own creative potential might have something to do with it).
Having said all that, I’ve got to agree with Liz Gilbert. When a creative project is ready to stand on its own feet, leave home and make its parent proud, then it is most definitely no longer a baby.
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is complemented by an e-letter published on the same date.
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